Age is just a number for Amitabh Bachchan, who turns 75 today. His work diary is already spilling into 2019, but he remains firmly ‘not out’ , continuing a glorious journey that has lasted over four decades.
In an industry where roles are seldom written for veteran actors, Bachchan is experimenting with looks, characters and themes with an enthusiasm and passion of a newcomer.
“When he comes on the set, he is always in character. I never feel like I’m directing Mr Amitabh Bachchan. I feel I am directing the character,” said Umesh Shukla, who is working with the living legend in 102 Not Out which also features veteran actor Rishi Kapoor as a 75-year-old and Bachchan as his 102-year-old father in the movie.
Another challenging role that Bachchan has taken up is in Thugs of Hindostan, which will see him in an armoured look with a heavy beard. His co-star Aamir Khan, who will be sharing screen space with Bachchan for the first time, has been a long-time admirer.
“His aura, action, every nuance of his acting was such a fulfilling experience in cinema,” Aamir said of watching Big B’s films in theatres in his younger days.
But as he rings his milestone birthday, Bachchan wants no celebrations.
He is off to the Maldives for a vacation with wife Jaya, son Abhishek, daughter Shweta, daughter-in-law Aishwarya and granddaughter Aaradhya and he will be back to work soon.
“A small and peaceful family time is more than enough for me,” Big B had once said.
Film historian S.M.M. Ausaja, whose forthcoming book The Bachchans retraces the journey of what he calls the ‘premier family of Bollywood’, said Bachchan’s extraordinary success is a ‘spectacular example of talent and luck’.
“If you’re very talented and low on luck, you’re Naseeruddin Shah. Or if you’re low on talent and high on luck, you’re Jeetendra. In Mr Bachchan’s case, it has been the right mix. He was unconventional in looks and amidst a string of actors for whom it was the romance genre all the way, he was like a whiff of fresh air. His mannerisms and style were his own,” stated Ausaja.
Having started with a role as one of the seven protagonists in Saat Hindustani, Bachchan next featured in the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Anand and did a few more films but it wasn’t until the 1973 Zanjeer that he came into his own.
“There was no stopping him then,” Ausaja said, pointing to some of his sensitive films like Ek Nazar and Abhimaan, as well as hits like Deewaar, Sholay, Mard, Namak Haraam, Kabhie Kabhie, Don and Shahenshah.
In 1978, he was at the top of his game with movies like Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Trishul, Kasme Vaade, Ganga Ki Saugandh and Besharam doing well.
Until 1988, when Shahenshah was released, Bachchan – son of legendary poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan – was in top form.
“Post Shahenshah, his fall began when directors started presenting him as larger-than-life characters in films like Toofan and Jaadugar. He endured a lot of flops and other problems until the start of the millennium when he came up with the television show Kaun Banega Crorepati in 2000. In fact, Mr Bachchan was named ‘Star of the Millennium’ at the worst phase of his career.
“But then, after KBC, his meteoric rise began and he started playing his age on screen and reinvented himself with every project – be it Sarkar, Baghban, Bunty Aur Babli, Paa or Black; His popularity is a binding factor for the country,” Ausaja said.
For someone who was considered too thin and too tall to fit in the Hindi film industry, Bachchan’s run in showbiz , to many, is what dreams are made of.
He failed when he launched Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd in the 1990s, but his acting acumen has taken him places.
Bachchan has earned epithets like ‘Angry Young Man’ and ‘Shahenshah’, and has won the love of fans who throng the gates of his house in Mumbai every Sunday to meet him.
Shukla said Bachchan must be still working 14 to 15 hours a day. “It’s commendable at his age. He is always on his toes and I have never seen him tired.”
“Sometimes we have to tell him to take it easy. He says, ‘No, I’ll do it’. That’s his spirit,” Shukla said.
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