“I am as common as the common man and as special as him too” -- Amitabh Bachchan
How is it possible to sum up Amitabh Bachchan? arguably the most recognised and important figure in Hindi cinema Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan is an actor, film producer, television host, and briefly a politician. His career has lasted over five decades. During that time, Bachchan has appeared in over 200 films. An icon of the Hindi film industry, he has worked with virtually every major director, and important female star, and has more books and articles written about him than any other figure in Indian cinema.
At 80 years of age, he has three films in progress for 2023-2024.
It is actually impossible to underestimate his significance to world cinema. In 1999 a BBC online poll voted Bachchan the all-time greatest star of stage or screen, winning by a substantial margin over Sir Laurence Olivier in second place, followed by Sir Alec Guinness in third.
|Deewaar (The Wall,1975)|
Despite his world-wide fame, his versatility as an actor, and superb spoken English, he has not ventured beyond Indian cinema to the global mainstream, (despite numerous offers) except for a small role in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
Of course, in a career of such longevity there have been upheavals, controversies, digressions and flops.
Bachchan, has reinvented his persona a number of times to suit the changing trends and styles of filmmaking. He has taken a tilt at politics as well as a successful stab at being a TV host via Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Hindi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire), which saw him acquire the following of a new and younger audience.
|Kaala Patthar (Black Stone, 1979)|
Bachchan’s screen career started in 1969 as a voice narrator in Mrinal Sen's film Bhuvan Shome. Utilising his impressively deep and wide baritone vocal range, he has narrated many films, including Satyajit Ray's 1977 film Shatranj Ke Khiladi. and Gowariker’s 2001 Oscar nominated film Lagaan .
As an on-screen presence Bachchan popularity soared in the early seventies with a series of films that earned him the designation of ‘Indian cinema’s “angry young man”. His fast rise to fame from 1972 to 1974 catapulted him to the heights of superstardom having made 44 feature films between 1969 and 1976, his impact being measured by the fact that at any time during his period at least four films of his films were playing simultaneously in Indian cinemas,
In 1992 Bachchan took an extended break from the Hindi film industry and did not appear on screen for five years. The nineties were a difficult time for him with failed business ventures and paucity of successful films.
|Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)|
In 2000 he returned to the screen starring with Shah Rukh Khan in Mohabbetien produced by Yash Chopra and directed by the producer’s son Aditya Chopra. Mohabbetien was a huge triumph, both critically and importantly, commercially. This ushered in a new period of success for the actor, as he adopted a new, more paternalistic persona that returned him to prominence.
Although you could not call four films a comprehnsive retrospective — it’s a drop in the ocean — the films selected for screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival all represent Bachchan at the height of his popularity. Deewaar (The Wall,1975) and Kaala Patthar (Black Stone, 1979) are by his favourite director Yash Chopra and were scripted by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, the writers who invented and shaped Bachchan’s “angry young man persona” from the nineteen seventies.
Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), a Hindi classic that paired Bachchan with two other big stars of the seventies, Rishi Kapoor, and Vinod Khanna, demonstrated Bachchan’s impeccable comic timing, a talent that was probably not exploited enough during his long career. Then there is the iconic Don (1978), nowadays considered a cult classic in which Bachchan plays a double role, a familiar narrative device in Hindi cinema.
Also written by Khan and Akhtar, Don is such an iconic film that it has been remade in various languages, including Tamil, Telegu, and Punjabi. The most famous version is the 2006 Don made by Javed Akhter’s son Farhan Akhtar (actor/producer/director). The script was adapted and updated by Farhan and Javed Akhtar, and the lead (double) role was played by Shah Rukh Khan and inspired a successful sequel.
This snapshot mini-season of Bachchan gems offers a look at the superstar in sone of his finest early roles. These films should encourage those not so familiar with his work to further explore (and appreciate) a phenomenal Indian icon’s filmic oeuvre.