A look at the filmi journey of Amitabh Bachchan — from ‘Saat Hindustani’, which released half a century ago, past the Angry Young Man to the beloved ‘Paa’ — in numbers
The film ‘Saat Hindustani’, set against the backdrop of the liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule and directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, released on November 7, 1969. Among the actors who played the seven Hindustanis was a lanky young man from Allahabad, Amitabh Bachchan, who was cast as a Muslim poet.
Fifty years on, that man is still acting. He’s also acknowledged as the greatest star of Hindi cinema. Bachchan’s success began with his portrayal of the unsmiling, hot-tempered Inspector Vijay in ‘Zanjeer’ (1973). He then took to romance and comedy; and became the actor who could do it all. As he grew older, Bachchan gracefully moved into senior citizen roles; his star power ensures that films are written around him.
Generations of co-stars have bowed out, but Bachchan goes on. Here’s Bachchan’s remarkable film career so far – in some fun and surprising numbers…
15: Double roles played
Unusually for a Bollywood hero, five of those double roles had him playing father and son. The 1983 film, ‘Mahaan’, featured him in a triple role, as a father and his two sons!
12: Films with Shashi Kapoor
Bachchan partnered with Shashi Kapoor in films like ‘Roti’, ‘Kapada Aur Makaan’ (1974) and ‘Deewaar’ (1975). Kapoor also directed him in ‘Ajooba’ (1991). They last worked in ‘Akayla’ (1991). Fans call them Shashitabh for a reason.
4: Heroines who also played his mother
In one of the very rare instances in Bollywood, four actors have played his heroines and his mothers (though in different movies). Waheeda Rehman featured opposite him in ‘Adalat’ and ‘Kabhi Kabhie’ in 1975 and 1976, and played his mom two years later in ‘Trishul’ (1978). Rakhee Gulzar has done the same in ‘Kabhi Kabhie’, ‘Kaala Patthar’ and ‘Shakti’; Sharmila Tagore did it in ‘Faraar’ and ‘Desh Premee’. Nutan played his neglected wife in ‘Saudagar’ (1973), and his mother in ‘Insaniyat’, about two decades later in 1994. Three Bachchan films also feature co-stars who play both his mothers and wives (since he was playing both father and son). Waheeda Rehman in ‘Adalat’ and ‘Mahaan’, Sharmila Tagore in ‘Desh Premee’.
21: Films as Vijay
Bachchan’s screen name has been Vijay in films like ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Roti Kapada Aur Makaan’, ‘Deewaar’, ‘Trishul’, ‘Kaala Patthar’, ‘Shaan’, ‘Dostana’, even the relatively recent ones like ‘Aankhen’, ‘Nishabd’ and ‘Rann’.
19: Movies as a cop
His first time playing a police officer was his most iconic role in ‘Zanjeer’. His most recent outing as a cop was where he was seen grooving and shaking with his son and daughter-in-law was ‘Bunty Aur Babli’.
9: Films with Rekha
This count doesn’t include ‘Namak Haraam’ and ‘Immaan Dharam’, in which Rekha was among the cast but paired opposite Rajesh Khanna and Shashi Kapoor respectively. Bachchan and Rekha first starred together in ‘Do Anjaane’, but they were earlier supposed to be in a film called ‘Ek Tha Chander Ek Thi Sudha’, which was shelved because Bachchan was not considered “commercially viable”. This number also doesn’t include two cameos. The two appear briefly in the 1981 comedy ‘Chashme Buddoor’. The other was just four years ago in ‘Shamitabh’.
19: Films with other Bachchans
Jaya Bachchan, known as Jaya Bhaduri at the time, agreed to do a bunch of films with a newcomer who nobody really knew. They starred in films like ‘Bansi Birju’, ‘Ek Nazar’, ‘Abhimaan’ and the film that finally catapulted him, ‘Zanjeer’. By the 2001 film ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, they had worked in nine movies together. With son Abhishek and bahu Aishwarya, he appeared in five films each, not counting cameos.
5: Films as a villain
Much before he hit the marquee with ‘Zanjeer’, Bachchan starred in ‘Parwana’, in which he does some very unsavoury things (murder included) to get his lady love. Decades later, in Sriram Raghavan’s film ‘Johnny Gaddaar’, the hero Johnny watches ‘Parwana’ and retraces Bachchan’s steps to cover his own crime. Babu in ‘Satte Pe Satta’ was the only instance when Bachchan’s entry completely creeped everyone out. Ram Gopal Varma had him play a modern-day Gabbar called Babban Singh in ‘Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag’. In ‘Aankhen’, Bachchan planned a bank heist with blind men and got away with it.
3: Times as a superhero
In ‘Toofan’, Bachchan was the eponymous superhero with a saffron cape and whupped the bad guys. In ‘Ajooba’, he’s a masked crusader in a fantasy empire. For ‘Shahenshah’, director Tinnu Anand orchestrated a hero on the lines of Superman who had a mild-mannered alter ego.
30: Films with the Bachchan voiceover
His first credited act was a voiceover for Mrinal Sen’s ‘Bhuvan Shome’. Similarly, Satyajit Ray used his voice on ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’. And the Oscar-nominated ‘Lagaan’ had his baritone spell out the story of Champaner.
5: Played differently-abled roles
In ‘Roti Kapada Aur Makaan’ he is a soldier who loses an arm in battle. In ‘Hindustan ki Kasam’, he plays Kabeera, an Indian Army veteran who lost his right arm to a stray grenade. In Bejoy Nambiar’s ‘Wazir’, he is a wheelchair-bound chess wizard. In his pre-‘Zanjeer’ days, many producers thought his voice was a disadvantage. Possibly why he was cast as a mute person in ‘Reshma aur Shera’. And in ‘Paa’, he plays a young boy with a condition that causes him to age beyond his years.
8: Non-Hindi movies
Having spent some of his early years in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bachchan was no stranger to the Bengali language. Which probably explains his first foray into non-Hindi cinema with ‘Jaban’, a Bengali film. He collaborated with Shakti Samanta on ‘Anusandhan’, the Bengali version of ‘Barsaat Ki Ek Raat’. Being born in Allahabad, Bhojpuri was not a completely alien dialect either, so when his long-time make-up man Deepak Sawant produced a Bhojpuri film, ‘Ganga’, it wasn’t a stretch for him. He did two English films, Rituparno Ghosh’s ‘The Last Lear’ and Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. The only non-Hindi feature film where he didn’t have any understanding of the language was the Malayalam feature, ‘Kandahar’.
3: Times when doctors gave up on him
The first is that near-fatal injury on the sets of ‘Coolie’. His intestine was ruptured and he was declared “clinically dead”, but he recovered and returned to the sets. While shooting for ‘Mard’ he was afflicted with Myasthenia Gravis, a condition which weakens muscles and nerves, rendering it impossible to even gulp water. Yet again, he came back in fighting form. During Diwali he ended up burning his hand badly. Docs advised to stay away from the sets but he went to shoot anyway, hand in pocket, kicking off a trend.