Happy Birthday, Amitabh Bachchan. All Hail Bollywood's Shahenshah@78

October 10, 2020 21:52
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    Amitabh Bachchan - the name is synonymous with Indian Cinema in many parts of the world. The actor who has more than 190 feature films to his credit, other than his many special appearances, songs and even a popular TV show hosting stint, is considered the absolute Shahenshah of Bollywood.

    As the actor turns 78 today, we take a look at the life and career of the living legend.


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    Born in the tumultuous year of 1942, Amitabh Bachchan was almost named Inquilab by his freedom fighter parents, renowned poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Teji. After a family friend intervened, the name Amitabh was chosen. His name means 'the light that will never go off.'

    Nicknamed Munna by his parents, he would soon find himself playing big brother to Ajitabh.

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    Big B is married to Jaya Bachchan. His personal life was deeply entwined with his professional journey, for a romance that began on the sets of 1972's Ek Nazar became the love story scripted in the best Bollywood fashion. The couple was married on June 3, 1973 following the success of Zanjeer.

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    The couple were blessed with daughter Shweta on March 17, 1974.

    Shweta is married to businessman Nikhil Nanda, Raj Kapoor's grandson, and the two have a daughter, Navya Naveli, and son, Agastya.

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    The Bachchans' younger child, Abhishek, was born on February 5, 1976 and became an actor like his parents. He married former Miss World and superstar Aishwarya Rai and the two have a daughter, Aaradhya.

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    Amitabh Bachchan is perhaps the most famous alumnus of Nainital's Sherwood College, and later Delhi University's Kirori Mal College, where he was actively involved in theatre. At the time, acting wasn't a priority for young Amitabh - who aspired to be an engineer or an officer with the Indian Air Force.

    Before he realised his dream to, he worked in Kolkata with Shaw Wallace Breweries, which was followed by a stint with the shipping firm Bird & Co. as a freight broker.

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    But corporate Kolkata held little attraction for the young Amitabh. With his baritone, that would become his trademark later, left All India Radio unimpressed. His voice was deemed too heavy for radio and he was shown the door after auditioning for the post of newsreader.

    He didn't even qualify in the preliminary round of a talent contest held by Filmfare, which added salt to his wounds and a dejected Amitabh left Kolkata to join his parents in Delhi.

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    On February 16, 1969, Amitabh moved to Mumbai to try his luck as an actor and, with no place to stay, Big B spent many nights on the benches skirting Marine Drive. For a while he did radio spots that earned him Rs 50 a month and morphed into the narrator's role in Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome.

    In a 1999 interview, Mr Bachchan admitted that at the time he had a driving license and, if his dream had failed, he would have resorted to the life of a cab driver.

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    But when his brother Ajitabh informed him that director K A Abbas was looking for a fresh face for his film Saat Hindustani, Amitabh arrived at the director's doorstep armed with a letter of introduction from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, mother of his good friend Rajiv. He was cast as Muslim poet Anwar Ali Anwar and won the National Award for Best Newcomer in 1970. But despite this initial breakthrough, leading roles were hard to come by for the tall, dark but not conventionally handsome Amitabh.

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    The year 1971 saw six films that featured Big B, including Anand starring Rajesh Khanna that won Mr Bachchan the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee, the Bengali doctor fondly referred to as Babu Moshai by Rajesh Khanna's Anand Sehgal. But even Anand offered no respite from the black hole that Big B's career was languishing in even before it had taken off. He did some more itsy-bitsy roles here and there, and again took to the microphone as the voice of the narrator in the Rajesh Khanna starrer Bawarchi (1972). Some misses followed, including the 1973 film Saudagar alongside Nutan and Padma Khanna.

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    And just when it seemed that the actor's foray into films was going nowhere, 1973 changed it all with his portrayal of the 'Angry Young Man' in Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer. A dejected Amitabh Bachchan almost took the train back to Allahabad right before he was cast in Zanjeer, courtesy a recommendation from the film's script-writers Salim-Javed, by director Mehra who had been turned down by Dev Anand and Raaj Kumar.

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    But casting the "flop actor" meant the makers then faced another hurdle - none of the other top actresses wanted to star with him. Enter Jaya Bhaduri, his Ek Nazar co-star, and together they made history.

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    Next came Abhimaan, in which the newlyweds were cast together as singers who fall in love but are torn apart by jealousy. Many saw a reflection of their personal life in the movie. The music and the film were both appreciated by the audience.

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    And another milestone in his career came in 1975 with Deewaar, in which Amitabh Bachchan's role was loosely based on the life of underworld don Haji Mastan. Film lore has it that the actor met Haji Mastan before the shooting and was so impressed by the don's moist eyes that he tried to emulate them in the film.

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    But Zanjeer and Deewaar were both eclipsed by what became the most defining film of Indian cinema as well its biggest blockbuster, Sholay.

    The megawatt performances, the riveting action, Salim-Javed's story and the larger than life character of Gabbar Singh made Sholay the legendary movie it is, taking Big B to the highest rung of the filmi ladder.

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    The 1976 movie Do Anjaane saw Amitabh Bachchan paired with Rekha, a combination that would give many more hits in the years to come. And while they set the silver screen ablaze with their on-screen chemistry.

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    After a few forgettable films, in 1978 came three big hits Don, Trishul and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. Mr Bachchan earned yet another Filmfare Best Actor Award for Don.

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    The actor's association with Yash Chopra delivered big successes such as Deewaar (1975), Kabhie Kabhie (1976) and Trishul (1978), but their off-beat take on the Chasnala mining disaster of 1975 - Kaala Patthar (1979) - didn't quite match up to the earlier successes.

    Yash Chopra next brought together Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya and Rekha in his movie Silsila in 1981. This was Big B and Rekha's last movie together.

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    Another unprecedented hit was the 1983 film Coolie, but what really united the nation was Big B's near fatal injury on the sets of the film. During the shooting of Coolie, Amitabh Bachchan was seriously injured in an action sequence, where Puneet Issar accidentally punched Big B too hard. The entire country prayed along with Jaya Bachchan, who walked barefoot to Siddhi Vinayak Temple every day, and Mr Bachchan finally made a full recovery. Director Manmohan Desai changed the ending of the film to keep Big B's character alive rather than have him die saying that the man who had cheated death in real life deserved no less.

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    By the late 1980s Mr Bachchan's career had all but stalled. He dabbled with the non-mainstream genre with Main Azaad Hoon (1989), but it was the 1990 blockbuster Agneepath that jumpstarted his star status once again. His portrayal of the underworld don Vijay Dinanath Chauhan won him his second National Award, this time for Best Actor.

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    But Agneepath's glory was brief. With his career graph dipping, Amitabh Bachchan turned to politics at the behest of his friend Rajiv Gandhi. He contested from the Allahabad seat on a Congress ticket and defeated the formidable H N Bahuguna, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, in a landslide victory. But the actor and his brother Ajitabh got embroiled in the Bofors scandal and he resigned from the Lok Sabha in 1987. Mr Bachchan was eventually cleared of all charges.

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    Some hit movies followed, like Hum in 1991, but they were few and far between. The '90s were marked by more misses than hits. Even Mukul Anand's Khuda Gawah failed to impress at the box office. Though the previously shot Insaniyat was released in 1994, it sank without a trace, and soon Big B declared a state of semi-retirement.

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    It was at this time that Mr Bachchan set up his ill-fated company - Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) - and he turned producer with Tere Mere Sapne (1996), a box office dud. In 1997, Mr Bachchan decided to give acting another shot with his home production Mrityudaata, a film that recast Big B in his old action hero ways. He failed to even create a glimmer of magic. But the trouble was just beginning.

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    The year 2000 brought with it a blockbuster hit in the form of Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein, co-starring Shah Rukh Khan, and a job hosting Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

    Amitabh Bachchan has hosted all but one season of Kaun Banega Crorepati. He is currently hosting KBC 10.

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    If TV resurrected the Bachchan mystique, Bollywood lost no time in cashing in. Hence, the 2000s triggered off some notable films for Big B that included Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), Khakee (2004) and Dev (2004), but not without some duds too, like Boom (2003).

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    More awards followed with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black (2005) and R Balki's Paa (2009).

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    In 2012, Big B made his big Hollywood debut in the film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann. The film also starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. Mr Bachchan won accolades as the flamboyant Jewish "gambler," Meyer Wolfsheim.

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    The actor had a decent 2014 with Bhootnath Returns being an average hit and the return of his gameshow. The same year he also starred in Anurag Kashyap's television mini-series Yudh, which failed to impress the viewers and critics alike.

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    Between the success of Piku and failure of Shamitabh, 2015 has been a mixed year for Mr Bachchan.

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    2016 proved critically and commercially successful for Big B. He started off with Bejoy Nambiar's Wazir co-starring Farhan Akhtar. He played a father avenging his daughter's death via a guilt ridden Anti-Terrorism Squad officer.

    Next came Ribhu Dasgupta's thriller Te3n with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan. The film, produced by Sujoy Ghosh, was critically acclaimed.

    He was next seen in Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury social drama PINK He played a lawyer defending three women (Taapsee Pannu, Kriti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang) from an assault charged pressed upon by their molester, played by Angad Bedi. The film won a National Award.

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    In 2017, Amitabh Bachchan collaborated with Ram Gopal Varma again for Sarkar 3 but it failed miserably.

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    The Government of India presented Mr Bachchan with the Padma Shri in 1984, the Padma Bhushan in 2001 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. Amitabh Bachchan received the Padma Vibhushan from former President Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony held in New Delhi on April 8, 2015.

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    Mr Bachchan has embraced the brave new world of social networking with open arms. After a Twitter account and a blog, the actor opened a Facebook account in August 2018, which had nearly 8 lakh likes within an hour.

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    102 Not Out was Amitabh Bachchan's first film to release in 2018. Amitabh Bachchan collaborated with Rishi Kapoor after a span of 27 years for the film - Rishi Kapoor died in April this year. In 2018, Big B also starred in films such as Thugs of Hindostan, which turned out to be a dud.

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    Last year, Big B featured in Badla and featured in a special role in Telugu movie Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, which cast him in a supporting but an indispensable role. The film was well received by the audience and critics.

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    Big B featured in Gulabo Sitabo, which marked his first digital release - the movie released on Prime Video because of the lockdown.

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    Amitabh Bachchan's upcoming line-up of films include Ayan Mukerji-directed Brahmastra, which is a fantasy trilogy. The film also features Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia and Mouni Roy. Amitabh Bachchan will also be seen in films such as Jhund and Chehre.

    This image was posted on Instagram by Alia Bhatt

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    Superstar Amitabh Bachchan was also honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award - India's highest film honour - last year.

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    Amitabh Bachchan was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year. He's recovered since then and is back on the sets of Kaun Banega Crorepati to host the 12th season of the show.

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    Happy Birthday, Amitabh Bachchan!

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