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Amitabh Bachchan

Portrait of a Bollywood Megastar

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Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan

Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

Arguably the most important Bollywood megastar of all time, Amitabh Bachchan has had an illustrative career that began in 1969 and continues to this very day. Having appeared in over 180 films as well as being the host of India’s most popular game show, Bachchan is both a literal and figurative giant in the industry. 

Early Career

The son of a well-known Hindi poet, Bachchan was born in 1942 but it wasn’t until after graduating college that he decided to pursue a career as an entertainer. With his distinct baritone voice, his first instinct was to apply for a job as an announcer, but he was rejected by All India Radio. His break came in 1969 when he was cast in Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’  Saat Hindustani, a mostly forgettable film that didn’t perform well at the box-office but still earned Bachchan the National Film Award for Best Newcomer of that year. It wasn’t long before his star began to rise, appearing in a seemingly endless stream of blockbusters that included Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay and Amar, Akbar, Anthony. During this streak he was dubbed a One-Man Industry by the press.

Bollywood's Angry Young Man

Amitabh’s rise to fame came during a period of growing disillusionment with and distrust of authority, due, in part, to political corruption that was becoming more and more commonplace as well as a breakdown of the legal system. With his intensely brooding appearance, his role in Zanjeer as a police officer who takes the law into his own hands to avenge the murder of his parents positioned him as Bollywood’s angry young man, and he became the face of this new public rage. He continued to make a name for himself, mostly by playing working-class heroes hell-bent on fighting against an unjust society, or a state that exploits its citizens. His roles in the hits Deewar and Sholay served to solidify this image, playing characters who have been described as “inward-looking yet outwardly searching,” torn between a dark past and the hopes for a better future.

Power in Restraint

Beyond the social, political and economic factors that led to the success of such films, one must also not forget Bachchan’s presence and performance, both of which are key factors to his becoming a symbol of the changing times. There’s a restraint to his delivery and sense of timing, and his anger relies more on physical gestures than on exaggerated histrionics. Much has been written on his use body language, and he’s considered one of the first Bollywood actors to incorporate Western acting styles into his performances, which obviously set him apart from his peers. The struggles of his characters are internalized as much as they are externalized, and he mastered the subtlety required to express loss, anger, and the desire for revenge.

From Big Screen to Little, and Back Again

Bachchan’s streak continued until the early ‘90s, when he retired from films after a series of critical and financial flops. In 2000 he became the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, India’s version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which (as in other countries) was a phenomenal success. This led him back to the cinema, but with his white beard and dark hair he began playing age-appropriate roles, often appearing as the loving patriarch. He has been immortalized in wax at Madame Tussaud’s museum in London, and was voted “Star of the Millennium” on a BBC online poll in 2000.

Selected Filmography:

Saat Hindustani (1969)
Anand (1971)
Zanjeer (1973)
Deewaar (1975)
Chupke Chupke (1975)
Zameer (1975)
Sholay (1975)
Kabhi Kabhie (1976)
Parvarish (1977)
Don (1978)
Amar Akbar Anthony (1979)
Dostana (1980)
Shaan (1980)
Yaarana (1981)
Barsaat Ki Ek Raat (1981)
Shakti (1982)
Nastik (1983)
Coolie (1983)
Main Azaad Hoon (1989)
Jaadugar (1989)
Aaj Ka Arjun (1990)
Insaniyat (1994)
Mrityudaata (1997)
Mohabbatein (2000)
Dev (2004)
Kyun…! Ho Gaya Na (2004)
Gangotri (2007)
Rann (2010)

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