AB: My favorite 15 of “the” Bachchan

Off late I have hated Amitabh Bachchan, for everything!! Maybe that’s because of the over exposure that brand B has garnered over the last some years. From Binani Cement to Reid & Taylor to Tirupathi Devasthanam to UP mein dum hain, kyonki Zulm yahaan kum hai, the Bachchan has mouthed every single line given to him that could have earned him some moolah without bothering to breathe a bit of conviction into any of them. The sha(ho)llow voice couple with some over the top “ham”atization Bachchan is an unbearable cacophony. To add to it this new found PYAAR & PR for his PARIVAAR. En”uff”.

But being born in the 70s and growing up in the 80s I had to be honest. The truth is Bachchan wasn’t just an actor or a star…Bachchan was a savior, an inner voice, the hidden alter ego, the conscience of an oppressed nation, the single man representative of the larger populace . Back then getting a glimpse of Bachchan on the neighborhood purdah was such a novelty and once in several months affair. He came in with a bang and remained in our hearts for long. His voice reverberated in the soul of the audience and his humor left us smiling for several days (even in our sleep). That was the AB I grew up with – the star, the icon, the messiah.

Today, I remember Bachchan in my own way, through my own experience that I fondly call the Big B. These 15 performances to me epitomize what Bachchan was or could have been but somewhere in the big bad world of stardom got lost forever.

  • Kumar sen – PARWAANA: Amitabh acted in this film, long before Anand / Zanjeer etc. This was when he was a struggler and was casted as the anti-hero, to Navin Nischol. The part of an envious & dangerous man, who carefully plots a plan to decimate the Hero in his desire for the leading lady … Amitabh lent such credibility and realism to the performance .. Commendable!! Certainly one of his finest performances much before he became what he did.

  • Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee – ANAND: It took me almost 5 viewing of this classic, to realize that I sobbed at the end of the film not for Rajesh Khanna, but for the end emotional explosion of Amitabh. Minimalistic dialogues, very little screen space and a brief that probably was: “You are a doctor who is scared of losing this patient”. Amitabh proved what a brilliant actor he was in portraying silence and acting with his eyes – a trait not many directors could understand or use. One of his best performances ever.

  • Subir Kumar – ABHIMAAN: the weakest ever character that Bachchan portrayed. And there lies the brilliance of this performance. Subir Kumar, is such a believable and contemporary portrayal. Again with a cigarette in one hand, a half filled glass of whiskey in the other, with Lataji in the background… Bachchan acted with his eyes …. It takes a whole lot of conviction on the director’s part of construct a complete scene with conversations happening without dialogues … the story moving forward. Bachchan lived the role ….sheer poetry and delight.

  • Vicky – NAMAK HARAAM: “Kaun hai who maikalal jisne Somu par haath uthani ki jurrat ki, himmat hai to saamne aaye…” – A glimpse of what was to come. Rajesh Khanna was fading out, and most certainly a new tide was building up. Bachchan again in the role of a rich, proud, spoilt (to some extent), son of a exploitive industrialist… was first rate. Another role where there weren’t any fights, comedy or dance to help him shine … sheer acting – silence, anger, eyes, body language…. Explosive performance. If he stole 20% limelight from Rajesh Khanna in Anand, here it was 100% AB. Khanna bowed out after this. It was AB all the way.

  • Prof. Sukumar Sinha: CHUPKE CHUPKE: Hilarious, Adorable and Brilliant. In this role, AB was everything that he wasn’t as the star. Timid, Nervous, Unsure and Clumsy. Slated to be a guest appearance performance Bachchan certainly made a grand impression in this avatar and to this day remains to be one of the finest exhibitions of simple family comedy that one would love to watch on a lazy Sunday Afternoon.

Here, I must take a break and lament that while Bachchan certainly emerged as this huge super star with his Angry Young Man image, his finest was in his formative years under the close supervision of the great Hrishikesh Mukherjee. No wonder that 4 of the above 5 (except Parwaana), were all Hrishida’s creations with AB displaying 4 completely different emotions. (Only one I excluded here is Mili). This underlined the fact that AB was a pure director’s actor – Sadly a fact that AB didn’t realize well, thus began his journey with tight pants, long hair and dhishum dhishum.

  • Vijay : DEEWAR: Those were the days. When even in commercial hoo haa there was substance. Carefully etched characters, strong dialogues, expert direction and some towering performances. Deewar was the beginning of a long partnership between AB and Yash Chopra. Once again the Anger emerged coupled with the impregnable silences with a fire and fury boiling inside that otherwise expressionless exterior. AB acted… and how!! Haji Mastan was well and truly alive on the screen and the world adopted the style, the swagger …even the lines – “Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin leta”.

  • Vijay: KAALA PATHTHAR: If you look at Amitabh – Yash Chopra combined, there was a trilogy in Deewar, Kaala Patthar and Trishul. The anger, distaste, fury, towards the system reeking in all 3 of them. KP, was a film not many have written about. Yet in the Angry young man genre, this will be right up there along with Deewar. Mind you, AB had started to dish out trash by now. People give a lot or credit to Zanjeer and Prakash Mehra for the Angry Young Man image, in true sense it was Yash Chopra who exploited that side of the actor AB. Whether it was the constant fight with a tormenting past, or the sheer machine like disinterested approach to the daily chore of mining, the sudden spark of romance and life with Rakhee, or the fury of standing up for the cause of the miners….Bachchan was in top form through and through. (was tipped as a clash of titans between him and Shotgun Sinha…. It wasn’t a match at all)

  • Amit Malhotra: SILSILA: The word has it, that this came at a critical inflection point in AB’s career. In a way his way of coming out of a much hallucinated affair with Rekha. Besides that, this was probably one of the first mature, grown up love story enacted in the commercial film parlance. And again it was Yash Chopra who dared to do something which was beyond the ordinary and tried and tested with B. The film bombed, but firmly underlining the fact that Amitabh was way way beyond the action avatar that the world was gaga about. Bachchan was always terrific portraying grey characters, and once again he managed to carve out a restrained yet powerful performance. Though towards the end, the movie belonged to some cameos from Shashi Kapoor, Jaya B and Sanjeev Kumar.
  • Vijay: SHAKTI: I think this was one of the best ensemble of cast ever. AB, Dilip Kumar, Rakhee, Smita PAtil, Amrish, Kulbhushan (and Anil Kapoor), the film was a very well written work of Salim Javed. And inspite of such powerful team, the film revolved around AB’s silence, angst, hatred, love….. Loved it. The last time Salim Javed wrote for Bachchan, and certainly the period after this clearly indicated how pivotal was their role in creating, and magnifying the anger in AB. A very critical moment in AB’s career.

  • Azaad: MAIN AZAAd HOON: By now AB was on a break neck descent. It was Trash-osphere all around. Coupled with an accident, a major illness, hairfall, debts, Bofors…. He was under major stress. In between supreme fiascos, came this heartwarming film loosely based on Meet John Doe. I loved this film not so much for its content of performance, but for seeing Bachchan do something different from the run of the mill Action –boom-baam, which was hitting some mind shattering depths of nonsense.

  • Vijay DC: AGNEEPATH: This film is a tribute to the late Mukul Anand. I feel the world lost a great mind of imagination very early. Though the film is very loud … I liked the sheer scale and the dead look on AB’s face. The film needed that lively kid (Ma aka achcha beta) to die the day he sees his father being lynched to death, and the character to remain so forever. Just for that Agneepath will remain as one of the best of Bachchan.

  • DCP Anant Kumar Srivastav: KHAKEE: Almost a decade and half after, Agneepath, it was this Rajkumar Santoshi effort which saw Bachchan portray an Asthma ridden cop, who hasn’t been such a high flyer, but is dedicated to his work and “duty”. This is today’s Bachchan. Old, Weak, Ailing yet powerful. This film had some very strong moments and AB shone like a champion. Once again good direction extracted a superlative effort from him. Khaki was a forgettable film, only made interesting by Bachchan.

  • Chaudhary Sumer Singh: VEER ZAARA: Yash Chopra, knows how to use Amitabh Bachchan. After Silsila, AB never worked with under Yash Chopra’s direction. (Mohabbatein was Aditya Chopra). You need to see this cameo to believe that, the best 20 minutes of this otherwise mediocre flick was when AB was on the screen. Portraying as this exuberant old sardar in a Punjab village who plays hockey with children as old as his grand children and thinks about the growth of his village – and yeah doesn’t forget to empty a few Videshi pegs in the evening : AB is a riot in this small yet significant role. His one on one scene with SRK on the terrace and then bidding him adieu certainly makes your eyes moist – One of my favourite performances of Amitabh.

  • Subhash Nagre: SARKAR: Bachchan’s supreme ability to act with his eyes makes him an actor worth being filmed in close up. And Ramu is the master of close ups. When they came together it had to be a work of art. After ages it was silence and eyes again, and the magic hadn’t waned at all… if at all it was more intense and powerful than earlier. There were hardly any dialogues yet almost a zillion words were spoken …. Remarkable!!

  • Vidyadhar Patwardhan: VIRUDDH: I have seen this film more than 15 times and it is such a moving tale that it leaves me teary eyed every single time. The last few years we have seen Bachchan perform characters that are weak and helpless. But nothing to beat this one. A middle class parent dealing with the unexpected death of his young son, left to cope with the atrocities lammed on him by the corrupt system. It was a performance full of poignancy & grief, almost making you reach out to this man and help him.

Those were my 15 picks of the man called Amitabh Bachchan. He might have become the biggest star this land could have ever produced, but I feel his is a career which could have been more colorful (maybe less successful), if he had chosen to explore more on his acting prowess rather than templatizing himself.

It certainly has been a special career and continues to be one. As a fan, I would hope and wish there are better imaginative and brave directors who can make use of this great thespian and his endless potential. As of now we have only seen 50%.


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