BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
“We should learn to appreciate what we have, before time makes us appreciate what we had,” tweeted Amitabh Bachchan earlier this week. The post on the social media site, meticulously catalogued T-3312 and duly explained in Hindi as all his tweets always are, really defines what the Bollywood icons image has been all about in recent times.
Turning 77 on October 11, without showing any sign of slowing down, the tweet is one of numerous that he regularly doles out. Amitabh Bachchan’s profound philosophical spree continues in cyber space and, seen in entirety, it makes him one of Bollywood’s most interesting Internet sensations.
Amitabh Bachchan’s image as a cyber philosopher is in sync with the other big role that has buoyed his superstardom over the recent years — as quizmaster par excellence on “Kaun Banega Crorepati” (KBC). Far removed from the brooding, intense and often street-smart on-screen persona of his heydays, Big B — as industry and fans alike love to call him — has now acquired the benevolent disposition of a public figure who has the experience and wisdom of life to share.
The angry young man of the big screen has morphed into the wise old man of all screens small. That, in essence, underlines the secret to what sustains Amitabh Bachchan’s spectacular career graph even after five decades.
At a time when not just his contemporaries but even actors of the next generation have faded away, Bachchan continues to be relevant in the Indian film industry. The metamorphosis observed above has been significant, aided by intelligent branding and PR.
What is interesting to note is the fact that Amitabh Bachchan has not moved away from the basic role that has underlined his superstardom over the decades. He still continues to be a social messiah. Only, as the rules of the showbiz game changed, so did his approach.
Back in the heydays of the seventies and the eighties, Big B was a messiah on the big screen — an intense action hero who took upon a corrupt system singlehandedly and ensured justice was served. In numerous films e from the cop avatar of “Zanjeer” and “Shahenshah” to the avenging antihero of “Deewar” and Trishul” — Amitabh Bachchan was out to teach the super-rich, super-powerful villains of society a lesson, setting things right in a world gone awry to ensure potboiler poetic justice was served.
Those were the seventies and the eighties. India, having gotten over its initial, post-Independence euphoria of the forties and the fifties, was waking up to sordid truths that hounded a third-world nation. Big B’s larger-than-life messiah on screen was necessary, to spread hope among the masses. The smalltown youth identified with the angst of his popular screen avatar. Angry young man Vijay thrived.
Nearly two decades later, when Big B took to the host’s seat on KBC, that script was lost. The angry young man had been yanked off the popular charts by Shah Rukh Khan’s NRI loverboy. An aged Bachchan looked for a way to reaffirm mass connect. That was where television helped.
Over 11 seasons since its inception in 2000 — and barring the odd ones that were not hosted by him — Big B has played the charming host. If his roles as the angry young man reorganized how mainstream cinema would look at heroism over the next several years, KBC and its host redefined what being an icon of reality television would mean on the Indian small screen.
Importantly, the show redefined Amitabh Bachchan as a brand, too.
By the late 1990s, the signal had become loud and clear: The no-shows of films such as “Lal Badshah”, eMrityudand”, “Sooryavansham”, “Hindustan Ki Kasam” and “Kohram” proved the time was no longer apt for an aging Bachchan to play the traditional hero in Hindi commercial filmdom. His best acts in Bollywood, since then, have been in strong character roles. From “Mohabbatein” in 2000 to “Badla” earlier this year, Amitabh Bachchan has scored only with roles where he does not aim at wooing the crowds with larger-than-life heroics.
Yet, you cannot imagine Amitabh Bachchan as anything but larger than life. For the sake of his mega stardom to remain intact, reinvention was necessary. That is where KBC became significant.
Over the years, Bachchan as KBC host has been the person who instills tremendous aspirational value and inspiration to contestants. Over the years the focus of the show has shifted to accommodating the smalltown youth as participants. If this category of population once upon a time sought hope to get back at the corrupt and mighty in Bachchan’s fictional exploits as the angry young man of the big screen, today they find hope to pursue dreams of realizing civil services success while facing Bachchan’s tricky questions on KBC.
He is still the messiah — only, this time he is the fueling the hope of dream-fulfillment among the masses.
The image as a wise old man has found due support in his regular Internet outings. And it finds manifestation in a very different area, too — as a mega brand. Pick any commercial featuring Amitabh Bachchan, and you realise as much. From multipurpose app to hair oil, Bachchan is invariably the wise man who knows it all — doling out ample information to a (normally younger) hapless consumer.
The image has morphed successfully — from anger to wisdom, in order to uphold Amitabh Bachchan’s superstardom. The one constant that remains is the rich baritone. Back in the 1970s, he used it to spew those fiery dialogues, to justify his brand of melodrama and often violent pursuit of on-screen justice. Today, the baritone effectively doles out knowledge.
A 77-feet long cake will be cut in Udaipur on Friday on the occasion of Amitabh Bachchan’s 77th birthday, said Mukesh Madhwani, chairperson, Udaipur Filmcity Sangharsh Samiti.
According to chef Vikram Madhwani, “We have made it a ritual to cut a cake on his birthday since last many years. The size of the cake goes in accordance with his age. As he turns 77 years this time, we have made a cake with a length of 77 feet. The cake has Amitabh Bachchan’s pictures installed on it. Also, we invite all his fans to come dressed in his attire,” he added.
We all cut this cake together and pray for his good health and long life, said chef Madhwani.
Let’s go down memory lane and revisit some of his most iconic roles that will forever remain embedded in the hearts of his fans.
* ANAND (1971)
“Anand” happened in the wake of Bachchan’s failed debut, “Saat Hindustani”. He was not a star, he was just a debutant who was looking for a big break. With the Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, he managed to prove his talent. In the film, he essayed the role of a doctor named Bhaskar Banerjee. The cult classic was Bachchan’s first major hit, although its success is largely credited to Rajesh Khanna, the reigning superstar of the times.
* ZANJEER (1973)
The Prakash Mehra film saw the birth of Bachchan’s Angry Young Man avatar. He portrayed the role of a tough and honest police officer Vijay Khanna, who hates crimes and can go to any extent to finish it. The film was a turning point not only in Big B’s career, but also in the course that the Bollywood screen hero’s image would take. With this, Rajesh Khanna’s romantic superstar faded, and the Bachchan-trademarked action hero took over. This film was also the first of several Salim-Javed scripts that would star Bachchan.
* DEEWAAR (1975)
By the time the Yash Chopra film released, Bachchan’s Angry Young Man persona had become a rage among the masses. Salim-Javed’s story cast Bachchan as a man drawn to a life of crime owing to circumstances, even as his brother becomes an honest cop. The family drama traces the conflict of ideal and reality through the tale of the two brothers, and the mother caught in between. Be it with his dialogue “Aaj mere paas paisa hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai, naukar hai, bank balance hai, aur tumhare paas kya hai?” or his arm being forcibly tattooed with the words “Mera baap chor hai”, Bachchan had several iconic moments.
* SHOLAY (1975)
No count of Bachchan’s best roles can be complete without the Ramesh Sippy blockbuster. Although Bachchan had a billing below Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra and Hema Malini in the film, his intense brooding persona captured imagination, “Sholay” will always belong to Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh. Yet, the film, penned by Salim-Javed, remains one of the most remarkable achievements for all of its cast members, big and small, including Bachchan.
* AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY (1977)
The Manmohan Desai multistarrer is widely considered one of the best examples of Bollywood masala entertainment ever. Despite its multi-star cast, the film had well-crafted roles for all its protagonists. It was Bachchan’s first major foray into a brand of comedy wholly aimed at the masses. Big B tickled the funny bone with his role of Anthony Gonsalves. The film had a lasting impact on pop culture, with Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s distinct score, the dramatic one-liners, colourful characters and a peculiar mix of slapstick and melodrama. Big B continued exploring this brand of comedy in films such as “Laawaris” “Namak Halaal”, “Satte Pe Satta” and “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan”.
* TRISHUL (1978)
Written by Salim-Javed and directed by Yash Chopra, the multistarrer drama had a tailormade role for Amitabh Bachchan to score with the Angry Young Man image. For, by the time this film released, Bachchan and his brooding hero had wholly captured the mass imagination. There were other towering performances in the film — particularly by Sanjeev Kumar, Waheeda Rehman, Shashi Kapoor, Hema Malini, and Raakhee.
* DON (1978)
One of the most suave antiheroes of Bollywood screen, Chandra Barot’s “Don”, scripted by Salim-Javed, cast Amitabh Bachchan as a ruthless smuggler and his lookalike smalltown bumpkin. The action sequences of the film were considered way ahead of its time. The film’s dialogue, “Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai”, became hugely popular. A remake starring Shah Rukh Khan was attempted in 2006.
* AGNEEPATH (1990)
With this film, Big B raised the game of his Angry Young Man to the next level. In a daring experiment with the actor’s biggest asset — his baritone voice — director Mukul Anand had Amitabh Bachchan speak in a cracked voice all through. The result was a lukewarm response to the film, but Bachchan’s effort as the gangster Vijay Deenanath Chauhan won him his National Award as Best Actor. Years later, Hrithik Roshan reprised the Bachchan’s iconic role ion the 2012 remake.
* BLACK (2005)
Bachchan won his second National Award as Best Actor for his portrayal of a teacher of the differently-abled Michelle (Rani Mukerji) in the Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial. For his role of Debraj Sahay, Big B reportedly did not take any remuneration from Bhansali.
* SARKAR (2005)
No new-age filmmaker has managed to capture the intense screen presence of Amitabh Bachchan as Ram Gopal Varma did in the “Sarkar” films. Cast in a role that reimagined Bachchan as a ‘desi’ Godfather of sorts, Bachchan used silences and a menacing low tone of the voice, aided by minimum use of expressions, to create maximum impact. The film had two sequels.
* PAA (2009)
Can you even imagine an old person portraying the role of a school kid? Big B pulled it off with elan in a role that won him his third National Award as Best Actor. In 2009, actor Amitabh Bachchan surprised the audience essaying a 12-year-old boy named Auro, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called progeria that causes him to age quickly. Abhishek Bachchan and Vidya Balan were cast as his on-screen parents.
* PIKU (2015)
Big B played Deepika Padukone’s grumpy Bengali father, who is obsessed with his bowel movements in this slice-of-life drama. The Shoojit Sircar film subtly established the correlation between a man’s physical condition and his emotional state. The film won Amitabh Bachchan his fourth National Award as Best Actor.
There have been many blockbuster songs sung by Big B over the nearly four decades since Silsila released. We list a handful that makes it to the Top List, and tell you why these numbers have stood the test of time:
* MERE PAAS AAO (“Mr Natwarlal”)
In this 1979 film, Big B flaunted his vocal prowess in a situation where his character, a teacher, tells a story to children he has accompanied to a camping trip. The music was composed by Rajesh Roshan and the lyrics were written by Anand Bakshi.
* RANG BARSE (“Silsila”)
This song has stood the test of time as probably the most popular Bollywood Holi number. The track was in the 1981 film was picturised on Rekha, Big B and Jaya Bachchan. The lyrics were penned by Big B’s father and legendary poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan and the song was composed by Shiv-Hari.
* NEELA AASMAN SO GAYA (“Silsila”)
Javed Akhtar’s poetry was brought alive by Amitabh Bachchan’s rich voice, on the beats of Shiv-Hari’s music in the Yash Chopra romance. The song utilises Big B’s voice quality well, to bring out the pain of separation.
* MERE ANGANE MEIN (“Laawaris”)
This is a famous number not just because it was sung by Big B but also because the icon dressed up as a woman for the dance. Composed by Kalyanji Anandji and written by Anjaan, it is still popular even after 37 years of its release.
* GENIE RAP (“Aladin”)
The megastar tried rapping with aplomb in the 2009 fantasy-adventure film directed by Sujoy Ghosh. The song was picturised on actors Riteish Deshmukh and Big B.
* HORI KHELE RAGHUVEERA (“Baghban”)
Another Holi song sung by Big B that became hugely popular in its time, when the film released in 2003. The number stars Bachchan alongside Hema Malini. The music director was Aadesh Shrivastava and Sameer penned the song.
* MAIN YAHAN TU WAHAN (“Baghban”)
The emotional track was composed by Aadesh Shrivastava and written by Sameer. The number poignantly put forth the pain of separation that the characters of Big B and Hema Malini undergo in the film. It remains one of the most mellifluous numbers the superstar has ever sung.
* EKLA CHOLO RE (“Kahaani”)
It was a tribute of sorts paid to noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore by Amitabh Bachchan.
The megastar sang the entire number in Bengali. Composer duo Vishal and Shekhar recreated Tagore’s tune for the new version.
* CHALO JANE DO (“Bhoothnath”)
Starring as a friendly ghost haunting a mansion, Bachchan befriends a child. The song describes their relationship — at times they fight and at other times they make up. Actress Juhi Chawla shared the mic with Big B for this song.
* ATRANGI YAARI (“Wazir”)
A song talking about friendship, was sung by Amitabh Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar, who also starred in the film. Rochak Kohli composed the music for this with lyrics by Deepak Ramola.
These are not just lines, but they define Big B’s journey as a peerless actor and Bollywood’s most dazzling superstar.
* “Rishte mein toh hum tumhare baap lagte hain, naam hai Shahenshah”
The dialogue from the 1988 film “Shahenshah” not only establishes Bachchan’s character in the film as a vigilante, but also left his stamp in Bollywood. The line is evergreen as people continue to use it in conversations, parties, jokes and social gatherings.
* “Hum jahan khade ho jaate hain, line wahi se shuru hoti hain”
It’s a dialogue from the 1981 film “Kaalia”, which received maximum of whistles and claps in cinema halls. It continues to be a fan favourite and has found a way into people’s daily life, who stand in queues on a day-to day basis.
* “I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English because English is very phunny language.”
Big B won hearts as a drunk man trying to flaunt his English-speaking skills in the 1982 film “Namak Halaal”. The dialogue is not only a fan favourite, but has been enacted several times by stand-up comedians over the years, and continues to spread joy.
* “Don ka intezar toh 11 mulkon ki police kar rahi hai. Lekin Soniya, ek baat samajh lo, Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi, namumkin hai”.
The iconic dialogue from the 1978 movie “Don” defines the underworld thriller. Such is the power of the line that it was retained in the 2006 remake that had Shah Rukh Khan leading the project.
* “Moochhe ho to Nathulal jaise warna na ho”
Amitabh mouths this line in “Sharaabi” (1984) to infuse comical element to the story. It made people laugh then, and it makes people smile today. In fact, the line is now also used by brands that are into male grooming, and youngsters who love to flaunt a moustache.
* “Aaj mere paas bangla hai, gaadi hai, bank balance hai, kya hai tumhare paas?”
It’s been 40 years since the release of the “Deewaar”, when fans witnessed Amitabh Bachchan trying to deal with an emotional conflict with this line for the first time. The dialogue has traveled well with time — it has spawned jokes and memes and a twist of spoof. Yet, it probably remains Bachchan’s most dramatic line.
* “Main aaj bhi feke hue paise nai uthata” is another dialogue from “Deewar” that continues to resonate with the masses, irrespective of the age or gender. The film, in fact, had several gems for Bachchan.
* “Jao pehle uss aadmi ka sign lekar aao jisne mere haath pe ye likh diya tha… uske baad mere bhai tum jis kagaz pe kahoge main uspe sign kar doonga” is another dialogue in the film that personified Big B’s Angry Young Man image. And who can forget “Aaj khush toh bahut hoge tum, haain?”.
* “Abey buddha hoga tera baap”
The dialogue in “Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap” is widely popular despite the film’s no-show. It seemed true to Big B’s personality at that point of his career when the film released in 2011 (he was 69 then) , and it defines a man who continues to defy age with his work.
We cannot, of course, gloss over several others:
* “Poora naam, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, baap ka naam, Dinanath Chauhan, maa ka naam, Suhasini Chauhan, gaon Mandwa, umar chhattis saal” from (“Agneepath”; 1990)
* “Jab tak baithne ko na kaha jaaye sharafat se khade raho. Yeh police station hai tumhare baap ka ghar nahi” from (“Zanjeer”; 1973)
* “Agar apni maa ka doodh piya hai to saamne aa” (“Laawaris”; 1981)
* “Parampara, pratishtha, anushasan. Yeh iss gurukul ke teen stambh hai. Yeh woh aadarsh hain jinse hum aapka aanewaala kal banaate hain” (“Mohabbatein”; 2000)
* “These boys must realise…no ka matlab no hota hai. Usey bolnewali ladki koi parichit ho, friend ho, girlfriend ho, koi sex worker ho ya aapki apni biwi hi kyun na ho, ‘no means ‘no’ and when someone says so, you stop” (“Pink”; 2016)
* “Aulaad nalaayak nikle toh usse bhool jaana chahiye… sirf uska bachpan yaad rakhna chahiye” (“102 Not Out”; 2018)