Age is just a number for Amitabh Bachchan, who turns 75 today. His work diary is already spilling into 2019, and he remains firmly “not out”, continuing a glorious journey that has lasted over four decades.
In an industry where roles are seldom written for veteran actors, Big B, as he is fondly called, is experimenting with looks, characters and themes with an enthusiasm and passion of a newcomer.
“When he comes on the set, he is always in character. I never feel like I’m directing Mr Amitabh Bachchan. I feel I am directing the character,” Umesh Shukla, who is working with the ‘living legend’ in 102 Not Out, said.
“When he steps out of his vanity van, he comes out in the type of mood that is required for a scene and makes the atmosphere like that. It’s fun to work with him,” added Umesh, who has cast veteran actor Rishi Kapoor as a 75-year-old and Big B as his 102-year-old father in the movie.
Another challenging role that Big B has taken up is in Thugs of Hindostan, which will see him in an armoured look with a heavy beard. His co-star Aamir Khan, who will be sharing screen space with him for the first time, has been a long-time admirer. “His aura, action, every nuance of his acting was such a fulfilling experience in cinema,” Aamir said of watching Big B’s films in theatres in his younger days.
But as he rings in his milestone birthday, the megastar wants no celebrations. He is off to the Maldives for a vacation with wife Jaya, son Abhishek, daughter Shweta, daughter-in-law Aishwarya and granddaughter Aaradhya. And he will be back to work soon. “A small and peaceful family time is more than enough for me,” Big B had once said.
Film historian S M M Ausaja, whose forthcoming book The Bachchans retraces the journey of what he calls the “premier family of Bollywood”, said Big B’s “extraordinary” success is a “spectacular example of talent and luck”.
“If you’re very talented and low on luck, you’re Naseeruddin Shah. Or if you’re low on talent and high on luck, you’re Jeetendra. In Mr Bachchan’s case, it has been the right mix. He was unconventional in looks and amidst a string of actors for whom it was the romance genre all the way, he was like a whiff of fresh air. His mannerisms and style were his own,” Ausaja said.
Having started with a role as one of the seven protagonists in Saat Hindustani, the actor next featured in the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Anand and did a few more films. But it wasn’t until the 1973 movie Zanjeer that he came into his own.
“There was no stopping him then,” Ausaja said, pointing to some of his “sensitive films” like Ek Nazar, Mili and Abhimaan, as well as hits like Deewaar, Sholay, Mard, Naseeb, Namak Haraam, Kabhie Kabhie, Don, Hum and Shahenshah.
In 1978, he was at the top of his game with movies like Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Trishul, Don, Kasme Vaade, Ganga Ki Saugandh and Besharam doing well.
A near-fatal injury on the sets of Coolie in 1982 led him to take a break from films and he ventured into politics from his native Allahabad. He contested the Lok Sabha election on the Congress ticket in 1984, but didn’t continue his political journey for long.
He found himself named in the infamous Bofors scandal, but was cleared of the allegations 25 years later and remains apolitical even though he associates himself with issue-related social campaigns for the government once in a while.
Until 1988, when Shahenshah was released, Amitabh, son of legendary poet Harivanshrai Bachchan, was in top form.
“Post-Shahenshah, his fall began when directors started presenting him as larger-than-life characters in films like Toofan and Jaadugar. He endured a lot of flops and other problems until the start of the millennium when he came up with the television show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) in 2000. In fact, Mr Bachchan was named ‘Star of the Millennium’ at the worst phase of his career. But then, after KBC, his meteoric rise began and he started playing his age on screen and reinvented himself with every project — be it Sarkar, Baghban, Bunty Aur Babli, Paa, Black... His popularity is a binding factor for the country,” Ausaja said.
For someone who was considered too thin and too tall to fit in the Hindi film industry, Big B’s run in showbiz — to many — is what dreams are made of. He failed when he launched Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd in the 1990s, but his acting acumen has taken him places.
He has earned epithets like “Angry Young Man” and “Shahenshah”, and has won the love of fans who throng the gates of his house in Mumbai every Sunday to meet him.
Umesh said Big B must be still working 14 to 15 hours a day. “It’s commendable at his age. He is always on his toes and I have never seen him tired...”
“Sometimes we have to tell him to take it easy. He says, ‘No, I’ll do it’. That’s his spirit,” Umesh said.
HBD BIG B, SAYS KBC
The producers behind reality game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) have planned a special surprise for megastar Amitabh Bachchan’s 75th birthday on October 11. Big B hosts the popular quiz show.
The team of “KBC” has released a special video showing students and teachers of the Sherwood College, Nainital, from where the actor graduated, celebrating his birthday.
The backdrop of the college was decorated with life-size posters of the actor and students and teachers sang the birthday song, a press release said. Also, Big B’s favourite guitarist Niladri Kumar played the birthday tune on his guitar, it said.
The Piku star got emotional to see the love and affection showered by college students, teachers and the guitarist.
This special episode of the show will be aired on October 11 on Sony Entertainment Television.