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May 2020

Amitabh Bachchan/ Turning Points/ 2010/ Part 10 – Day 1819

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So, what makes Amitabh Bachchan special? That he gives credit to others for his success, that he continues to work hard and feels passionate about his art? That he redefines himself in every decade, embraces new generations, new trends/technology with ease?

In 2019 when Amitabh Bachchan was conferred with the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, everyone was surprised because so far, the title was bestowed upon artistes who had more or less retired from the arc lights and Bachchan was clearly unstoppable. The reportage revived memories of his earlier titles – Padma Shri/84, Padma Bhushan/2001and Padma Vibhushan/2015.

When I interviewed him for my first book Amitabh: The Legend published in 1999, he said ‘I’m identified as the angry young man who is now an angry middle-aged man’ and by the time I concluded my second Bachchanalia  and third book Amitabh Lexicon in 2009 and 2011 he jested that he should now be called an angry old man.

At 77 Bachchan was more vibrant than his younger co-stars, endorsing brands, walking the ramp, reciting poetry and more. He always regretted not learning an instrument and during the lockdown, he utilized the free time to create his own music. He has the knack of mastering whatever he takes up. His current blog reads Day 4468, has 17.3 million followers on Instagram, 29 million on Facebook and 42.4 million on Twitter.

The key to his success is discipline and focus and it reflects in his work, health regime, food intake, lifestyle and attitude. Currently gearing up for the digital premier of his Gulabo Sitabo on Amazon Prime Video, Bachchan, Ayushman Khurana and Shoojit Sircar are all set to create history.

As I sign off my mind rewinds to the 90s when the internet first came to India, Bachchan and Shammi Kapoor were amongst the early celebs to hold an internet account. I know because g magazine was the first publication in India to go online and Amitabh inaugurated the event. He  amused the audience with anecdotes of chatting up strangers online who disappeared when he revealed his age.Younger actors often ask me from where he finds the energy to go on and on, it is something only Amitabh Bachchan can answer.Concluded for the time being.

Amitabh Bachchan/ Turning Points/ 2010/ Part 9

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Amitabh Bachchan/ Turning Points/ 2010/ Part 9

Amitabh Bachchan has time and again emphasized on the luxury of good health and how post 1982 his body has constantly sprung surprises on him. Earlier it was varicose veins, then diverticulitis followed by some freak accidents and tuberculosis. A routine checkup led to discover that 75% of his liver is damaged and he is surviving only on 25% but there is no lack in motivation, energy or enthusiasm.

Seventy plus but still playing center stage on the big screen, he was the broadcast man going through a conscience crisis in Rann, a teacher in Aarakshan, crusader in Satyagraha, voice for the voiceless in Shamitabh. In 2013 he did a special appearance in Hollywood film The Great Gatsby and in 2016 Shoojit Sircar’s Piku about a single parent obsessed with his bowels and his daughter in that order won him his fifth National Award for Best Actor.

He challenged Farhan Akhtar in Wazir, defended Taapsee Pannu in Pink and concluded the Sarkar franchise/ Sarkaar 3 with Ram Gopal Verma. If Thugs of Hindostan with Aamir Khan was a disaster, 102 Not Out with Rishi Kapoor was a winner and Badla a surprise hit nobody, not even producer Shah Rukh Khan was prepared for.

Along with his other commitments Bachchan encompassed 34 films, some guest appearances, some songs and some voice overs. Some, he was nominated for awards but did not win /Aarakshan, Pink and some, he was appreciated for / WazirSatyagrah but not acknowledged.

He was still the God of the small screen and every season of Kaun Banga Crorepati, the ratings got bigger. So did the crowds outside his home on Sunday evenings, a tradition followed since his accident in 82.

Amitabh Bachchan/Turning Points/Part 8 / 2000 – day 1817

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Amitabh Bachchan has time and again narrated how he went across to Yash Chopra and asked him for work. The film was Mohabbatein, his first as a character artiste. In life and in showbusiness particularly, timing is all!
A few weeks before Mohabbatein was released, Amitabh Bachchan made his debut on television in the greatest reality show in Indian history, Kaun Banega Crorepati. Everyone advised him against it, said that the small screen will reduce his stardom but KBC proved a gamechanger and the entire nation was hooked on to the show.
When Mohabbatein was released in the cinema halls the audience applauded their matinee idol shouting lines like ‘Lock kiya jaaye’.
The decade saw 50 plus superstar featured in 61 films including songs/ guest appearances/ voice overs and yes, he played the patriarch but was a different father in a different film, reprimanding in Ek Rishta, aristocratic in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, friendly in Armaan, angry in Virrudh and flamboyant in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.
He played both, the good and the bad man, a criminal in Aankhen and Kaante, a cop in Khakee, Dev and Bunty aur Babli. He was god in God Tussi Great Ho and a ghost in Bhootnath.
It was a decade of variety and experiments, there was a psychological thriller/ Aks, a fantasy/ Allaadin, period drama/ Eklavya, horror film/ Darna Zaroori Hai and also a sex comedy/ Boom.
There was Sarkar and Sarkaar Raaj, some regional adventures, Amrithadare/ Kannada, Amrutha Varsham/ Telegu, Ek Krantiveer/ Marathi and Ganga/ Bhojpuri and the Last Lear in English he romanced wife and a Hollywood film/ The Great Gatsby., romanced wife Hema Malini in Baaghban and also younger woman Tabu/ Cheeni Kum and he was accepted in both.
He won two national awards in this decade, Black/ 2005 where he played the tutor of a deaf and dumb Rani Mukherji and Paa/2009 about a genetic defect that accelerates aging.
On television he continued to shine as the star anchor in three seasons of Kaun Banega Crorepati. The health complications continued but Bachchan did not let them overshadow his motivation.
To be continued…

Amitabh Bachchan/Turning Points/Part 7/1990 – Day 1816

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Amitabh Bachchan/Turning Points/Part 7/1990
Amitabh Bachchan had resigned from his parliamentary seat and ended his political career. The film fraternity was joyous that the prodigal was back to the arc lights. He was finally baggage free and it was evident in the decisions he was taking.
In a spontaneous gesture, Amitabh lifted his 18-year-old ban on the media and the truce was more emotional than controversial. A new generation of editors now headed publications. I was editor g magazine published by Chitralekha at that time and feel privileged to be the first journalist Amitabh spoke to.
His career was divided between his live shows abroad and movies in Mumbai. A surprise hit/ Aaj Ka Arjun followed by the eagerly awaited Mukul Anand’s Agneepath where the actor experimented with his voice for his character, Vijay Dinanath Chavhan but the voice was rejected by the audience and the actor was forced to re-dub the film overnight.
He was heartbroken but happy when he received Best Actor National Award for Agneepath.
Hum followed by Khuda Gawah completed the trilogy with Mukul Anand and Amitabh announced that he was taking a sabbatical.
He was making frequent trips to America and soon came the news of him sharing a stake in broadcast channel TV Asia.
In 1993-4 Bachchan launched ABCL comprising production, distribution, music, television, events and talent.
In 1995 the actor made a comeback with ABCL’s Mrityudaata which had a phenomenal opening but was lambasted collectively by the critics and fans of Bachchan.
The response to Major Saab, Bade Miyan Chotte Miyan wasn’t positive either and Laal Badshah and Kohram were aggressively dismissed.
Sooryavansham/1999 was a saviour but nobody not willing to give him credit.
These were awful years, the actor was embroiled in innumerable court cases, his company was in the red and his property mortgaged.
Anybody in his place would have succumbed to the pressures, declared himself bankrupt and absolved himself of his debts.
Not Amitabh Bachchan. He resolved one crisis at a time, folded ABCL and launched AB Corp.

To be continued…

Amitabh Bachchan/Turning Points/Part 6/1980 – Day 1815

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Bachchan was back on the sets three months before time, ready to take off from he had left – the action sequence in Coolie. In the original screenplay, Kadar Khan shoots Amitabh and he dies in the climax but Manmohan Desai changed the climax because nobody was in a mood to accept anything ominous associated with their idol.

Post his accident, his fan following escalated and so did his movie business. Producer Ramesh Bahl was filming Pukar in Goa and my editor sent me to cover the shooting warning me to keep my distance from the superstar. I was booked on the same flight with the Bachchan and Bahl families and when we arrived in a group to the hotel, Bachchan out of courtesy nodded at me but not wanting to annoy my editor, I escaped to my room.

As Andhaa Kanoon, Coolie, Mahaan, Pukar and Nastik released in 1983 and Shaan, Sharaabi and Inquilaab prepared to make a mark in 1984, destiny was planning a few more surprises for the superstar. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated and his childhood friend Rajiv Gandhi needed him by his side, so Amitabh contested parliamentary elections from Allahabad constituency and won with a thumping victory. He shifted base to Delhi returning to Bombay to complete his shootings. Geraftaar and Mard released in 1985 and Aakhri Raaasta in 1986. For close to three years, Amitabh had no release and did not sign a single film. The film fraternity was anxious and the fans restless.

In 1988 when the advance booking for Shahenshah opened up the response was unprecedented but the euphoria was short lived. On the eve of the release, mysterious goons black pained his posters and on Friday created riots outside cinema halls. Clearly a bigger force was working against the actor, victimizing him for his political victory and for being a close aid of Rajiv Gandhi. Those were dark days for Amitabh Bachchan, his films Jadugar, Main Azaad Hoon and Toofan were embroiled in controversies and for the newly elected Prime Minister VP Singh in December 1989 Amitabh was the favorite target.

To be continued…

Amitabh Bachchan/ Turning Points / Part 5/ 1980 – Day 1814

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26 July 1982 was a regular day at Bangalore City’s JBU Campus where Manmohan Desai was shooting an action sequence with Amitabh Bachchan and Puneet Issar. The fight master had explained the punches to both the actors and the director called out ‘Action’. Amitabh Bachchan had to leap and land on the table but he mistimed his jump and hit the corner of the table instead of landing on top of it.

The shot was okayed, Amitabh got up with great difficulty and walked out of the sets. For or a while nobody realized what had happened and when they did, he was rushed to the hotel, investigated by a doctor who found no cause for alarm. But the pain did not subside and in the morning, an army of doctors arrived from Bombay and the actor was air dashed to Breach Candy Hospital, Bombay.

The coming days were filled with fear, uncertainty, multiple surgeries, complications, disappointments, deliberations, despair and in the meantime the entire nation prayed for the ailing actor, visited mosques, temples and carried him good luck charm from everywhere. During the hospitalization Ravi Tandon’s Khuddar was released in cinema halls and for the first time black marketeers who purchase bulk tickets in advance booking sold tickets at normal rate, I know because I interviewed one of them at Rupam Theatre, Sion and he said ‘Pura zindagi uski picture se kamayaab jab tak wo theek nahi hota,hum black mein nahi bechenge’ .  

There are innumerable stories of extra-ordinary gestures from strangers all over the country and world that keep propping up after so many years of the accident. Often, these stories are narrated by the contestants on the Kaun Banega Crorepati show and every single time Amitabh expresses deep gratitude, always attributing his recovery to their unending love.

On August 02 there was a medical miracle and finally Amitabh was declared stable by the hospital bulletin. A month later, he was discharged from the hospital and he looked a shadow of himself as he emerged from the hospital corridor, welcomed by a sea of faces outside blocking the entire compound and traffic on the road.

Amitabh Bachchan/ Turning Points Part 4/ 1980 – Day 1813

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The fourth estate was never restricted from visiting Amitabh Bachchan sets as long as they never crossed his path and the magazines continued to feature the mega star on their covers, creating stories from information gathered at his shootings and more on his personal life, some of them inflammatory write-ups but Amitabh refused to be provoked, refused to react.

The fourth estate was never restricted from visiting Amitabh Bachchan sets as long as they never crossed his path and the magazines continued to feature the mega star on their covers, creating stories from information gathered at his shootings and more on his personal life, some of them inflammatory write-ups but Amitabh refused to be provoked, refused to react.
Silence was and continues to remain his biggest strength…
Amitabh Bachchan was shooting round the clock, doing double sometimes, triple shifts a day and was always the first to report to work. There are instances of Manmohan Desai having to rush the watchman to open the studio gates because the actor was parked outside. Four releases in 1980: Do aur Do Paanch, Dostana, Ram Balram and Shaan and nine films in 1981: Satte Pe Satta, Barsaat Ki Ek Raat, Naseeb, Silsila, Yaarana, Kaalia and Laawaris for which he had recorded playback/Mere angne mein with music director Kalyanji Anandji.
The music composers insisted that he perform the song on stage for a Lata Mangeshkar concert scheduled abroad. Amitabh was unconfident but submitted to their wisdom and the response was overwhelming. The sponsors proposed him a solo concert and unplanned, he became the pioneer of Indian artistes performing live shows abroad. Amitabh is the first to stage musical shows that matched the standards of Madonna and Michael Jackson soon followed by other stars.
Early1982 saw the release of Bemisaal and Namak Halaal and two more Khuddar and Shakti were getting ready for a premier. The collections of his films were growing manifold and trade experts were awestruck by the escalating figures. Distributors coined him number1-10 star because the number 2 was technically number 11 in price and popularity. The sky was the limit and again it seemed like nothing could ever go wrong but it did…
To be continued…

Amitabh Bachchan/ Turning Point Part 3/ 1970 – Day 1812

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Post Zanjeer almost all of Amitabh Bachchan films were successes/ AbhimaanMajboor, some like Saudagar became victims of his new image and did not find an audience. The actor was cautioned by business magnets to not do any more artistic films which he did not always adhere to and did many guest appearances in many art-house films specifically those directed by Basu Chatterjee.

Yash Chopra’s story of a don/ Deewar followed by the resounding success of Sholay/ 1975 paved the way for Amitabh Bachchan’s rising stardom and it seemed like nothing could ever go wrong but it did…

India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared the emergency bringing a censorship on the media and the film magazines accused Amitabh Bachchan, for allegedly influencing the Prime Minister, a family friend for including them in the censorship. The emergency was lifted after a period of 22 months but the wounds continued to fester and editors of five top film glossies of that era combined force to declare a ban on the superstar!

Amitabh was affronted by their unfounded allegation and retaliated by boycotting the entire media. He did not wish to offer any explanations and withdrew into his shell. The isolation did not come in the way of his superstardom. He was delivering hit after hit at the box-office and his severest critic could not find anything to lament in his performances be it Do AnjaaneKabhi Kabhie/ 1976, Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish / 1977, Muquaddar Ka SikanderTrishul/ 1978 and Mr NatwarlalSuhaag in 1979.  

A turbulent decade was coming to an end and Indian cinema was progressing but the media equation with Amitabh Bachchan remained unchanged. Senior editors were making way for juniors to takeover and new reporters like me were starting careers. In the magazine office, we often overheard stories about the boycott but were never divulged any details. The episode was always referred to in hushed tones. I was too new to understand the complexities but sensed remorse, deep regret over what had happened.

To be continued…@bhawanasomaaya

Amitabh Bachchan/ Part 2/ 1970s – Day 1811

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To begin at the very beginning, Amitabh Bachchan completed his graduation in Delhi and spent a few years in Kolkata working as an executive but his heart was restless and his brother reading his mind, one day clicked his pictures and posted them to a film magazine holding a contest for newcomers.  

He was rejected for the contest but he decided to give his dream a chance and arrived in Mumbai at that time Bombay, carrying his driving license with him so that if nothing worked out for him, he could ride a taxi for survival.

He made his debut with Khwaja Abbas’s Saat Hindustani/ 1969 with six other heroes but at the preview of the film it was Amitabh who caught the attention of the legendary Meena Kumari. ‘Ye ladke mein baat hai’ Meena Kumari told KA Abbas and true to her prediction, he won his first National Award for Saat Hindustani and a year later, in 1970 Amitabh featured as Dr Bhaskar with the then superstar Rajesh Khanna in Hrishikesh Mukherji’s all time classic Anand.

A lot has been written about Amitabh’s struggle in the early days but today, when I revisit his filmography, I realize he had just three years of waiting before stardom which is normal in showbusiness, so there is a possibility that the trauma he endured was not about the uncertainty but the recurrent rejections he was subjected to. His films were flopping one after another at the box-office and he was being replaced in projects without explanations. Top heroines refused to work with him, producers called him unlucky and directors said he lacked charisma. Journalists ridiculed him in their columns, said he was too tall and resembled a palm tree.

The dismissals hurt I’m sure but this was not the time for expression and Amitabh waited for his time.

Then just like it happens in films, one day, out of the blue, star writers Salim-Javed driving past Chandan Theatre, spontaneously decided to check out new release Bombay To Goa, liked the way Amitabh Bachchan projected anger on-screen and convinced filmmaker Prakash Mehra to cast him as the lead for Zanjeer/ 1973 and rest is history.

To be continued…@bhawanasomaaya

Amitabh Bachchan: Turning Point / Part 1 – Day: 1810

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So Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo is all set to premiere on June 12 on Amazon Prime Video and the film will be simultaneously published in two hundred plus countries.
Sircar describes it as the dawn of a new era in Indian entertainment and cannot conceal his excitement that a global audience will be watching his gritty dramedy in different parts of the world at the same time.
A few days ago, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted that in his long career starting from the year 1969 to 2020, he has witnessed many changes, challenges over the last five decades of working in cinema and he now looks forward to another challenge, of experiencing the digital release of his forthcoming feature, Gulabo Sitabo India’s debut mainstream digital release starring Bachchan and Ayushman Khurana.
The headline set me thinking….
In every profession and in movies particularly, it is the circumstances and the choices made that determine the journey of an artist or a film, and every time we turn the pages of Indian cinema, Amitabh Bachchan will be visible at the turning points of the entertainment business.
In the forthcoming days, I will attempt to recapture the events and images over the last five decades that defined show business and how Amitabh Bachchan unwittingly led the way…
To be continued…@bhawanasomaaya