Happy birthday Amitabh Bachchan: A look back at ‘1975’ and why it was a banner year for the Zanjeer actor

Happy birthday Amitabh Bachchan: A look back at ‘1975’ and why it was a banner year for the Zanjeer actor :-   Ever wondered if the 1970 s belonged to Amitabh Bachchan ? Is there a year or a particular moment in that decade that could be regarded as his very best? '1975' has a good claim, as this was the year that saw Big B at his peak, both as a star and actor.

When exactly did Amitabh Bachchan become ‘the Amitabh Bachchan’? The lanky elder son of poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan had made his presence felt in 1971 with Anand, holding his own as a quiet and serious doctor against the peppier, author-backed Rajesh Khanna. Many would count Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer (1973) in which he starred as a brooding cop Vijay out to avenge his parents’ killer Teja (Ajit) — a Salim-Javed invention, the ‘angry young man’ had burst upon the scene like Diwali firecrackers — as a key film that made him a star. Until then, Bachchan was slaving away as a bit player, reportedly carrying a letter of recommendation from the all-powerful Indira Gandhi, a family friend, to get that elusive Bollywood break. In 1969, he had signed his first film, Saat Hindustani in which, like his father, he essayed a poet. Though largely inexperienced, the man with the famous baritone made an impact with his promising presence and crowd-pleaser lines like “This is my country” flung at clumsy and caricaturish Portuguese officers that would do well in today’s India. But it was the Mehmood-led madcap road trip Bombay to Goa (1972) that propelled this swaggering upstart, already pushing 30, to a leading man position.

After a string of famous duds and post the fall of Rajesh Khanna, the undisputed marquee monarch of the 1970s, Amitabh Bachchan was finally in the reckoning. Whatever images the 1970s conjure up, whether it is the action-studded masala films, the Kishore Kumar ditties, the two-hero formula, the lost-and-found trope, the angry young man and his long-suffering mother, the boozer and brawler, the gun-toting vigilante, the betrayed son, the orphan raised by a priest, the criminal with 786 badge or the nervous professor, it is all in some way or the other linked with Bachchan. These images define Big B as much as they define the Indian movie-goers’ DNA.

So, if the 1970s is Bachchan and Bachchan is the 1970s, as they say, is there a year or a particular moment in that decade that could be regarded as the Zanjeer superstar’s very best? Tough ask, but try looking back at ‘1975.’ That one single year gives a good glimpse of Bachchan’s reach and stardom, his talent for both drama and comedy and also points to how in later years, this man would effectively render everyone, from co-stars to even comedians, out of business. That’s because with his tremendous comic timing, was there even a need for a funny foil? If, for example, Amar Akbar Anthony was made during the 1950s, Dilip Kumar could have been a good choice for Amar. But here was a leading man who was chosen to play Anthony, a part which in a lesser film would have been allocated to a comedian. That’s the risk Bachchan took and some credit ought to be given to the visionary directors who made him their muse. Much in demand, Amitabh Bachchan was ubiquitous in the ’70s, working in multiple shifts with some of the day’s best directors, be it Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Manmohan Desai. If in those golden years, Bachchan had played every single role in a movie (except, the heroine’s) the public wouldn’t have even noticed.

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