Mrinal Chatterjee

Amitabh Bachchan, the ‘sahenshah’ of Bollywood who has enthralled generations of viewers with his power house performance backed by a booming baritone voice turned 80 on 11 October 2022. The way he works and makes films year after year- he has made 80 the new 60- cool and far from the way people think about an octogenarian. He seems to tell the entire world- Buddha Hoga Tera Baap.

Consider this: Amitabh Bachchan has worked with six generations of heroines ranging from Mala Sinha and Nutan to Rani Mukherjee and Jiah Khan. Bachchan in his film career of over 5 decades may have worked alongside at least 50 female actresses. For Mala Sinha and Nutan (both 1936 born), Bachchan was younger when they romanced him in Sanjog (1972) and Saudagar (1973), respectively. For the 1942-born Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee (born 1978) and Jiah Khan (1988) were virtually grandkids when he played cupid with them in Black (2005) and Nishabd (2007).

Amitabh Bachaan, of course, has never been branded as a ‘romantic hero’. In fact he played different roles with equal elan. The angry young man of Zanjeer; Babu Moshai of Anand; the comic charlatan in Bade Mian, Chote Mian, Auro, a child battling with progeria, in Paa to the demanding, eccentric dad in Piku, the probing lawyer in Maharathi- he continues to be different characters for his innumerable fans.

His entry into the cinematic industry was far from easy, as initially he faced only dismissive reactions – even outright rejection. He was dismissed as “not star material”, “someone no heroine would like to work with”, and even advised to “write poetry like his father”.

His film career started in 1969 as a voice narrator in Mrinal Sen’s film Bhuvan Shome. His debut film Saat Hindustani, directed by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, which was released on 7 November 1969 did not exactly put the box office on fire. But it gave him a toe hold in the industry and he persisted. He first gained popularity in the early 1970s for Zanjeer (1973). Deewaar (1975) established him as a star and Bollywood found ‘an angry young man’. Sholay (1975) catapulted him into greater stardom. And there was no looking back- till he met with a freak accident on the sets on Coolie (1982).

It almost ended his career and his life. But he recovered.  He joined politics in 1984. He contested in parliamentary elections and won Allahabad seat by defeating HN Bahuguna, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, with 68.2 percent of the votes in his favour – one of the highest victory margins ever in Indian elections.

However, he left politics in 1987 and returned to films in 1988, playing the title role in Sahenshah, which was a box office success. And then came the fall. His subsequent films like Jaadugar, Toofan and Main Azaad Hoon (all released in 1989) failed at the box office. He ventured into the entertainment business. It did not go well. His films experienced lukewarm response.

He bounced back in the new millennium. Besides embracing different character roles he discovered the power of televisionand reinvented himself as one of the most successful television anchors with Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). He switched to meaty and intense character roles and continued to enthral the audience.

(Journalist turned media academician, the author is Prof Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee presently works as Regional Director of the Eastern India campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication located at Dhenkanal, Odisha. Views are personal.)

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