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Amitabh Bachchan – He Still Towers Over the Others

October 11, 2019 | By

Amitabh Bachchan, one of the finest actors and easily among the biggest stars ever to have graced cinema, has played a myriad range of roles, moods and characters in his illustrious career. He has been selected for the Dada Saheb Phalke award for the year 2018 for his contribution to the Indian film industry. Vijay Kumar takes a trip down his films to explore facets of his towering screen persona.

Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh – literally the tallest of all top notch heroes of the past, is also one of the best actors ever.

Amitabh was far from the typically handsome to begin with. As his popular acceptance grew, and as his body filled up, he gained in handsomeness too. There was something odd yet attractive about his persona, like that of Abraham Lincoln who was still taller at 193 cm.

Amitabh in Love

The films that stand out are Abhimaan, Silsila, Kabhie Kabhi, Muqaddar ka Sikander and Sharabi.  

Tere mere milan ki ye raina – Abhimaan

The film Abhimaan – one of Hrishikesh’s best – concludes with this duet. It is both the climax and the denouement of the film. In its emotional impact, it is at par with Chal ri sajani ab kya soche… of Bombai ka Babu and Mere sajan hain uss paar of Bandini – two masterly compositions of Sachin Dev Burman.

Tere mere milan ki ye raina…. though carries an added aura owing to the fact that Amitabh and Jaya were, at that point of time, in the pink of their love. It discernibly informs the scene, goes a little deeper than their respective histrionic masks. The duet emotes a tad more as it not only recalls and re-pledges togetherness that once was, it is also a catharsis of sorts both for Uma and Subir. The duet flashbacks some of the intimate moments of the two, when their love was in surge. And the white that adorns them, as they sing, looks so dignified, so sublime, in the splurge of colours around.

Tere mere milan ki ye raina (Abhimaan, 1973) SD Burman / Majrooh Sultanpuri / Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar

Rang barase bheegi chunarwali – Silsila

This masti song that in effect pits Amit (Amitabh) and Chandani (Rekha) one side and Sobha (Jaya) and Dr. Anand (Sanjeev) on the other somehow takes me to the opening lines of that famous number Hum bhi hain tum bhi ho from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai…

Its elixir Cannabis Indica all the way, turning the lover in Amit euphoriant, enabling him to cross the limits of decency. His ascending salaciousness being duly reflected in the changing expression of Dr. Anand – from amused to flabbergasted to disgusted! And Chandni’s gradually crumbling refrain till the lovers get ensconced and covered under bheegi chunariya in full public view !

But I really love the luchcha looks of Amitabh – looks so genuine – and his occasional biting of lips as if in the act!

Rang barase bheegi chunarwali (Silsila, 1981) Shiv Hari / Dr. Harivansh Rai Bachchan / Amitabh Bachchan

Rim Jhim gire sawan – Manzil

Rim jhim gire sawan…the Kishore version is just fabulous. But it dominates the scene. The Lata version, even if a tad subdued in its aural impact, is subsumed in one of the most romantic scenes featuring Amitabh. Lata’s singing, and Yogesh’s words, so effectively articulate the surging sentiments of love on the ground.

And look at the words – Rim jhim gire sawan…is reflexively reminiscent of that super romantic duet from the film Kala Bazar, featuring Dev and Waheeda – Rim jhim ke tarane leke aayi barsat. But Yogesh has encapsulated in just four words the brewing emotions of one who has come of age, his/her heart raring to go! His use of sawan in place of barsaat or its synonyms has a transcending dimension. Sawan is symbolic of the season of love. One is thus not only in the season but soaked into it too – Rim jhim gire sawan!

Even the use of word gire for rains in Hindi prose/poetry is hardly ever come across. Here it connects the season of love to an actual experience. And the sound of the falling drops – rim jhim – is indeed music to the lovers, as it stirs often an undefined urge for the other – an urge for the yin-yang moments! And what logically follows is sulag sulag jaaye man – the enkindling of hearts!

The scene is at once likeable for there is nothing contrived about it. An extremely handsome Ajay (Amitabh) and a petite Aruna (Moushumi), both palpably flush with love, meandering along, hand in hand, Ajay tugging her to help her keep pace, walking in pools of water, kicking puddles, braving the waves, and all under a sky laden with clouds, that allows light but in diffusion as if to give a semblance of cover to the lovers in gay abandon!

Rim jhim gire sawan (Manzil, 1979) RD Burman / Yogesh / Lata Mangeshkar

Aaj rapat jaaye to humein na uthaiyyo – Namak Halal

Angry young man and angry young woman in love! Rains setting them ablaze! Adrenalin had to flow, spark had to fly! Decorum and norms of decency in public thrown out of window! Skidding in the slush – aaj rapat jaaye to humein na uthaiyyo! Almost in foreplay on a cart on wheels! The refrain is: let-go, no barriers, no estoppels – aaj behak jaaye to hosh na dilaiyyo…baat ulajh jaaye toh aaj na suljhaiyo…!

This duet is in sharp contrast to the earlier one. Rim jhim gire sawan has an innate dignity, a restraint – this far and no further! Aaj rapat jaaye… plays to the instincts gross, no time for niceties, just come on kind! A highly enjoyable duet, may be because many of us,  just want to be our un-barriered selves, even if temporarily, for just some moments!

Aaj rapat jaaye to humein na uthaiyyo (Namak Halal, 1982) Bappi Lahiri / Anjaan / Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle

Inteha ho gayi intezar ki – Sharabi

Pause on the words which are no less than cry of desperation, of doubt of the quintessential lover in wait…But our smitten hero Vicky is lucky. Before the candle of his hope could ebb, his flame announces herself with a love cry – O, mere sajana, lo main aa gayi – signaling the world to swivel in two consummating melodies!

It is one of the best love songs filmed on Amitabh. He has lived it with authenticity, every moment of it, in varying moods…singing pensively in wait as if speaking to himself…and the moment she arrives his pensiveness melts into a child-like exuberance…look at the way he beats the drums, carries her away in arms oblivious and unmindful of the world at large.

Kishore Kumar is marvelous in his singing. His voice modulation specific to that of Amitabh, and his empathy with the song sentiments are just absolute.

Inteha ho gayi intezar ki (Sharabi, 1984) Bappi Lahiri / Anjaan / Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle

Amitabh, the Angry Young Man

The industry institutionalised Amitabh as angry young man. It paid to portray him as such. The industry encashed to the hilt his indomitable voice that acquired a cutting edge in a situation of reel combat.

His height, his voice and the expression in his eyes that at times conveys the icy fire of a person religiously obsessed have contributed a great deal to the fruition of his innate talent that he has so assiduously nurtured.

Thus often bizarre stories were written and unconvincing characters created that responded to this cult image of Amitabh and he never failed at the box office, at least up to Coolie.

Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Sumita Sanyal in Anand (1971)

Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Sumita Sanyal in Anand (1971)

However, he genuinely looked ‘angry’ – an anger that was as much contained within as ventilated without – only in three films namely Anand, Namak Haram and Deewar. And these three films gave him ascendance to the very top. In fact, Deewar unignorably changed the character of the mainstream cinema till the Khans took over. It was through Deewar that Amitabh surged ahead of the super star Rajesh Khanna.

Amitabh in Deewar

rare Deewar artwork of Amitabh Bachchan

The Kala Patthar look with a difference: artwork of an artist with Amitabh Bachchan and a bidi (Pic: SMM Ausaja)

No other film of Amitabh can match his portrayal and characterization in the film Deewar. That icy fire looks so much integral to his persona. And this icy fire is best seen in a three line song – an English one – in film Deewar:

I am falling in love with a stranger
The night tonight has a flavour of love

I am falling in love with a stranger
Your touch is so tender
There is something to remember of you

This scene itself is a brilliant conception. Vijay (Amitabh) has chosen himself to be a game; has an appointment with the bullets awaiting him just outside the hotel precincts! And Anita (Parveen Babi), the seductress, too thinks that he is a game, could be ensnared in a romance! But Vijay’s portrayal is different – the one who even though a product of his circumstances, is yet driven relentlessly by his destiny!

The scene is explicit on the point. He dodges the bullet to only beget his love! Anita’s incipient love becomes an impregnable shield against the deadly bullets – with the porter’s identity token 786 appearing as the hand of destiny! Romance, crime, fate – inalienably intertwined! It is a fairly-tale stuff.

This scene stands out for Amitabh and his rugged sophistication, his majestic gait, his resplendent aloneness with his eyes seemingly and ever gazing beyond the immediate, in vacancy, even when he is looking at the seductress! And Anita is a perfect foil as she explores the man. But they do connect as Anita utters: tumhe kisi ka inezar hai…! The apex point of the scene!

There is nothing loud in it, unlike the much celebrated and ever in currency ‘maa’, ‘chor’ and ‘Bhagwan’ scenes, which seem to thrive on AB’s vocals and each, instead of being subsumed in the story momentum, seems to create a focus unto itself !

The things that do not connect honestly is the emotional one-upmanship: mere paas maa hai…implying as if mother is a commodity that could be bartered! And, generally, the show of strength or a standoff with god, whether in real life or in cinema.

Mere baap chor hai… Vijay hurls it on his tenacious younger brother to somehow manage a principled exit from a difficult situation! This scene looks a little contrived, or rather grafted in the story, even though its impact on most of the viewers cannot be over emphasized. However, one invariably enjoys the dare and the indomitable spirit of the porter Vijay as he says: main ab bhi phenke hue paise nahi uthata…!

Presently…I am in love with a stranger…

I am falling in love with a stranger (Deewar, 1975) RD Burman / Ursula Vaz

Amitabh in Sholay

Ironically, in Sholay, Amitabh is an antithesis of the angry young man that blazed the Hindi cinema then. He is so cool, so resolved, so clear, speaks little but mostly with a wry sense of humour. He is almost magnanimous and a sublime lover too. Sholay owes, to an extent, its greatness to the withdrawn role that was ascribed to him, that he executed with a feel and finesse as only he could.

In the midst of brutality, violence, vendetta and cacophony, that characterise the great film Sholay, unfolds a love story sublime. A widow in the white in love with a convicted criminal! It is just amazing as to how a woman silenced by her circumstances and a person laconic communicate their love. There is an innate dignity and grace in their interface. The expressions on their faces, their body language, no carnal expectations, no spoken words – the totality of which constitutes their love should be an object lesson to the students of the Pune Film Institute.

Only five scenes comprise this love story, and they aggregate to less than 15 minutes. This is just miniscule in a film of 196 minutes duration. Yet in these five scenes, the love brews, surges and concludes too though tragically. The story has so much serenity, so much poise, has an otherworldliness of sorts that it eases audience to recline and relax, and feel emoted too, especially in contra-distinction to the nerve-twitching pace of the film.

This surely should be the shortest love story subsumed in a mega film. But it is one of the best, and will easily hold its own against the longish dedicated love stories on celluloid.

In the first scene, Jai (Amitabh) chances upon Radha (Jaya) climbing down the stairs. A meeting of eyes for a fleeting moment but that moment stopped just a little to accommodate curiosity.

In the second scene – the first one-to-one meeting – Jai returns the locker key with a solemn promise on good conduct. The scene has more to it that is unsaid though easily understood. Jai wants to say something more though not sure what and Radha waits expectantly not knowing why. But the seed of love had found its bed!

Sholay Amitabh Bachchan Jaya Bhaduri

Jai returns the locker key to Radha

In the third scene, a little longish (perhaps of two and a half minutes), Jai on a buffalo back with one hand in the air with a stick in it finds himself aface Ratha looking at with an unshackled rather condescending half smile. A vulnerable Jai manages to slip away, embarrassed. But still better part of the scene has Radha dimming the corridor lamps ever so slowly before switching them off, stealing half look of a Jai sitting in the courtyard below and across, straining at his mouth organ. But while dimming the last lamp, Radha fixes her gaze at him for a moment or two. The lady in the white has dared, her inner being transcending the limitations of a widow. It is confession more sanguine than any spoken word to that effect.

And Jai responds with a twinkle in his eyes and a surge of emotions that into his mouth organ creating a higher pitch of melody as if in reciprocation of love. The love finds its way of expression.

In the fourth scene, Jai returns hurt after an abortive bid on the life of Gabbar Singh. Realizing that Jai is hurt, Radha loses her self-possession and half sprints to have his full view. The scene is reminiscent of Paro when she runs, unmindful of customs and her position, to meet her dead Devdas! The discerning eyes of a sensitive father in law (Thakur) does not miss it as he accepts the realities.

The death of a grievously hurt Jai is the tragic climax of this love story. In the final moments he chances upon a distraught, shocked, unbelieving yet in control Radha and a wistfulness escapes him: Kya socha tha, aur kya…..and dies with his dream bottled up! It is at that point Radha’s sense of loss, her grief overcomes her as she inconsolably cries on the shoulder of an empathizing Thakur. And the final frame is so poignant, so symbolic as she shuts her window to the world at large to be with her widowhood as revisited and reconfirmed.

The song Ye dosti hum nahi todenge… that plays in a slower version in the death scene, is one of my favourites. Kishore’s singing is so much in sync with emotions on the ground, of both Radha and Viru.

Ye dosti hum nahi todenge (Sholay, 1975) RD Burman / Anand Bakshi / Kishore Kumar

Amitabh – His Decline, His Resurgence!

Age showed on his face relatively early. After the Coolie accident, which perhaps dented him psychologically too, he looked a tad unconvincing, a bit contrived while essaying the roles featuring him as an angry young man. During the years 1987-2000, most of his films were bizarre, crass and eminently forgettable. And the list is long. There were only six films – Shahenshah, Main Azad Hoon, Agni Path, Hum, Khuda Gawah and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan – during this period in which he lived upto his high name. However, each of these six films had space for his undoubted talent.

At about that time, he sought to expand in a business of his own but soon found himself in debts. Yash Chopra rehabilitated him through a film Mohabbatein. He rediscovered his depth once he was reconciled to the fact that he was no longer young and that he had to adapt himself to the roles befitting a man in his middle age. However, more than Mohabbatein, it was the Kaun Banega Crorepati (started in the year 2000) that really cushioned him, connected him to millions of people world over almost one to one.

Baghban is an important watershed in Amitabh’s career. With this he regained his numero uno position. Khaki was another film where he did remarkably well as a low profile police officer. He was off the beaten path in Cheeni Kum, Nishabd, Paa, Piku and Pink and his performance in each was acclaimed critically.


Amitabh Bachchan in Piku

Baghban’s appeal cuts across generations even as its treatment of relational conundrum is simplistic, even as it is exaggerative in its approach, and even as it remains on an emotional high throughout. One to one, Rajesh Khanna’s Avatar is better grounded. Yet Baghban emerged a blockbuster for two reasons: first, it carried an unexceptionable intent and message that instantly connected with the audiences; and second, Amitabh’s towering and intense presence.

Main yahaan, tu wahaan, the telephone duet, emotes the most. While Hema is nowhere near Nutan of Sujata, Amitabh, at the other end, more than compensates. Credit must also go the music director who put the duet on a lilt that it appears nearer a poetry recital than the loud crap that Hindi films usually dole out. It gives the duet an easy acceptability as one befitting the two oldies! However, what takes the duet to a higher orbit is the imperfect singing of Amitabh – a kind of imperfection that connects, puts one at ease.

Main yahaan, tu wahaan (Baghban, 2003) Aadesh Shrivastava / Sameer / Amitabh Bachchan and Alka Yagnik

Amitabh, the Bachchan

Bachchan in my area (east Uttar Pradesh) means a kid and it used to be a popular nickname. Harivansh Rai Srivastava too had this nickname. But in his case, it so much grew in acceptance that it virtually became his surname. Amitabh thus has Bachchan for his surname instead of Srivastava.

But Amitabh has definitely justified his surname with his exceptional on-screen chemistry with kids. On this point, he is ahead of the other stars, both of the past and the present. Some of the films that evidence this chemistry are Don, Do Anjaane, Mr Natwar Lal, Hum, Andha Kanoon and Bhoot Nath. Two songs, especially – one from Natwar Lal and the other from Do Anjaane, exemplify this.

A father in guise desperately trying to be in accord with his son who has almost no memory of him except a diffused connection in terms of a hum. The father gradually builds on that hum conveying that with an intensity, poignancy and love that leaves the bewildered son to cry, “Papa!” And a sky of happiness opens up!

Luk chip luk chip jao na (Do Anjaane, 1976) Kalyanji Anandji / Anjaan / Kishore Kumar and Shivangi Kolhapure

Mere paas ao… has an orbit of its own. Amitabh is par excellence, both in his acting and singing. He is tall, but looks taller in this, perhaps because of his attire, or relative to the kids, but that little extra gives him a comical look. He tells the story and enacts that too, building a progressive and consuming curiosity and suspense… till he declares himself as consumed by the villain of the story!

For the beholders, this scene is comical, full of mirth, visually, as also at a level subtle.

Mere paas ao, mere dosto (Mr Natwar Lal, 1979) Rajesh Roshan / Anand Bakshi / Amitabh Bachchan and Master Ravi

Going Strong at 76

Amitabh is home to more than one disease. He even suffered Hepatitis B and is surviving with only a quarter of his liver. But there is something in him that helps him to surmount the disease-related crises. He is 76 now and looks good for many more years. I join millions of his admirers and fans in wishing him a disease-free long life with a creativity ever on the ascendant. I play here, as my wishes, a song that has so much positivity, the one I just love, the one that features the reigning super star Rajesh and an about-to-become Mahanayak Amitabh: Diye jalte hain, phool khilte hain….

Diye jalte hain, phool khilte hain (Namak Haram, 1973) RD Burman / Anand Bakshi / Kishore Kumar

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Born in 1950, Vijay Kumar’s ancestral roots were in Uttar Pradesh. He took early schooling in Ludhiana, Punjab; secondary school and college education in Kanpur; a post-graduate in Statistics, and much later, obtained a law degree from the Delhi University. A government job brought him to Delhi, where he had the opportunity to handle national policies on education and culture. His last professional engagement was in the Ministry of Tourism, where he was the Director, heading the division responsible for the promotion of education and skills specific to the tourism sector. Vijay Kumar is a recipient of the National Hospitality Education Award 2011-12, in recognition of his contribution towards skill development initiatives for the tourism and hospitality sector. His early childhood was shaped by a familial milieu that was quasi rural, with songs and music for every occasion. His mother had a good memory for Kabir and Tulsidas and she recited them. This music sensitization mutated into a love for the Hindi film music as he grew.
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