I have always wanted to write this post and what better day for this than today when Amitabh Bachchan celebrates his 70th birthday. Like millions of others he has been my favorite actor too from the time I remember. In fact he’s to acting what probably Sachin Tendulkar is to Cricket but while I am someone who always prefers to swim against the tide, in this case I have more than a fair share of reasons for the admiration I have towards this personality. To start with Amitabh is the earliest hero/actor whom I was aware of followed by Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan. So it was but obvious that the early impression was to become quite strong later slowly, but surely due to so many incidents.
Unfortunately Sholay released before I was born and my parents were not the type who would watch the same film repeatedly in theatre. I do remember watching Anand on T.V and not enjoying it a lot since my action hero did not do any stunts in the film 🙂 . I think I completely freaked out on Don as a toddler and insisted on my dad taking me for Rajnikanth’s Billa as well. My mother still talks about an early incident when the whole family (including uncles, aunts, cousins etc) went to watch The Great Gambler only to be turned away at the ticket counter because apparently it was an Adult film and they could not allow my parents to carry me along :). Come on folks with a history as vibrant as this how can I not go on to sort of worship this man?
I have vivid memories of watching films like Laawaris, Silsila, Kaalia, Yaarana etc in theatre. In fact I remember having seen Kaalia at Delite Theatre, Coimbatore (earlier known as Variety Hall Cinema) which is South India’s oldest Cinema theatre. During my annual vacation to Kerala I was excited to go and watch Andha Kanoon because it had the magical combination of Amitabh and Rajnikanth and was very disappointed when my uncle could not manage to get tickets. Those were the days when getting tickets especially in the 1st week for an Amitabh film even in South India was very, very difficult. When Amitabh met with a near fatal accident while shooting for Coolie along with the whole Nation even I prayed for his recovery though I must have been a toddler then :).
Film after film like Inquilaab, Sharaabi, Mard etc would come in one after the other and I would be glued to the newspaper to find out where the movie would be playing. When S.Ramanathan’s Geraftaar released you cannot imagine the kind of happiness I felt as the film had Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan and Rajnikanth all in the same movie, making it the baap of all movies for me. I forced my family members to watch Shahenshah with me on the very weekend of release and they were surprised with the intensity with which I cajoled them for the same. I still remember discussing the film with pride and talking about Amitabh’s superhero avatar with my friends the next day. When Ganga Jamuna Saraswati released it was declared a disaster on the day of release itself. But that did not hold me & my brother back from watching it at Priya Cinema, Palakkad (Kerala) during another vacation while my parents preferred to watch a Malayalam movie instead. In fact I would get a big kick of watching films with a duration of 3 hours and more those days and maybe that’s why I freaked out on Ganga Jamuna Saraswati too then :).
And since Amitabh films were always in demand even his earlier films would regularly get re-released and hence I also managed to cajole my folks to take me for films I had missed out earlier like Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar, Trishul, Sholay etc. I am happy I got to watch Sholay at Central Theatre, Coimbatore which was one of the very screens those days with 6 track sound and I was completely blown out as I saw my all time favorite film. There would also be constant debates that I would have with Rajnikanth fans including my brother as I would keep rubbing them the wrong way by saying that Rajnikanth partially owes his success to Amitabh as he’s worked on so many Amitabh remakes. In the middle of all this I was also thrilled to see my favorite star actually get featured as a super hero in a comic series as well. Doordarshan also helped me in enabling to see a lot of his earlier films like Parwana, Dostana, Ram Balram, Satte Pe Satta, Abhimaan, Saudagar, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, etc. In fact there was even a period in the early 90’s when for months together Doordarshan ran Amitabh films on Friday nights which were directly given to DD by ABCL.
In fact I still remember freaking out when I saw Toofan ( I can still watch the film anytime 🙂 ) and felt very bad when I learnt that the film flopped ( along with Jaadugar which curiously also released just a couple of weeks later,a suicidal move by the producers in a way). When I read a cover story in The Week on Amitabh around the same time I felt awful as the end of AB’s era was being predicted. The very next year (1990) happened to be special as Amitabh did Agneepath and Aaj Ka Arjun. Strangely the better film Agneepath did not perform as expected at the box office (while it has gone on to become a cult classic of sorts now) whereas a very ordinary Aaj Ka Arjun became a superhit mainly aided by the Gori Hai Kalaiyan song ( composed by Bappi Lahiri and sung by Shabbir Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar ). In fact I still wonder why the film was titled Aaj Ka Arjun when Amitabh’s character is called Bheema in the film 🙂 .
1991 saw Amitabh do 4 films- Hum, Ajooba, Indrajeet and Akayla and while I have no stories to talk about when it comes to Ajooba and Indrajeet except that I saw both of them, it’s different in case of Hum and Akayla. When it came to Hum I was bowled over by the star cast and the songs especially the Jumma Chumma De De song, even before the release of the film. When I saw the film with my parents I simply couldn’t control my excitement and really felt bad when the film ended. A few days later my friends planned to watch the film and I badly wanted to go for the same. Knowing that my father would not allow me to watch it again in theatre I had to make a friend come over & lie to my parents that I was going to watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids instead and managed to watch it again.
With Akayla the story was different. The film played at the same theatre as Hum (Apsara Theatre in Coimbatore) and I still remember this funny incident at the time of Akayla’s release. There was an adult film playing there just before Akayla released and on the day of Akayla’s release I actually cycled all the way to the theatre in the afternoon and waited for people to come out after the noon show. When I started asking them how the movie was, they gave me astonished looks and some of them looked disgusted too. It was only later when I was heading back home that I realized that Akayla was only releasing the next day. In my excitement I had forgotten that it was a Thursday just because I happened to see posters of the film near my house :).
Khuda Gawah was another film I enjoyed thoroughly and I felt extremely hurt when Anil Kapoor won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor for Beta instead of Amitabh for Khuda Gawah. After that Amitabh took a sabbatical for 5 years and focused on ABCL instead and thus fans like me had to wait for a very long time before the legend came back with Mrityudaata. Being his comeback film and with the popular Na Na Na Na Na Re song (music by Anand-Milind and sung by Daler Mehndi and Sudesh Bhosle) the expectations were sky high but all our hopes came crashing with this mess of a film directed by Mehul Kumar. His next 2 films- Major Saab and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan did well but it was not like before anymore. In fact Govinda literally stole the thunder in BMCM as it was a role more up his alley. But it was 1999 which proved to be a testing time for Amitabh with films like Laal Baadshah, Sooryavansham, Hindustan Ki Kasam, and Kohram. Like a true AB fan I went and watched all the films in theatre with the hope that the film would turn out good. I still feel Laal Baadshah would have worked very well if it had released 10 years earlier and felt that Kohram had got a raw deal. In a one of a kind pairing Mehul Kumar brought together Amitabh and Nana Patekar in Kohram.
When Kohram released I was in Chennai but was caught up with something and hence missed watching the film when it released. Couple of weeks later I happened to be in Delhi but by then the film was playing only in 2 theatres, one in North Delhi and one in South Delhi, Chandralok Cinema in Kalkaji/CR Park. I was new to Delhi but then to watch a movie and that too an Amitabh movie I would go all the way indeed and so I decided to visit Chandralok as I was staying in South Delhi myself. With a lot of effort I managed to find the theatre which during those days was mainly playing Mithunda films and I even remember watching the trailers of couple of those films in the interval. Thankfully when everything was going wrong for Amitabh 2 things happened in 2000 – Mohabbatein and KBC and the brand Amitabh got a fresh lease of life indeed.
By then I had entered B.School and would watch KBC sometimes in the A.V room just to see how he looked while hosting the show and felt impressed. I also remember watching Mohabbatein with a lot of my batchmates and liking Amitabh’s ease at settling down into a character role and allowing SRK and the newcomers to have their own space. In fact the highpoint of the film for me were the confrontation scenes between Amitabh and SRK. I went on to watch the movie thrice in theatre, the first 2 times at Payal Talkies, Jamshedpur and the 3rd time with my mom at Sathyam Cinemas, Chennai. My campus is one of the few B.Schools which actually has an active Amitabh Bachchan fan club and one of the highlights of the club was to celebrate his birthday in style with cake cutting and by screening his film on a 16 mm print ( don’t know if they still do it now ). So in my 1st year it was Satte Pe Satta and in the 2nd year I became the chief and screened Coolie. Many people wanted Sholay but I was clear that on his birthday we would not screen a film in which he dies :).
Among all my close friends I became known as “The AB guy” and thus whenever an Amitabh film came out there would be a lot of leg pulling just to tease me. I saw Ek Rishta at Paras Cinema, Delhi during my summer internship and of course Aks and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham at Payal Talkies, Jamshedpur. Post my MBA I started working at Chennai and freaked out watching Aankhen and Kaante and even watched Agni Varsha only for Amitabh’s cameo (which surprisingly in the whole of Chennai played only at Pilot Theatre). Shifting to Mumbai I saw Baghban twice and enjoyed it in spite of the film being a bit too emotional. In fact during a professional visit to Chennai I had seen the film at Melody Theatre, with a friend of mine who kept cribbing and spoilt the experience for me. A week later on Amitabh’s birthday I couldn’t think of doing anything better than watching the film and hence saw it again, this time alone at Malhar Cinema, Thane. Before that I also went for Kaizad Gustad’s Boom with a lot of expectation but sadly wasn’t satisfied. Khakee and Aetbaar both released the same day (23rd January 2004) and I saw them both one after the other. Khakee in particular impressed me a lot and a few days later when I moved to Kolkata I made sure that I saw the film again at Basushree Cinema.
Later that year I happened to watch his films like Dev, Lakshya, Deewar, Kyun! Ho Gaya Na all at Priya Cinema,Kolkata with Dev, Lakshya and Deewar releasing in successive weeks ( 4th, 11th and 18th of June 2004 respectively ), something that I look back with pride and amazement. Dev was an amazing film which brought 2 wonderful actors Amitabh and Om Puri together. Even a very bad film like Kyun!Ho Gaya Na was bearable only due to Amitabh for me. I was super thrilled when I heard of Hum Kaun Hai as it had Amitabh and Dharmendra together after ages. Sadly neither was the film promoted and nor were people (unlike me) interested in the film. A shift to Coimbatore then happened but nothing much changed as I continued to watch all his films, some of them twice like Veer Zaara, Black and Sarkar. I even endured films like Ab Tumhara Hawale Watan Sathiyo and Dil Jo Bhi Kahey only to watch Amitabh. Oh!and how can I forget the experience of coaxing a lot of my colleagues gathered in Mumbai for a training program to go and watch Ek Ajnabee after promising dinner and daaru for the same in return 🙂 .
One of the better things about Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was the smashing presence of Amitabh as Sexy Sam aka Samarjit Singh Talwar and I even liked his presence in films like Ekalavya and Nishabd. As Amitabh sang ‘Rozana’ I could only marvel at the magic this man could create even at this age. R.Balki’s Cheeni Kum was a film I thoroughly enjoyed (except for the last half an hour) as I saw it with office colleagues at Rex Theatre, Bangalore. But then the same year I also got extremely irritated while watching RGV Ki Aag on the Friday it released. Among his recent films a film which I thoroughly enjoyed and which has great repeat potential is Bhoothnath and a film which I felt proud of regarding his presence was The Last Lear. I was on vacation and trekking in Ladakh when The Last Lear released and was hoping against hope that I’ll manage to watch it. On the last day of its theatrical run I managed to watch it at PVR-Priya and felt so relieved. With Paa not only was the fanboy in me happy seeing the way Amitabh was stretching himself at this age but it also gave me the opportunity of meeting my idol not once, but twice.
I knew that he might visit Chennai to check the final version of the film as told to me by my friend, Tapas Nayak who worked on the sound design for the film but did not know when it would happen. One fine day I was delighted to get an sms from Tapas “Big B is in the studio come soon if you want to see him” and I just ran from my office. I waited patiently outside the recording studio at Real Image Media Technologies and finally he came out and stood right in front of me. My jaw just dropped and I didn’t know what to say but he realized that and just pointed out to the lift and said “I need to rush, I’m getting late for my flight”. I was sad that I couldn’t speak anything but still happy that this happened. Couple of weeks later there was a premiere of Paa at Sathyam Cinemas where Amitabh was felicitated by the Tamil film industry and I got to see him once again and my joy knew no bounds.
Oh!and I have always tried to make sure that I watch the regional films done by him. When I couldn’t watch Amritadhare (Kannada) in theatre I made sure that I bought the DVD as soon as it came out. Similarly I have gone on to watch his Bhojpuri films, Ganga and Gangotri on T.V in bits and pieces. When Major Ravi announced Kandahar I was thrilled because it was Amitabh’s first Malayalam movie and it had another of my favorite actors, Mohanlal. Sadly the film turned out to be a disaster even though Amitabh’s cameo was extremely dignified. But it took Puri Jagannath to bring back the magic of the 70’s and the 80’s once again as I watched Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap. The film per se was just another Puri style masala film but I loved it as Amitabh, the star was back to be seen after a long time and there was Hema Malini too, so why complain?
Nothing much has changed as I still go and watch a dud like Department on the Friday of release just to see if my idol is good in the film and I will continue doing so. The most recent experiment that I undertook was when I decided that I must watch Ganga Devi, a Bhojpuri film in theatre. And why did I want to watch it? Well because it had Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan and that was more than enough reason for me. So I dragged along a reluctant Aditya Savnal and Ajay Nair to watch it at Ashok Cinema, Thane and this was an experience by itself. While I am not sure if I will ever watch another Bhojpuri film in the near future, I am happy to see the original angry young man continue to be active as ever and now enthrall us with KBC-6. Here’s looking forward to many more films from him and hoping I continue to do justice to the inspiration that he’s been for me.
Note-This is just a personal tribute to Amitabh Bachchan and an attempt to relive certain moments in my life, centred around him. It would be next to impossible to talk about all his films in just one article.