Amitabh Bachchan. Two words that describe the Indian Film Industry more than anything or anybody. To start evaluating the man, the actor, the star, the superstar, would be an exercise in futility. Because no one, yes no one, can truly evaluate a phenomenon called Amitabh Bachchan. Perhaps the late Manmohan Desai came closest to the perfect description of the superstar, when he called him Haley’s Comet, someone who comes once in 76 years. Maybe even a hundred years later there won’t be another Amitabh Bachchan. He is unique. He is perfect. He is the God of all things popular Hindi cinema.
To pick favourites from his impressive filmography is a daunting one. Does Deewaar make it to the top five? Do we leave out Trishul? Or can we truly think of omitting Sholay? Or that brooding silence of Kala Patthar…can that be ignored?
The task is Herculean.
So what I have done here is slightly different. I have tried to pick my five personal favourites from his vast number of films. But in most cases, these films have been slightly different from his all-round action comic romantic superstar genre. These films are instances when the makers have attempted to show a different side of the superstar. A closer-to-life image of the actor rather than the larger-than-life image of a superstar. And in each of these films, more than the Bachchan persona, it is the actor in him that shines brighter. So without further ado, here goes…
- Saudagar (1973) : Directed by Sudhendu Roy. Co-star: Nutan
Based on a short story Ras by renowned Bengali author Narendranath Mitra, art director Roy’s foray into direction was a commendable effort. Released in a year when Bachchan has memorable and milestone films like Abhimaan, Namak Haraam and Zanjeer releasing, this quiet little tale of a jaggery seller and his relationship with the two women in his life was a proverbial gem. Nutan, as the suffering wife of Bachchan, was flawless in her enactment, but Amitabh managed to ably match her histrionics with his own. No mean feat for a young actor, especially given Nutan’s range and ability as a performer. The sorry box office fate of the film combined with the super-stardom that was to embrace Amitabh, has made his film a forgotten one unfortunately. But watch it to discover a side of the superstar rarely dwelved on to.
- 2. Manzil (1979) Directed by Basu Chatterjee. Co-star Mousumi Chatterjee
Based on Mrinal Sen’s 1965 Bengali film Akash Kusum (written by Ashish Barman) this Basu Chatterjee Film was actually an improvement on an already splendid film. For one, the end was more hopeful than the gloomy climax of the Bengali film. Made at a time when Bachchan was well and truly a one-man industry, at the top of his game as the angry young man, it was a heartening choice made by him to act in this simple movie, playing a character that was diametrically opposite to the ones he was mostly portraying at the time. Amitabh excelled as a simple day-dreamer who lies through his teeth, pretending to be super rich in order to impress the girl he loves. Lilting music by RD Burman and an impeccable capture of the city of Bombay, added to the film’s charm. And it hasn’t diminished after all these years. Timeless.
3. Parwana (1970) Directed by Jyoti Swaroop. Co-star Yogeeta Bali.
A super flop when released, this movie has achieved a cult status over the years,making it a film many Bachchan fans revisit over and over again. Bachchan plays the role of a meek quiet docile artist who gets rejected by the lady he silently pines for. His transformation into an angry ruthless and cold killer is chilling to say the least. One of the earliest instances of the great man using his eyes to emote, Parwana was a clear indication of what was to follow. It’s box office failure at the time only delayed the inevitable…the rise of a superstar.
- 4. Raaste Ka Patthar (1972) Directed by Mukul Dutt. Co-star Neeta Khyaani
Loosely based on Billy Wilder’s classic The Apartment (starring Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine), this must be a surprise inclusion for most fans, in this list. But do give it a serious revisit to find Amitabh in top form as a meek executive who unwillingly gives his apartment to his office superiors for their pleasure, in hope of corporate rewards. He falls in love with a woman who also works in his office. His learning of the truth about her and the shock at his discovery is vintage Bachchan. Made at a time when he wasn’t shackled by his “image” this is a refreshingly different Amitabh. One which we yearn for even today.
- 5. Bemisaal (1982) Directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Co-star Raakhee
Another remake of a Bengali film (Aami Shey O Shawkha, written by Ashutosh Mukherjee, starring Bengali superstar Uttam Kumar), Bemisaal is a quiet masterpiece. Hrishikesh Mukherjee combined with Amitabh (then at his peak as an action superstar) for the last time to give us an absolutely brilliant film. Bachchan uses his strong personality, his superstar swag, his incredible voice, to the hilt as he conveys he role of a loyal friend, who’d go to any extent to save his friend and family. And most of all he uses his eyes instead of words, at his absolute best in this film. To match the legendary Uttam Kumar, in a landmark film of his is no mean feat. Bachchan not just matches, he actually supercedes it by a few yards. Arguably his best for Hrishida and definitely one of his best. When Amitabh sings “khafa Hoon Khafa Hoon” (I’m Angry, I’m Angry) he gives the (much overused) term…attitude… it’s definition.
Copyright (c) Pratik Majumdar