‘Amitabh Bachchan’ turns 65
The shahanshah of Indian cinema, Amitabh Bachchan, who turns 65 Wednesday needs no introduction. His deep baritone has become synonymous with success and fame.
Amitabh is probably the only actor in the history of Indian cinema, who even in his sixties, continues to give stiff competition to younger actors.
Ace filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s pays the ultimate compliment to the superstar, “Even today filmmakers are planning movies with him in mind and no director’s profile is complete without working with him.”
Bhansali directed Amitabh in his critically acclaimed “Black” that swept award ceremonies last year.
It’s hard to imagine that the deep baritone that rules Bollywood was once rejected by All India Radio. Born to Harivansh Rai, famous Indian poet, and Teji Bachchan October 11, 1942 in Allahabad, Amitabh borrowed his father’s pen name ‘Bachchan’ instead of the family surname Srivastava.
Amitabh did his early schooling from Allahabad’s Boys’ High School and later shifted to Sherwood College in Nainital, where he earned a degree in Arts. After that he enrolled himself at Delhi’s Kirori Mal College for a degree in science.
After completing his studies, Amitabh took up a job in a shipping firm called Bird and Co. in Kolkata, but very soon he left it to pursue a career in films.
He debuted with “Saat Hindustani”, his only black and white venture, which was released in 1969. In this movie he enacted the role of a Muslim poet, Anwar Ali, who joins Maria, a native of Portuguese-occupied Goa, along with other men to raise nationalist sentiment in that state. The film sank without a trace at the box office.
However, Amitabh was noticed by veteran filmmaker Mrinal Sen, who used his distinctive baritone voice for Bhuvan – the narrator in his much applauded film “Bhuvan Shome”.
Amitabh’s first big commercial hit was “Anand” where he featured alongside Rajesh Khanna, the superstar of Indian cinema.
His performance as a doctor, who learns to live life after treating a terminally ill patient, played by Rajesh, earned him his first Filmfare Award for the Best Supporting Actor in 1970.
In spite of the award, success was miles away. He kept struggling and finally in 1973, lady luck smiled on him and two of his films struck gold at box office.
The two films were “Zanjeer” – a gritty cop drama, which established him as an ‘Angry Young Man’ on Indian celluloid and “Abhimaan”, in which he played a singer jealous of his talented wife.
“Zanjeer” was the first big hit of Amitabh’s career and after that there was no looking back. It was followed by “Sholay” – in this classic cult movie he teamed up with Dharmendra. The movie went on to become one of the top grossers in the history of Indian cinema, and it was Amitabh who hugely benefited from its success.
After “Sholay” he gave numerous hits – “Deewaar” (1975), “Trishul” (1978), “Kaala Patthar” (1979) and “Shakti” (1982). These films further cemented his image as an ‘Angry Young Man’.
In “Shakti” he starred opposite legendary actor Dilip Kumar, the superstar of Indian cinema in the 50s and 60s. The film was described as the “clash of the superstars” because for the first time Amitabh and the legendary actor shared screen space together. In fact, it was their first and last film together.
Action was Amitabh’s forte but he proved his mettle in successful comedies like “Chupke Chupke”, “Amar Akbar Anthony”, “Namak Halal” and “Satte Pe Satta” among others.
He also played romantic roles in “Kabhi Kabhie” and “Silsila” which proved his versatility as an actor.
Bad luck struck Amitabh in 1982 while he was shooting for “Coolie”. He got seriously injured while filming a fight scene with Puneet Issar. He was admitted to a hospital with a ruptured intestine and had to undergo treatment for months.
After recovering, Amitabh resumed the shooting for “Coolie” and when it was finally released, it hit the bull’s eye at the box office.
During this period Amitabh decided to contest elections at the behest of his close friend Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister.
He represented the Congress Party from his hometown Allahabad and won with a thumping majority. However, he resigned midterm because of controversies. Amitabh regretted his decision to enter politics saying, “he was never meant for it”.
After his brief stint in politics, he tried to stage a comeback in films, but with no success. Many of his films, such as “Jaadugar” and “Toofan” (1989) flopped. In the early 1990s he regained some success with “Hum” (1991) but failed to sustain it.
Apart from flops, his health started troubling him and he decided to take a break from the film industry and went on a long break in 1992. His last film “Khuda Gawah” was released the same year.
After five years, in 1997, he made a second come back but for more than a year success eluded him. He appeared in duds like “Mrityudaata” produced by his production company Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited, “Major Saab” (1997), “Sooryavansham” (1999) and “Lal Baadshah” (1999).
Critics ripped him apart saying he is still trying to cash in on his ‘Angry Young Man’ image.
This was a dark period for the superstar. However, the quiz show “Kaun Banega Crorepati” (KBC), an Indian version of the popular American game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” changed his luck. One of the biggest hit shows of small screen, KBC opened new avenues for Amitabh in showbiz.
Film offers soon started pouring in and he featured in successful films like “Ek Rishta” and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” – both came in 2001. After that he appeared in quite a few films.
The most successful was Ravi Chopra’s “Baghban”, about an old couple who sacrifices everything for their four children. Hema Malini played his wife. They made a striking pair and Chopra has cast them again in “Baabul”.
In 2005, he featured in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s critically acclaimed film “Black”. He played an alcoholic teacher to a deaf and blind student played by Rani Mukerji. The movie won a string of awards and fetched him all the popular awards.
Bollywood director Ram Gopal Varma, who worked with him in “Sarkar” and is now directing him in a sequel to the movie and in the remake of “Sholay” sums up his contribution beautifully: “Mr. Bachchan has reached a legendary status where he can never be blamed for a film’s failure.”
Recently, the audiences loved him as Abhishek’s flamboyant father in Karan Johar’s multi-starrer extravaganza “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna”, which is about infidelity.
Apart from proving his mettle in Bollywood he is making his mark on the global forum as well. In July the De Monfort University in Leicester conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctorate of Arts. In fact, he is the first Indian star to be awarded with a honorary doctorate from a British university.
However, he refused to prefix “doctor” before his name saying: “I respect the university for this recognition, but “Dr. Bachchan” is a term that shall remain always with the memory of my father (Dr. Harivansh Rai Bachchan). He was the true bearer of this title. I would never ever acknowledge the ‘use’ of this abbreviation before my name.”
He has some good films lined up for release – for instance Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Eklavya” and Ravi Chopra’s “Baabul”.
Bachchan’s sudden illness late last year had not only made his numerous fans a worried lot but also put the Bollywood film industry on the edge – which had a whopping Rs.2.7 billion at stake.