Amitabh Bachchan at 75: Exploring Big B’s enduring popularity

One advantage Amitabh Bachchan, or Big B, has had over others is that he’s forever with the times. For years, he has embodied the classic Indian hero, inventing and reinventing, branding and un-branding himself miraculously as and when the need has presented itself.

Written by Shaikh Ayaz | Mumbai | Updated: October 11, 2017 1:13 pm
amitabh bachchan, amitabh bachchan birthday, amitabh bachchan date, amitabh bachchan age, amitabh bachchan films, amitabh bachchan movies, big b, amitabh, amitabh birthday, amitabh date, amitabh age, amitabh films, amitabh movies Amitabh Bachchan turns 75.

At 75, when most stars are not even stars anymore and are relegated, in all likelihood, to lead a quiet retired life waiting for a timely revival, a second act, a comeback or a Lifetime Achievement renaissance, Amitabh Bachchan has no need for any of that. Think about it. This is a man, who at the very least, four generations of Indians are intimately familiar with and never, save for a brief interlude in the late 1980s and 1990s when his films flopped and ABCL went bust turning him from a human god into running gag, has Bachchan been out of the public eye. Except for the first three odd years of his career when he delivered one stinker after another, Bachchan has not known what’s it’s like to be down and out.

It’s hard to think that this very star who defined heroism and what it meant to be a classic Bollywood hero and spawned a generation of copycats (most famous being Rajinikanth who carved his Southern identity out of Big B remakes) was once dismissed as “too unconventional” to make the cut. Those were the days of pink-cheeked heartthrobdom of Rajesh Khanna. But, apparently, when Khanna saw Namak Haraam co-starring the two at a trial at Liberty cinema, he tersely announced, “Here is the superstar of tomorrow.” Hrishikesh Mukherjee – a common link between Khanna and Bachchan, between superstar of the present and superstar of the future – was witness to the scene.

amitabh bachchan photos, amitabh bachchan good photos, amitabh bachchan handsome, amitabh bachchan images

Although Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s son a Bengali Bhadralok makeover in Anand and appropriately cast him as a sensitive Bard types it was Prakesh Mehra and Salim-Javed who spotted the anger in the upcoming star’s eyes. 1973’s Zanjeer changed Bachchan’s fortunes. It displaced the hill station romanticism of the 1960s with cynicism and rage, perhaps mirroring the darker political mood intrinsic to the Seventies.

Related: Amitabh Bachchan turns 75: Here are some rare and unseen photos of Shahenshah

Bachchan became the one man who could don a pristine white Bengali kurta and pass off as a singer, professor and depressed alcoholic (Abhimaan, Chupke Chupke and Mili respectively) and at the same time, anchor Salim-Javed’s anti-Establishment figure into a universally acceptable celluloid anti-hero with daddy issues who, surprisingly, the audience cared – even, rooted – for.

amitabh bachchan, amitabh bachchan birthday, amitabh bachchan date, amitabh bachchan age, amitabh bachchan films, amitabh bachchan movies, big b, amitabh, amitabh birthday, amitabh date, amitabh age, amitabh films, amitabh movies

One advantage Bachchan has had over others is that he’s forever with the times. In the 1970s, he was quick to give voice to the political gloom and social issues like rising unemployment and rich-poor divide. He knew his cinema was watched by Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians and he played and respected all faiths. For Muslims, he offered sops like the lucky-charm 786 badge and the Hajj song/qawwali, for Hindus he sang bhajans, for the sake of Christians he grew up in a Church and for Sikhs (his mother Teji was a Sikh) he donned the turban to save the nation. In his excitement, he even played Bobby Deol’s turbaned grandfather in one film (remember Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo?), a task that could so easily have been left to the devices of someone like Dharmendra, Bollywood’s resident Punjabi. For those not inclined towards God, he also played a non-believer, refusing to enter a temple in Deewaar.

amitabh bachchan, amitabh deewar, deewar amitabh bachchan

Now, the Vijay of Deewaar, in dotage, is free of all excesses and expectations. He freely experiments with his looks and roles. If he’s the constipated Bengali male of Piku (2015) on one side, he’s also the lawyer of Pink (2016) of “No means no” fame on another. Incidentally, even advertising has contributed to boosting the Bachchan myth. He appears in just as many ad films as he regularly does in feature films made by those very ad filmmakers! He’s a win-win for filmmakers. For, as a star, he appeals to audiences of all ages. A 75-year-old grandfather can watch Zanjeer, Anand or Deewaar and enjoy the masterful storytelling and relate to the seething anger of those Bachchan-starrers, his 45-year-old daughter-in-law can be sitting in another room and watching a rerun of Kaun Banega Crorepati and maybe, the youngest member of that family could be glued to her phone laughing along on the escapades of the wry man-child Auro in Paa.

Related: Happy birthday Amitabh Bachchan: From Narendra Modi to Ranveer Singh, see who all wished the legend

amitabh, amitabh bachchan grandfather, amitabh bachchan family, amitabh bachchan family photos

For years, Bachchan has embodied the classic Indian hero. He has reinvented himself tirelessly and miraculously as and when the need has presented itself. Now, in the role of a benign grandfather, both off and on screen, Amitabh Bachchan continues to occupy the first seat in Bollywood winners’ circle. At a time when stardom is so fleeting and Friday-to-Friday, Big B remains the ultimate evergreen who refuses to slow down. That’s the reason why even though he has announced that he won’t be ringing in his 75th birthday today, who can stop the thousands of crazy fans who throng his Juhu home every year from celebrating it? The party is outside Jalsa and everyone’s invited.

(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai.)

For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App

  1. R
    Raja
    Oct 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm
    A mediocre actor got by in Bollywood thru political connections !!!! He can't act to save himself ... same old angry man in multistarrer movies!!! Shame that paid media keep harping on as greatest actor !!!! Lol
    (0)(0)
    Reply
    1. R
      RIPON
      Oct 12, 2017 at 6:37 am
      Happy birthday Amitji ! You are my hero for ever !
      (0)(0)
      Reply
      1. A
        Atul K
        Oct 11, 2017 at 10:43 pm
        Amitabh is NOT the biggest Bollywood star and has not been been so since 1990 except for a few films with current reigning stars. Why all this sponsored false hype on 75th birthday about a man who figures in the Panama paper?! Get your facts about Bollywood right, sir. Amitabh rose immediately after fadeout of Rajesh Khanna with the box office success of Yash Chopra's Deewar in 1975 and then a series of films mainly of Manmohan Desai, Chopra and Sippy. All these were multistarrers with other big heroes including Sholay. Ever since 1990 advent of the Khans almost 98 of his films have flopped - the list is too long to be enumerated here. It Tv which gave a new lease of life with KBC. You can call him a KBC star but certainly not a Bollywood megastar. And why does he always have to be with those in power - with Congress(Sanjay Rajeev), then Chandrashekhar, Mulayam-Amar-Akhilesh thro his wife then a breathtaking switch to BJP. Opportunist no 1 - he should be probed for Panama.
        (0)(1)
        Reply
        1. S
          sreeram
          Oct 11, 2017 at 4:19 pm
          Actors become idols based on the story dialogue writers. Luck placed him in front of Salim-Javed his fame ignited. He has seen many Ups Downs in career survived, humility gained over him. Speaking chaste hindi in his unique voice is added attraction. All politicians wanted to capitalize on his popularity. SP capitalized his "money" brought some glamor. Khangress betrayed him. BJP uplifted used him to do good to society (promoting good adverti ts, free of cost). He is punctual believer never disappointed or exploited any producer on wrong side. During the Miss World beauty contest, Deve Gowda charged ransom of Rs. 60 crores in cash for holding the event. That is why he is NOT seen in that entire telecast. Infact he was seen sitting outside in car parking brooding over his bankruptcy. Industry helped him to regain the monetary loses got bene ed in return. In that five years post beauty contest he signed on dotted line, whoever came to him.
          (0)(1)
          Reply
          1. S
            sachin
            Oct 11, 2017 at 3:48 pm
            Because he's Big politician ever....he is always associated with party'in power and later Backstab them...... he's innocent victims we're Rajiv Gandhi,mulyam singh,amar singh,now modi...... typically he's wife supports the party whom this backstaber Chatur banya opposes
            (1)(1)
            Reply
            1. S
              sreeram
              Oct 11, 2017 at 4:20 pm
              Get your facts correctly. It is Rajiv Gandhi family who rapped dropped them.
              (0)(0)
              Reply
            2. Load More Comments