The original game-changer: Amitabh Bachchan
He came. He saw. He Changed The Rules Of The Game.
Amitabh Bachchan, who turns 70 today (October 11), began his film innings in 1968-69, shooting for K.A.Abbas’ Saat Hindustani. It was standard ‘tradition’ that actors came, improved on the job irrespective of past acting backgrounds, and (if at all) began winning awards a few films and years down the line.
But Bachchan, on sheer merit, clinched the National award for Best Newcomer with his debut performance itself, and then went one better: he bagged the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor trophy for Anand, his second film!! This achievement was repeated by Rishi Kapoor (his first two Mera Naam Joker, Bobby) but Bachchan led the way.
Saat Hindustani had no romantic interest for Bachchan – a taboo for someone aspiring to be a star then. Neither did Bachchan possess the looks or body type to become the archetypal chocolate or dramatic hero. Even his first ‘heroine’ Sumita Sanyal (Anand), was a non-star, and in that film, they were already married when the film began. What’s more, he never serenaded her with a song, as he did not have any songs in this film!
Through his long struggle phase, Bachchan was always opting for unconventional leads – like his roles inReshma Aur Shera as the mute (despite his unique baritone!) and trigger-happy brother of the hero who marries his brother’s love, Parwana and Gehri Chaal (both negative turns) and Raaste Kaa Patthar, in which he lets out his house to his boss for his nightly flings with women. Bachchan’s first dual role (Bandhe Hath/ 1973) also was not the normal playing-to- the gallery kind because the two Bachchans never came face-to-face!
In his struggle phase itself, his deep sonorous voice that was his biggest asset was also employed as a narrator in the 1969 art film Bhuvan Shome (actually released even before Saat Hindustani) as well as in the 1972 Bawarchi directed by the man he considered a guru, mentor and second father – Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
Bachchan’s breakthrough, Zanjeer, also was a path-breaker: the hero’s prime interest was avenging his parents’ murder, and not romance (with future wife Jaya, then Bhaduri) – and he had no song again! What’s more, with this film, he created (along with Salim-Javed and Prakash Mehra) the Angry Young Man persona that was to dominate Hindi cinema for a long while. Male bonding (through the character of Pran) was another prime change here. Because soon, Bachchan, with films like Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Deewaar, Chupke Chupke, Sholay, Kabhi Kabhie and Hera Pheri in quick succession, was to consolidate the multi-star trend.
At his Angry Young Man peak, Bachchan did something unthinkable for a top star – wage a war against a section of the press. For over ten years, he went from strength to greater strength, banning interviews and visits to his sets without the slightest difference to his career, even if he magnanimously admitted later that despite the principles involved, it was a mistake to be enemies with the media.
The dissociation with a lip-synched song from Zanjeerto Namak Haram, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan andDeewaar and the fact that he enacted only dostiduets with the other heroes in Chupke Chupke (a comedy), Sholay and Hera Pheri rather than solos or love serenades led to the peculiar misconception that Bachchan had decimated film music in the post-Rajesh Khanna phase. Conveniently, it was forgotten that Bachchan’s debut home production (and a hit) Abhimaan, had him as a pop singer in a musical!
Even more interestingly, as Bachchan went on the Manmohan Desai-driven track of the ‘Complete One-Man Entertainer’ with Amar Akbar Anthony, the Bachchan song became a chartbuster like the cream of any musical star’s legacy. Khayyam’s comeback (Kabhi Kabhie), Shiv-Hari’s debut (Silsila), Bappi Lahiri’s entry into the A-bracket (Namak Halaal) and Anu Malik’s first super-hit film (Mard) all came about thanks to the songs that were inspired by his larger-than-life persona.
Composers as diverse as Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, R.D.Burman and Rajesh Roshan openly raved about the way the Bachchan brand inspired them to give off their best in films like LP’s Amar Akbar Anthony, Dostana, Naseeb and Coolie, KA’s Don, Muqaddar Ka Sikander and Laawaris, RD’s Kasme Vaadeand Kaalia and Roshan’s Mr. Natwarlal and Yaarana. Lyricists Anand Bakshi and Anjaan in particular also excelled in their work for him.
But here again, Bachchan caused the Hindi film song to be tweaked to his unique charisma: the song became – in concept, creation and execution – a complete audiovisual experience by itself that eschewed only one thing: monotony. Come ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswala’, ‘My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves’, ‘Salaam-e-Ishq‘ or ‘Pag Ghunghroo‘, the Bachchan song was more than a mere expression of emotions – romantic or otherwise. It would also be an insult to use the word “item” song for them, because the dimension was in a different plane, and the songs took the film’s plot forward while enhancing the appeal and the commercial value!
Bachchan also contributed to the song in an additional way: by lending his unique voice to many of them and coming out with a high hit percentage of self-rendered anthems like ‘Mere Paas Aao Mere Doston‘ (Mr Natwarlal), ‘Mere Angne Mein‘ from Laawaris and ‘Rang Barse‘ from Silsila that were both written by his father and more. From here to today’s technologically-advanced days of pitch-correction software, Bachchan as singer has gone from strength to strength as well.
So okay folks, here’s the bottom-line: no actor since the era of singing-stars, has recorded songs more often than the Big B! And even this was taken to the next dimension by the Big B when he actually sang the theme-song of Kahaani, a film in which he did not even act! His list of composers spans from the legendary Ilaiyaraja to a newbie Indrajit Sharma in his home production Aks.
Another aspect Bachchan did more often than his colleagues were essaying the dual role, often more than once in a single year like Don and Kasme Vaade.
Amitabh Bachchan’s next game-changing initiative came when his disgruntlement with politics (which he had taken up in the early ’90s) led to his returning to what he knew best – acting. It was Bachchan, the man who had reinvented the Hindi film hero for the first time since Shammi Kapoor, who visualized a corporate setup for film production modeled on Hollywood studios but tweaked to the peculiar ball-game of Hindi cinema.
And so was born ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited), India’s first film-making corporate firm. ABCL’s dream was to have operations in the entire section of the entertainment industry – film production and distribution, music and video, television software, celebrity and event management. But at that stage, due to various factors, the dream turned into a personal and professional nightmare.
It was then that Bachchan broke the biggest rule: that a big star (that he always was despite his professional troughs) could not host a game show on the small screen: television. And so in 2000, Bachchan reconnected with the common man as never before as the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, still India’s most successful game show ever, whose sixth season is now on! In that red-letter year for him, he became India’s first actor to be immortalized in waxwork at Madame Tussauds, London.
As fortune once again smiled on Bachchan’s efforts, the same year also saw him back with a bang on the big screen with Mohabbatein - he was 58 then! From here began his most glorious phase to become a superstar at 60-plus, with roles including protagonists like Dev, Virrudh, Black, Ek Ajnabee, Nishabd, Cheeni Kum, Paa and finally Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap - essentially all solo leads – actually written for him and only because he existed!
By 2003, Bachchan had written off his debts and mortgages (running into crores of rupees). As of today, he still remains one of the most in-demand and highly-paid names in endorsements as well, the most ‘book’-ed actor ever in Indian cinema (a record number of books have been written on him in multiple languages) and is among the highest tax-payers in the Indian film industry.
So its game set and match then to the most unique megastar for all time – Amitabh Harivanshrai Bachchan.