Spotlight: Amitabh Bachchan

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Edit: Amitabh Bachchan’s sabbatical in the early 90s was not because of him joining politics as documented in this article, but rather because he wanted to take a break and start his own production house. His stint in politics took place in the 80s. His production house went into debt and that is why he needed to make a comeback to films. We apologize for the inconvenience.

To make it to the film industry is hard enough, but to become one of the biggest and best stars is even harder. Then the odds of becoming THE biggest and best actor is damn near astronomical. The odds that only one man has been able to conquer. Over a span of 39 long and grueling years in the industry, Amitabh Bachchan has become that man. He has climbed Everest and now has his face engraved in the Mount Rushmore of Hindi film personalities. Amitabh Bachchan is a legend no doubt, but his greatness can never go understated because no one has ever been this good for this long ever in this industry. What this man continues to do at this age is simply remarkable. This weekend he will be reprising the role of one of his most iconic characters of all time, Sarkar, in Sarkar Raj. In career retrospective honor of the film and the legendary actor’s massive body of work, we would like to do a career retrospective of Big B.

Amitabh Bachchan was born as Amitabh Srivastav as that was his father’s real surname. His father, famous late poet Harivansh Rai Srivastav, used the pen name Bachchan while writing. Amitabh decided to stick with the name for his career in filmdom as well. Born on October 11, 1942, he grew up and completed his studies in Uttar Pradesh. After graduating, he moved to Calcutta where he started work for a shipping company. After doing that for a while, he decided he wanted to be a part of the film industry and moved to Bombay to accomplish his dreams. Although at first when he went, it was a bit of a struggle because no one wanted to cast him in their movies; he was thought to be too tall and his voice was too deep for their liking. He finally was able to grab a role in the film Saat Hindustani in 1969. The movie was a good beginning for him as it helped him win the National Award for best newcomer. But after that, it continued to be a struggle for him, as pretty much all his films flopped. The one bright spot amidst all these flops was the 1971 Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, Anand. In the film, he played the supporting role to Rajesh Khanna, the number one star at the time. His performance was lauded by all and helped him garner his first Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film also did very well; it won the Best Picture of the Year. Even though he did not taste much success in the beginning years of his career, the good days were soon to come for Big B professionally and personally.

The year 1973 seemed to be the turning point for Amitabh Bachchan. Well-known director, Prakash Mehra, cast Big B in his film Zanjeer and the rest, as they say, is history. The film went onto become Big B’s first solo hit and gave him his image of the ‘Angry Young Man’ which he held onto for a large part of his career. His performance was appreciated by one and all and a star was born! Another special thing about the film was its leading lady, Jaya Bhaduri. Bachchan and Bhaduri fell in love while shooting for the film, and after the film was declared a hit, they both decided to get married. They did just that one month after the film’s release. 1973 truly was an unforgettable year for Big B as more success was about to come his way. He had two more wonderful films that year, Abhimaan with wife Jaya and Namak Haraam where he played the supporting role to Rajesh Khanna once again. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who gave Big B some of the best movies of his career, directed both films. He was praised for his performances in both films and even won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor once again for Namak Haraam. Both films were very well received. As a matter of fact, over the next two decades, most of the best films and performances would belong to Amitabh Bachchan.

Amitabh Bachchan was the newfound superstar and he was looking towards bigger and better things. That came about in 1975. He teamed up with Hrishikesh Mukherjee two more times in this year in the films Mili and Chupke Chupke. Both films went on to become highly appreciated. But the real big noise came in the form of two legendary directors he worked with for the first time. Deewaar was his first film with Yash Chopra and they never looked back after that. Many consider the role of the rebellious Vijay from Deewaar to be the greatest performance of Big B’s career. His performance in this film turned Big B into an instant megastar. Although the film swept all the awards at Filmfare, Bachchan was the only one who went home empty handed – pretty ironic for a film that is considered to be his best performance. Then of course there was Ramesh Sippy’s all-time blockbuster Sholay. Many still consider this to be the mother of all of Hindi cinema as it has gone on to become the most iconic and successful Hindi movie in history. Big B was one half of the Jai-Veeru combo and gave a wonderful and understated performance. Every filmmaker uses Sholay as a barometer for filmmaking, so you know how big the film really is. Unfortunately, Ram Gopal Varma loved the film so much that in 2007 he decided to remake it his own way. The film was RGV Ki Aag and it was one of the most hated films in Hindi cinema history. Even Big B was cast as the legendary character of Gabbar Singh (known as Babban in the new film), which was immortalized by Amjad Khan in the original. The new film was only a minor blip in Big B’s illustrious career.

The 70s quickly turned into the decade of Amitabh Bachchan. He was now delivering nonstop hits and brilliant performances. Also he was working with some of the best directors of the industry. Some of his best work came in Kabhie Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Kasme Vaade, Don, Trishul, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Mr. Natwarlal, The Great Gambler, and Kaala Patthar. All these hits gave Big B the title of ‘One Man Industry’ as everything he touched turned into a success.

Amar Akbar Anthony gave him his first ever Filmfare Award for the Best Actor category in 1977. He followed the year after with three nominations in the same category for Don, Trishul, and Muqaddar Ka Sikander. He ended up winning it for his double role in Don. The movie became such a cult classic, that filmmaker Farhan Akhtar (his father Javed Akhtar wrote the screenplay for the first film, along with Salman Khan’s father, Salim Khan) decided to remake it in 2006 with current number one star, Shah Rukh Khan.

The 80s began just the way the 70s ended-with Big B still on the top of the industry. The hits just kept on rolling in the form of Dostana, Shaan, Kaalia, Yaarana, Naseeb, and Laawaris. Then was the film that was perhaps the most controversial of his career. The film was Yash Chopra’s Silsila. Rumored to be about the affair between Big B and Rekha, the movie had both playing principal roles, along with Big B’s wife Jaya. It was tough for many to digest, so the film did not end up doing very well, but it is considered to be one of the all-time classics now.

Strangely enough, even with so many great performances, he was only nominated for the Best Actor award one year the entire decade. It was in 1982 for the films Bemisal, Shakti, and Namak Halaal. He did not win for any of them. Then in 1983, while shooting for the film Coolie, he had a near fatal accident. He was in the hospital and the whole nation was in a standstill. Everybody was praying for his recovery and hoping their favorite star would come back and entertain them once again. By the good graces of God, Big B had a full recovery and was able to complete the film. The scene where the injury happened is frozen during the film so people can see when he got hurt. The film went on to become a major success as everyone wanted to see the film where Big B was injured. As a matter of fact, ever since this injury, people started visiting him every day outside of his house hoping to get a glimpse of him. He would acknowledge these people and would go and meet with them. Now these people only come on Sundays and he still goes and meets with them. He continued more great work in films like Satte Pe Satta, Andha Kanoon (one of the most underrated performances of his career), Sharaabi, Geraftaar, and Aakhree Raasta.

Up until the mid 80s, Big B was still dominating the industry. But in the late 80s, as he started to age and newer talent starting to emerge, the gap between him and the rest of the industry started to shrink. But to end the decade, he gave us a couple more of his most memorable performances. Shahenshah was the big blockbuster we were accustomed to receiving from him, but Main Azad Hoon was totally against the grain, turning out to be one of his best and most overlooked performances. Unfortunately, the movie did not do well at the box office.

Nearing the age of 50, he started the 90s off with a bang! His character of Vijay Dinanath Chauahan from the film Agneepath is one of the greatest and most iconic characters in Hindi film history. The film and the performance are his son, Abhishek’s, favorite. Although he did not win the Filmfare Award for Best Actor, he did end up receiving the National Award for his remarkable performance. He also won the Lifetime Achievement Award that year. After the success of Agneepath with director Mukul Anand, he once again worked with him in the film Hum. The film provided us with another landmark performance from the man as he won his third Filmfare Best Actor Award. But the end seemed to be near because it looked like Big B was looking forward to a career in politics. It was announced that Khuda Gawah would be the last film he would do. Once again teaming up with Mukul Anand, he left with one more fine performance, even though the film did not live up to the mark.

His stint in politics was short lived and he tried making a comeback into movies. But time had gotten to him and he was no longer bankable as a lead hero. Now north of 50, no one wanted to see him beating baddies or romancing young ladies. He was in a rut for the next few years, as it seemed like the country’s biggest superstar was becoming a forgotten man. The 90s couldn’t end soon enough for him. But everyone in life needs a second innings. And for Amitabh Bachchan, he got his second innings with the beginning of the new millennium.

Down and almost out, Big B agreed to do a game show that was a spin-off of the hit show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. The show became an instant rage and pretty much all of India would be tuning in every night for the show. The show helped revive Bachchan’s career and also put him back on the map. He followed this with a role in the film Mohabbatein directed by Aditya Chopra, son of Yash Chopra. This film officially showed that Big B was back and better than ever as now he finally had a role to play in the industry – that of the elderly distinguished gentleman. The film helped him win the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also was awarded the Superstar of the Millennium Award that year.

Throughout the 2000s, Big B did many movies that did not work, but he has created such platform for himself, that no failure can drown him for good. But in this decade, there were still lots of memorable films and performances to come from him.

2001 saw him in successful films such as Ek Ristha and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Also, there was the critically acclaimed Aks, for which he won the Best Actor Critics Award at Filmfare. 2002 was yet another successful year for Big B as he had two more memorable performances which garnered him nominations: Kaante for which he was nominated for Best Actor and Aankhen for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Both films did very well at the box office. 2003 was not as big of a year for him, as only one of his films worked-Baghban. The film went on to do very good business and his performance was greatly appreciated, as he was nominated for Best Actor once again. 2004 had one standout performance from him and some other solid performances. The standout performance was from the film Khakee, for which he was nominated for Best Actor. But if there was any year this decade that truly belonged to Big B, then it was the year 2005. He started the year off with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Black. The film went on to becoming the biggest critical success of the year and there were even some saying that it was the greatest performance of Big B’s career. That was evident as he won the Best Actor award at every show that year for his performance in the film, even the National Award. The film, itself, swept all the major awards at every award ceremony as well. He continued his success that year in films like Waqt, Bunty Aur Babli, and the reason for this feature, Sarkar. BAB was special as it was the first time he was on screen with his son Abhishek. Sarkar may have been even more special as it was the first time he and Abhishek played father and son in a film. The film created yet another iconic character for Big B in the form of Subhash Nagre and his performance was without a doubt one of the best of his career. He was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to himself. The movie made such an impact that we now have a sequel, Sarkar Raj.

A terrific year ended on a sad note as Big B was struck with a stomach illness that hospitalized him for about a week. People were in a standstill once again just like when he was injured during Coolie. They prayed for him once again all throughout the country. Luckily, he was back and ready to go. But he was told to slow down his work; his workload was greater and larger than even people half his age! That is why in 2006, he only had one film of note and it was Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. His role in the film was perhaps the boldest he has ever played and made some uncomfortable, but he once again showed the Bachchan magic, which helped him receive yet another Best Supporting Actor nomination. 2007 could best be described as an experimental year for Big B. He starred in very different films such as Eklavya, Nishabd, and Cheeni Kum. His performances in all the films were praised, although the latter two were a bit controversial, because they showed him romancing women much younger than him. Nonetheless, people applauded him for experimenting with his roles and trying something different. The year 2008 started with Bhoothnath, which was well received critically and commercially. Now the stage has been set for his next big release, Sarkar Raj. This is the first time that he will be starring in a film with both his son and daughter-in-law in the same movie (Abhishek and Aishwarya). The stakes are high and the expectations are huge. We hope the movie lives up to the hype and that Amitabh Bachchan is able to stick one more feather in his cap!

A word of mention must go to the numerous awards and honors he has won outside the film industry. For instance, he was awarded with a doctorate from a university for his great contribution to films. He also has been honored internationally, as well as, domestically. His contribution to India has been so great, that everyone wants to do their best to honor and commemorate this force of nature!

Amitabh Bachchan is the actor that defines Hindi cinema; there is no doubt about it. He brought the industry to where it is today and he is the reason it has become such a boom today. The man is truly an institution. He is not only a star, but also one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. He has performed roles in every genre with the same amount of precision, which is a testament to his versatility. At 66, it is amazing to see him still at top and not wavering at all. We are sure films such as, The Last Lear, Shoebite, Teen Patti, and Shantaram will further cement his status as the greatest ever. For now, we wish him the best with Sarkar Raj and hope to see another knockout performance from the Shahenshah! Amitabh Bachchan – the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.

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