Unlike today, when wannabes want their careers to zoom off from their debut film itself, Amitabh Bachchan had to cross a desert marked failure. From 1969 to 1973, he was wandering under the harsh glare of rejection, as film after film flopped at the box-office. But he’s someone whose reserves of will know no limits. He walked on with his head held high, till victory came in the form of Zanjeer. Initially, he was labelled as being too tall, and later height became a requirement for heroes, his wheatish complexion was commented upon, then being fair became passe, and his baritone became the benchmark for voice modulation. When the rest of his peers have been enjoying their retirement, Amitabh Bachchan is still going strong, giving younger heroes a run for their money. On the occasion of his 79th birthday, we take a look at some of his most definitive performances over the years…
YEAR: 1973 | Director: Prakash Mehra
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Pran, Om Prakash,
Ram Sethi, Ajit, Bindu
The lanky actor hardly looked like a police inspector but his serious demeanour and the anger in his eyes made you forget everything else. Bachchan’s bravura act has been the platinum standard for screen cops ever since. Zanjeer, which begins with Bachchan seeing a bolting horse in a nightmare and ends with him having avenged the death of his parents, is a gritty portrayal of an honest cop’s life in microsome. It’s full of low-lives and bent characters and shows how the police have to befriend criminals — his best friend is a Pathan goon who has reformed his ways — to gather insights and info. Pran as Sher Khan, a local dada with tremendous clout, too gives a lionhearted performance as a man who’s ready to sacrifice his own life for a friend. Jaya Bhaduri plays a street gipsy who falls in love with the morose inspector and gives him some reason to smile. Real-life love blossomed on the sets between the two stars and soon, they got married.
YEAR: 1975 | Director: Yash Chopra
Cast: Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Nirupa Roy,
Neetu Singh, Parveen Babi
Amitabh Bachchan excels as a dockyard coolie turned gangster who can’t understand why his mother has rejected him now that he has come up in life. Deewaar carries shades of Mother India in the sense that here too is a wayward son shunned by the strong-willed mother for his own good. All Vijay wants is his mother’s love and his descent into crime, his succumbing to the lure of easy money is but a means to put a smile to her lips. And his sorrow becomes palpable when he realises the smile isn’t reaching her eyes. His conflict with his younger brother Ravi, played by Shashi Kapoor is another highlight of the film, their confrontation scene has become the stuff of legend. The film has become famous for mere paas maa hai… the retort by Shashi Kapoor to his elder brother when the latter starts listing his ‘achievements.’
YEAR: 1978 | Director: Chandra Barot
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Pran, Iftekhar
In the first half, as the real Don, Amitabh Bachchan gives a masterclass in how a ruthless, cold-hearted character should be played. It’s almost as if his actual evil twin is essaying the role. Don (Amitabh Bachchan) is a criminal who is always one step ahead of the police. Officer D’Silva’s (Iftekhar) chances upon Don lookalike Vijay, a simple villager who looks after two foster children. When Don is killed in an encounter, D’Silva trains Vijay to be Don, who agrees to it because of the money. Vijay, as Don, enters the underworld and is once again the toast of the crime world. Unknown to Vijay, Roma (Zeenat Aman), the sister of a man Don had killed, had infiltrated the gang in order to kill Don. D’Silva is unfortunately killed and there is no one who can now vouch for Vijay’s real identity. The police think he’s Don and the underworld knows he isn’t. Thankfully, Roma now helps him and so does Jasjit (Pran), the father of the two children he is caring for. The three overcome great odds and get the real underworld mastermind arrested.
YEAR: 1978 | Director: Yash Chopra
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjeev Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Raakhee, Hema Malini, Poonam Dhillon, Sachin
The film is all about a man wanting justice for his mother and employing every just and unjust means while doing so. Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor slug it out in this bout of egos. It’s a revenge drama with a twist. A young man wants to destroy the man who made his mother pregnant and later ditched her. His whole existence is focused on that. He doesn’t realise that he is slowly disintegrating while courting hate and by denying himself love. The film reaches a boiling point during his fight with half-brother Shashi Kapoor. Ironically, it’s this face-off which sets off a series of events leading towards redemption. But the film’s high points are Bachchan’s stand-off scenes with his ‘najayaz baap’ Sanjeev Kumar. Bachchan’s awesome response to Sanjeev Kumar — Aur aap, Mr R K Gupta, aap mere najayaz baap hai… has become legendary. Both actors convey more with their eyes than others do with four pages of dialogue and their scenes together alone are worth the price of the ticket.
Director: Yash Chopra
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan,
Jaya Bachchan, Rekha,
Marriage doesn’t mean you stop loving the person you’re couldn’t marry (or start loving the person you have). This home truth, which is often relegated to hushed whispers, is brought out loud and clear in Silsila. Amitabh Bachchan plays a man who marries his late brother’s fiancée out of obligation, as she’s carrying his child. But his heart is besotted to another. Years later, when he meets his beloved again, sparks are reignited. The two are married to different partners but the attraction they still feel results in an affair. Bachchan excels as the man caught between two conflicting emotions. He is weighed down by the guilt of cheating on his wife but at the same time feels buoyant when he is with his lover. His face conveys both the agony and the ecstasy with equal finesse. The film starred Jaya and Rekha as his wife and paramour respectively and the real-life casting was too close for the audiences’ comfort. Silsila wasn’t a hit when it was initially released but enjoys a cult status today.
YEAR: 1982 | Director: Ramesh Sippy
Cast: Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Raakhee, Smita Patil, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Amrish Puri, Anil Kapoor
No one has been able to answer the question as to which among Sholay or Shakti is Ramesh Sippy’s best film? While the popular vote has always gone to Sholay, the film connoisseurs claim that Shakti is a better film overall. The film has two titans of acting, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, confronting each other on the big screen. Dilip Kumar has always been Bachchan’s ideal and hence Bachchan has a reverential attitude towards Kumar in the film throughout. One feels he’s acting out his own personal feelings rather than that of the character. It mightily works in the film’s favour. Bachchan plays a wayward son who rebels against his policeman father’s strict upbringing and takes to a life of crime. His rise through the criminal ranks is a kind of reprise from Deewaar but the hurt and the alienation he feels towards his own father is brutally real. The end scene, where he’s dying in his father’s arms after being fatally shot, is one of the best death scenes, involving two brilliant actors at their best. The film also had Smita Patil and Raakhee giving the two male leads an able company and one can also see a young Anil Kapoor in one of his earliest roles in Hindi films.
YEAR: 1990 | Director: Mukul S Anand
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Madhavi, Neelam Kothari, Danny Denzongpa,
Rohini Hattangadi, Alok Nath
Amitabh Bachchan has played Vijay in innumerable films but his introductory scene in Agneepath, where he says his full name, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, became a rage when the film released and has become an iconic dialogue ever since. Even today, young hopefuls are said to practice the famous Bachchan drawl as they struggle to master those three crucial words. The film carries shades of Al Pacino’s Scarface (1983). It’s a revenge actioner at one level but at another, it’s a mushy family drama as well. Bachchan looks all set to blast his enemies to hell but has a warm heart that beats for his mother, wife and sister. His motivation for becoming a criminal is to exact revenge on the man who wronged him and killed his father. Bachchan never lets us forget that he’s the man on fire for a reason. The film experimented with a different voice for Bachchan when it first got released but later on the demands of the fans he re-dubbed the film in his original voice. Some say it didn’t become a blockbuster in its initial release because of this mix-up. Today, however, it’s counted as a cult classic.
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukerji
The film is partially based on Helen Keller’s life and struggle. It shows a young woman struggling with both blindness and loss of hearing and how a gifted teacher brings light into her black world. Bachchan plays a strict teacher to Rani Mukerji’s deaf and blind character and despite his harshness, a bond slowly develops between them. There is a poignant scene where she experiences her first kiss with him. It’s disturbing at one level but one can sense that a girl who isn’t able to feel anything is experiencing love for the first time. Like everywhere else in the film, Bachchan lends gravitas to the whole thing and makes sure you get the pathos of it. We haven’t ever seen him play such a character. Your heart goes out to him when he becomes senile in the end. It’s counted as one of Amitabh’s best roles ever.
YEAR: 2009 | Director: R. Balki
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan,
Abhishek Bachchan, Vidya Balan, Paresh Rawal, Arundhati Nag
Amitabh Bachchan plays a witty 12-year-old boy suffering from the rare genetic disorder called progeria, which ages children rapidly. Here, he reverse-aged himself in the sense that he was playing someone with the physical age of a 70-plus person but the mental agility of a twelve-year-old. His layered acting, as well as energy, is indeed beyond a parallel. The film’s protagonist Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) lives with his mother Vidya (Vidya Balan), who is a gynaecologist. His mother has hidden his existence from his biological father, young politician Amol (Abhishek Bachchan), who didn’t want a child at that point of their relationship. Amol meets Arko at a school function where he is called as the chief guest and befriends the brilliant boy. Arko makes it a mission of his life to reconcile the differences between his mother and father. His condition keeps deteriorating and he’s unlikely to outlive his 13th birthday. He’s promised by both at the end that they’ll marry each other and he dies content, calling them Maa and Paa together for the first and the last time.
YEAR: 2015 | Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Irrfan Khan,
Moushumi Chatterjee and
Piku Bannerjee (Deepika Padukone) is an architect living in Delhi who loves her widowed father Bhaskhor Bannerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) but at the same time is constantly irritated by him because of his eccentricities. Both Amitabh and Deepika look like real-life father and daughter. The bond between them is palpable. Bhaskhor suffers from acute constipation and tends to relate everything in his life to his bowel movements. He wants to go to Kolkata to visit his ancestral home and Piku reluctantly agrees to take him there. She takes the help of Rana Chaudhary (Irrfan Khan), who runs a taxi business. As no driver is available, Rana decides to drive them to Kolkata himself. They experience several misadventures on the way. Rana is constantly irked by Bhaskhor’s eccentric ways but soon begins to see past the exterior. He begins to like Piku as well. Irrfan is brilliant as a man caught between two different extremes and yet manages to find a middle way. His chemistry with both Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone is on point. Overall, it is a hugely satisfying film containing some mature performances.
YEAR: 2016 | Director: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, Angad Bedi, Tushar Pandey, Piyush Mishra, and Dhritiman Chatterjee
“No means no,” when he thunders, the world takes note. Amitabh Bachchan plays a defence lawyer in this social drama. At first, he is portrayed as a mysterious stranger but comes across as a benevolent old man who does his utmost to win justice for the three girls under his charge who gets embroiled in a court case despite being the victims of molestation. The film reiterates the fact that our patriarchal society as well as the judiciary doesn’t deal compassionately with rape victims. As if the real act isn’t heinous enough, they’re made to recount the gory details in court and made to relive the torment. All that needs to be changed, the sooner, the better. But the most important point raised by the film is one of consent. The film points out that a woman has the right to say no at any point of time even if her initial response has been yes. Bachchan shrewdly builds a case where the real culprits get entrapped in the web of their own lies. Through his questioning, he lays bare the double standards of our society and brings home the point that it’s wrong to question a woman’s morals because of the lifestyle she leads. His closing speech in the movie, where he passionately pleads for the rights of women is a masterpiece of oration. Pink is his most feminist film till date. And one can see the respect and reverence he feels for women in his performance.