In the early 1970s when Rajesh Khanna and Dharmendra dominated the silver screens both in India and Mauritius, it was difficult to imagine any other actor reaching the heels of such imposing superstars. K.A. Abbas signed a newcomer Amitabh Bachchan in “Saath Hindustani” while cinema pundits considered the physiognomy of such an actor to be awkward and dull for the new seventies era where handsome faces could only survive.
Amitabh was long, wiry with a frail physique compared to the utterly handsome faces of so-called chocolate stars whose image prevailed through the written media and cinema at that time. Amitabh Bachchan featured in B-grade movies at the start of his career namely in films like “Sanjog” and “Raaste Ka Patthar” teaming opposite less popular heroines like Mala Sinha or Laxmi Chayya at a time where Hema Malini, Mumtaz and Asha Parekh could only team up with the most highly-rated stars.
Anand brings hopes alive
Amitabh Bachchan played minor roles but felt zealous when Hrishikesh Mukherjee called him to play the supporting role in “Anand” with Rajesh Khanna playing the lead role as a cancer-afflicted patient. Amitabh would be the doctor and contribute to the patient's final moments in such a challenging condition.
Amitabh accepted the role, kept himself reserved in the less glamorous role yet pleased the audience. His companionship to Bhai Moshe played by Rajesh Khanna earned him a first Filmfare Award in a supporting role.
Namak haram just consolidates Amitabh's ambition
Deeply satisfied with Bachchan's performance, director Hrishikesh Mukherjee offered him another role, that of a villain, again with superstar Rajesh Khanna. “Namak Haram” meaning the “selfish” allowed Bachchan a major chance to break through stardom since in a secondary role, it was the selfish who thrilled the audience better than the candid and honest friend portrayed by Khanna. Incidentally, Bachchan won once again the Best Supporting Actor Award but this time, his role won over that of his fellow, Rajesh.
In 1973, Prakash Mehra advised Raj Kumar to play the leading role in “Zanjeer”. Arrogant Raj dismissed the role uttering that a person of his calibre was too good for such a movie. Dev Anand liked Prakash's proposal but admitted that he could only ride a wooden horse not a real one. Amitabh who kept struggling with better pictures like “Bombay to Goa” or “Gehri Chaal” accepted the offer and forged the image of an angry young man. Rarely smiling, deft and brewed with the grain of revenge, Amitabh brought life and character to “Zanjeer” which struck the silver screens making him an instant star.
Who has not seen “Sholay” ?
In 1975, Ramesh Sippy teamed reigning star Dharmendra in the role of Jai and Amitabh in the role of Veeru in a movie called “Sholay” inspired from the success of curry westerns like “Mera Gaon Mera Desh” and “Kachche Dhagge”, both super hits of Raj Khosla, a unique film maker in Bollywood. “Sholay” was outspoken as a movie and so was everything in it. The “générique” with tantalising R.D. Burman music all score is fantastic, Gabbar Singh stays as the most appreciated villain, Sanjeev Kumar's role as inspector is exceptional, Hema Malini as Basanti symbolises even up to now the talkative village belle and then, Jai and Veeru become the duo that remains unrivalled to date. If Jai (Dharmendra) revealed the lighter side of the human being, Veeru portrayed the intense but passionate side of humanity ; a role perfectly embodied by Bachchan.
The angry young man stereotype
After “Sholay”, Amitabh played both serious and light roles but could never get rid of the cliché of angry young man. In “Chupke Chupke”, the comedy style worked well with Dharmendra but this could not be often repeated. It was rather the angry young man stereotype that gave everything that Bachchan needed.
In “Deewaar”, Amitabh's dialogue “Tu ne maa ka dudh piya” (Have you been breastfed before you talk to me as a man ?) earned him heaps of credit from macho cine-goers. The same persona prevailed through several notable films like “Trishul” where he challenged his uncaring rich dad or “Kaala Patthar” where he played a more intense role as a recluse working in coal mines.
The Bachchan mania kept rolling all over India and Mauritius. Movies just kept spinning money like “Mr Natwarlal”, “Amar Akbar Anthony”, “Naseeb”, “Laawaris”, “Kaalia” and so many others.
The coolie tragedy
In 1982, during the shooting of “Coolie” where Amitabh faced villain Puneet Issar, an unexpected tragedy occurred. Bachchan was severely hurt on a table in an action scene and was instantly unconscious. This tragedy remains so vivid like long days in a state of coma, people praying for Bachchan's recovery, rumours of imminent death circulating here and there, including an Indian fan who walked kilometers backwards to pray for Bachchan's recovery.
Bachchan recovered gradually but suffered ever since from major ailment. He came much later on screen in the form of a comeback in “Nastik” opposite to Nalini Jaywant, “Inquilaab” teaming with Sri Devi and the flamboyant “Sharaabi” opposite to Jaya Pradha with the wonderful call to his beloved darling “Meenaaaa”.
Bachchan at 70
The magic of Bachchan has stayed intact since the days we knew him as a newcomer. In “Mohabattein”, Yash Chopra, movie director, said that the new Bachchan looked to be the same as the vigorous angry man in “Deewaar” or the heartbroken poet in “Kabhi Kabhie”.
Bachchan visited our country in 1985 and wherever he passed, he was welcome by the thousands of Mauritian fans. He came back later to shoot “Agneepath” (1988) and “Hum” (1990). “Chumma Chumma Dede” in “Hum” still vibrates through us when the first notes are played.
Everyone is Bachchan
Finally, Bachchan is loved by one and all. Everybody is in some way or the other an admirer of Amitabh. Those who love intense roles could see him very well in Hrishikesh movies, those who like thrills will enjoy his roles in Manmohan Desai type movies like “Amar Ackbar Anthony”. Then today's generation sees him as a grey-bearded man in wonderful roles in contemporary movies like “Black”, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham”.
As from our part, let us wish him “Happy Birthday” and see him still shining on the silver screen. Sometimes we do say “Chalta hai Bachchan jaisa, Bolta hai Bachchan jaisa, kash kuch Bachchan ka fan hai” (He walks like Bachchan, talks like Bachchan, then he should be like Bachchan)
Love him, like him, live like him.