Saturday, October 10, 2009
He's the face and brand ambassador of the IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) Awards, which are on television this weekend on Star Plus.
We look back at the tumultuous career of the legendary Indian actor, who was named the Star of the Millennium on a BBC.co.uk poll.
The Arabic version of this text was featured in this month's issue of L'Officiel Hommes magazine (June 2009 issue).
"Frankly I've never really subscribed to these adjectives tagging me as an 'icon', 'superstar', etc. I've always thought of myself as an actor doing his job to the best of his ability." Amitabh Bachchan
Full story after the jump.
In the late 1960s a young freight company executive moved to Bombay (now renamed Mumbai) determined to make it big in Indian cinema. Film producers and directors took one look at the tall, lean, lanky dark-skinned wannabe and laughed him off the sets.
The superstar of the day was Rajesh Khanna: handsome, fair, full-faced and irrepressibly romantic. That was the template that filmmakers were looking for in new actors.
Despite his epic voice, deep and resonating, Amitabh Bachchan was even rejected for a job on radio (though he later became something of a voiceover specialist). But he was the son of a well known poet, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, so clearly an artist's spirit was in his blood.
More importantly, he was good friends with Rajiv Ghandi, whose mother just happened to be Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. A letter of introduction from her, certainly didn't harm his cause.
Even so, he struggled, and this despite a National Film Award for best newcomer in his debut 1969 film, Saat Hindustani, he made do with bit parts for the next four years, until he got the leading role for 1973's Zanjeer, which was something of a ground-breaking movie both for him and Indian cinema.
Out went gentle romanticism and in came an action hero with a brooding explosive personality. Starring as a no-nonsense Police Inspector, fists would fly before any questions were asked. The film became a hit and Amitabh's famous 'Angry Young Man' persona was born.
That's not all, he primarily got the role thanks to the pleading of the already successful leading lady, Jaya Bhaduri. Unsurprisingly she later became his wife. The film was a hit and earned him a Filmfare nomination for best actor.
He didn't get that, but instead bagged the 'Filmfare Best Supporting Actor' award for Namak Haram, a social drama in which he upstaged Rajesh Khanna himself.
"One cannot achieve succeess with every film. Audiences can be unpredictable. The failure could be due to a bad script or characterisation. All this is a part of the learning process."
From then on there was no looking back. In fact he is the only actor to have starred in at least one box office hit every year for 15 years from 1972's comedy Bombay to Goa to 1986's action-thriller Aakhree Rasta.
Capitalising on his tough screen image and monopolising the genre of violent melodramas, he had string of successes in the 70s and early 80s. Two of his most memorable movies were both massive hits in 1975. Deewar is about two impoverished brothers who struggle to survive on the mean streets of Bombay.
One becomes a gangster and the other an upstanding police officer. A clash is inevitable, and Bachchan's death scene in the arms of his on-screen mother, is now a legendary piece of Hindi cinema, as is the classic dialogue between the feuding siblings.
Indiatimes Movies ranks the movie amongst the top 25 Must See Bollywood Films. But an even bigger success was Sholay, India's highest grossing and longest-running film of all time – it ran for five years in one Mumbai theatre.
The term 'Curry Western' was created to describe this cult classic about two thieves that become reluctant heroes protecting a village against the tyranny of dacoit Gabbar Singh. Many of the scenes, characters and dialogues have become iconic and have passed into the folklore of Indian moviemaking. If you only ever see one Bollywood movie in your life, this is the one.
Not to be typecast, Big B went on to prove he was equally brilliant at everything else. For comedy check out Chupke Chupke (1975), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Do Aur Do Paanch (1980), Namak Halal (1982) and Satte Pe Satta (1982).
For Bachchan the swooning romantic see Mili (1975), Kabhi Kabhie (1976) and Silsila (1981). If it's social and domestic dramas you want rent out Roti Kapada Aur Makaan (1974), Jurmana (1979), Kaala Patthar (1979) and Lawaaris (1981).
He even turned his hand to subterfuge and villany in Don (1978), Kasme Vaade (1979) and The Great Gambler (1979). And his dominating screen presence was certainly obvious in multi-starrer superhits like Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1979), Shaan (1980) and Naseeb (1981).
By this point he had been hailed as a 'one-man industry' by the French Director, Francois Truffaut.
"I wish I had time to learn all the languages of our country, I wish I knew how to play a musical instrument. There are many things that I feel I have missed out on."
He was also someone who still did most of his own stunts and in 1982 he paid the price. Filming a fight scene on the set of Coolie he hit a table corner with such force that it caused a near-fatal intestinal injury.
The outpouring of anguish, grief and prayers for the injured screen idol, as he lay fighting for his life in the Breech Candy Hospital, was unprecedented. After several months he made a recovery, but perhaps as a result of the accident he has since suffered several long-standing illnesses including a rare muscular disorder, Myasthenia gravis, and asthma.
After the assassination of Indira Ghandi, Amitabh quit movies and made an ill-conceived foray into government in support of Rajiv. Despite winning his seat with the highest victory margin ever seen in Indian politics, this was short-lived and ended less than three year later when he quit after being implicated in a financial scandal, from which he was later absolved.
His confidence had been badly shaken though, and returning to movies, initial success turned into a string of box office flops. This also started to become apparent in his commitment with his performances becoming tired pastiches of his former greatness. Only a couple of movies stand out in this period, 1990's Agneepath in which he played a vengeful mafia don and for which he won a second National Film Award, and the unconventional almost Art-House style, Main Azaad Hoon of 1989.
"It's nothing really. It's the unique presentation that makes me look good in the action scenes. Why did I dare do them? That's a funny question! Why do I act? Why do I breathe?"
Semi-retirement followed and Bachchan launched himself into yet another ill-fated venture by turning producer and creating his own entertainment company. Not only did it fail spectacularly but its financial collapse in the late-90's nearly left the screen legend broke.
But whether it be near-death experiences, political character-assassinations or commercial disasters, battling with pessimism and illness, the megastar has proved resilient and something of a comeback wunderkind. And the arrival of the new millennium was the turning point.
In 2000 he became the first host of the India version of the hugely success TV gameshow, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, renamed Kaun Banega Crorepati. TV audiences across the nation were transfixed, and all at once everyone seemed to recall just how awesomely talented Bachchan, now 58, still was.
Embracing a new screen persona of the stern but wise family patriarch resulted in a sensational movie comeback the same year, at an age when most actors are hawking their autobiographies – incidentally he still hasn't written one.
Mohabbatein, Ek Rishtaa and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham proved to be just the ticket. Never one to stick to a tired formula, at least not when he's revelling in his work, he has tried his hand at several atypical roles in the last few years, and mostly with success.
"No one can go through life without their share of knocks. I am no different from any other."
He produced his most inspiring and mould-breaking work to date with the beautifully shot Black in 2005 and a very compelling performance in The Last Lear in 2007. In the former he plays the teacher and mentor of a blind, deaf and dumb girl, and in the latter a washed up Shakespearean stage actor that literally leaps for that one last chance at a great performance worthy of an ovation.
Well past retirement age at 67-years old, and despite being hospitalised again in 2005 and also last year, the thinking man's action hero, the master of mature romance and the actor's actor is showing no signs of letting up.
Constantly trying new roles both on and off screen (he's an active blogger on www.bigb.bigadda.com and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, as well as reviving his production company), he frequently experiments with his image and style (check out the fashion shoot in the June issue of L'Officiel Hommes Arabic for Louis Vuitton) and his look in 2007's Jhoom Barabar Jhoom as well as the forthcoming Aladin). Catch him in a major new movie alongside Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley this year, as well as a rumoured Hollywood blockbuster next year.
After appearing in well over 150 movies, no wonder Amitabh Bachchan remains the uncrowned king of the Indian film industry, the country's most legendary star and, according to a 1999 BBC News Online survey, the Star of the Millennium ahead of actors such as Sir Lawrence Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness, Charlie Chaplin and Robert De Niro.
"The amount of things I have been through and the remarkable ways in which the body has reacted is just phenomenal. No wonder I became religious, because you don`t know why something`s happening to you and you don`t know how you bounced back."
Top 15 Must-see Amitabh Bachchan movies
1. Sholay (1975)
2. Zanjeer (1973)
3. Deewar (1975)
4. Silsila (1981)
5. The Last Lear (2007)
6. Namak Halal (1982)
7. Black (2005)
8. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977)
9. Kaala Patthar (1979)
10. Main Azaad Hoon (1989)
11. Don (1978)
12. Agneepath (1990)
13. Lawaaris (1981)
14. Mr Natwarlal (1979)
15. Saat Hindustani (1969)
Top five leading ladies
2. Parveen Babi
3. Zeenat Aman
4. Hema Maleni
5. Jaya Bachchan
First Family of Bollywood
Being the leading figure of Indian Cinema, it's only fitting that Amitabh Bachchan heads the first family of Bollywood.
Wife: Jaya Bachchan (formerly Jaya Bhaduri), a multi-award-winning actress in her own right, was already a well established leading lady when she met and fell in love with Amitabh. With a career spanning 46 years, having started as a child star in 1963, she was instrumental in her husband winning the main part in Zanjeer, a pivotal movie for him. Semi-retired she appeared with her son Abhishek as recently as last year in Drona.
Son: Abhishek Bachchan. A chip off the old block, he has struggled to emerge from the shadow of his illustrious father. He kicked off his career with 2000's Refugee and has received some success and critical acclaim for movies like Dostana (2008) and Guru (2007).
Daughter-in-law: Abhishek's wife is Aishwarya Bachchan (formerly Aishwarya Rai) a former Miss World who has had massive movie success both in India and abroad with major roles in Bride & Prejudice (2003), Mistress of Spices (2005), The Last Legion (2007) and The Pink Panther 2 (2009).