An actor, a singer, a producer, a television presenter and an entertainer. There are very few things Amitabh Bachchan cannot do. In his 43-year long career, he has starred in almost 200 films, received fourteen Filmfare awards, won three prestigious National awards and has been honoured with the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan civilian awards by the government for his vast contribution to Indian cinema.
He is the epitome of poise, grace and charisma, and exudes a charm that speaks volumes for itself. An inspiration to some and a superstar to others, Amitabh Bachchan has time and again, with his extensive and versatile body of work, raised the bar for the standard of performances that has been produced over the last four decades. Be it Vijay Dinanath Chauhan or Auro, his competition is with nobody but himself. He has managed to outdo not only his contemporaries, his sidekicks and his co-stars, but also himself, with every subsequent film. He revolutionised Indian cinema by making people believe in the authenticity of every character he brought to life onscreen.
Thus, I’ve rounded up six must-watch films which I believe have been crucial in creating the Amitabh Bachchan the world now recognises as an institution and a legend.
The 70s was an iconic era for Hindi cinema; we had the likes of Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna gracing the silver screen alongside their leading ladies, all while standing in direct comparison to the new rising star, Amitabh Bachchan.
Directed by Prakash Mehra, Zanjeer is about a boy orphaned at a young age with his parents killed by an unknown murderer wearing a bracelet with a white stallion, Vijay Khanna (Amitabh Bachchan) grows up to become a police inspector who tries to cease drug dealings carried out by Teja (Ajit Khan). Through a series of events involving a street performer he falls in love with, Mala (Jaya Bhaduri), and an informer (Om Prakash), Vijay becomes vengeful of Teja, later finding out he was the one responsible for his parents’ death. This film became one of the actor’s most recognised performances of all time, pioneering his image as the Angry Young Man.
Directed by Yash Chopra, Deewar is about two brothers and their struggle to survive in the demanding city of Mumbai, after being misled of their father’s identity. Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) is a smuggler and Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) is a policeman responsible for hunting the former down. Victimised for his fathers misdeeds, Vijay tries to break away from the humiliation by fighting for his rights and in the process, becomes a leading smuggler of the underworld. With an abundance of memorable dialogues penned by Salim-Javed and ground-breaking performances by the two actors, Deewar went on to become one of the most iconic films and performances of Bachchan’s career.
This Ramesh Sippy creation tells the story of two small-time criminals, Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharmendra) who are summoned by a vengeful ex-policeman, Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) to hunt down and bring a dacoit, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) to him alive for a reward of Rs.70,000. Any list describing the brilliance of Bachchan would be incomplete without mentioning Sholay. Not only is it one of his best films, it is also one that any Hindi filmgoer would swear by. Its unforgettable dialogues, the chemistry between Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan, and the foot-tapping music all contributed to making Sholay nothing less than a masterpiece.
Directed by Mukul S. Anand, Agneepath is about Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) — the son of a Gandhian schoolmaster killed by drug trader, Kancha Cheena (Danny Denzongpa) — whose primary goal in life is to seek revenge on his father’s killer, by working his way up into the drug trade, close enough to be able to kill Kancha on his own. The poem Agneepath, written by Bachchan’s father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, is the theme incorporated into the film, both literally and metaphorically, recited by Vijay’s father and is repeated in the climax. Agneepath is also the film that gave Bachchan his first National film award for Best Actor.
Directed and written by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Black tells the story of a young blind and deaf girl, Michelle (Rani Mukherjee) and the relationship she shares with her teacher, Debraj (Amitabh Bachchan), who later develops Alzheimer’s disease. Michelle, due to her disabilities, lives in a world of darkness, which Debraj aims to eliminate. He considers himself a magician and takes it upon himself to bring Michelle into a world of light and colour using harsh, but successful methods. Winning the National awards for best feature film and best actor, Black is a fine example of path-breaking cinema. The performances by Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee are touching, genuine and unmatched, proving to be one of the best films of the decade.
The second film starring the father-son duo, R. Balki’s Paa, sees the roles reversed onscreen. Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) is a witty 12-year old boy suffering from progeria, a genetic disorder that makes him look five times older than he actually is. He lives with his mother (Vidya Balan) and grandmother (Arundhati Nag). One day, Amol (Abhishek Bachchan), a politician, visits Auro’s school and meets Auro, whom he decides to take to Delhi to see the president. Auro eventually finds out that Amol is his father and tries to bring his parents back together. Paa saw Amitabh Bachchan receive his third National award. The chemistry shared between the two Bachchans was evident and endearing. A successful attempt at creating a gem of a film and a character.
These are only six of my favourite Amitabh Bachchan films, which have required a lot of thought due to his incomparable performances with every film. He continues to entertain audiences worldwide with unmatched performances and remains an inspiration to those who are fortunate enough to work with him. Happy 70th birthday to one of the finest actors the nation will ever see and here’s to many more years of groundbreaking cinema any other actor can only hope to achieve.