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Shatrughan Sinha was the first ‘angry young man’ but Amitabh Bachchan walked away with that title

On Shatrughan Sinha's birthday, here's looking back at his professional rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan.

shatrughan sinha, amitabh bachchanOn Shatrughan Sinha's birthday, here's looking back at his professional rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan. (Photo: Express Archives)
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In the history of Hindi cinema, the decade of the 1970s is often remembered for the towering presence of Amitabh Bachchan. It is often said that most of his contemporaries – Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, among many others – would have been bigger stars if they were not in the same era as Big B’s ‘angry young man’ phase. Shatrughan Sinha, who was more than just a contemporary for Bachchan, ended up being his close rival for most of this decade. Sinha was famously one of the actors who had turned down two roles in Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay – Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay and Amjad Khan’s Gabbar Singh — but for the actor, this wasn’t a big deal.

Shatrughan Sinha, who had been a contemporary of Jaya Bachchan at FTII, had made a mark as a villain in his early days in the movies and was already a star by the time Bachchan came around. It is quite interesting that Sinha played the lead role with Jaya as his leading lady in a film titled, An Angry Young Man during his time at the institute; the title that was owned by Bachchan just a few years later.

Films like Khilona, Mere Apne, Raampur Ka Laxman, Bombay to Goa had established Sinha as the villain who had the pizzazz to go toe-to-toe against whichever hero he shared screen space with him. This was the era when multi-hero films were considered the norm so Sinha worked with all the major stars but soon, he started diversifying his film roles and went for the hero parts as well. Sinha, by his own admission, has said that there were many films that he dropped out of, because of Amitabh Bachchan.

Shatrughan Sinha in a still from Mere Apne.

He shared in his biography Anything But Khamosh, “There were so many films that I dropped out of and returned the signing amount. There was a film called Patthar Ke Log – one of Prakash Mehra’s – written by Salim-Javed… So many films that I gave up without a backward glance because of Amitabh Bachchan. But that doesn’t mean I don’t respect his personality. I’ve seen him as a friend, we’ve worked together as colleagues, we’ve sailed together in good times and bad, I have good memories also.”

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He remembered a particular incident when Heera director Sultan Ahmed asked him who was the “camel” he was hanging out with. By “camel,” the director meant Amitabh Bachchan. Sinha did recommend Bachchan to Ahmed but it was he who got the shorter end of the stick in this situation. The Kalicharan actor was replaced in Ganga Ki Saugandh by the Deewar actor because now, Bachchan was the bigger star.

The differences between the two actors were even more significant here as their journey started way before Bachchan made it big. Since Sinha was already a successful actor and had an apartment in Bandra, Bachchan would often find himself chilling there when he was employed. Bachchan recalled in Sinha’s biography, “Shatru and I and all his other close friends would spend a great amount of time at his apartment in Bandstand – a luxury I did not have. I was hopping around from benches on Marine Drive to close friends’ homes, with no permanency, while Shatru was an established star at the time – he was working in important and large-profile banners with elite stars as colleagues.”

So when differences cropped up between the two, Shatrughan was hurt and he made it known. Their animosity on the sets of Kaala Patthar was quite known at the time as a fight sequence between the two was apparently changed from being an equal fight to Amitabh “beating the hell out of” Shatrughan. Shashi Kapoor had to intervene and Sinha put his foot down that led to the shooting being stalled for a few hours. In Sinha’s own words, “The problem was the applause I was getting for my performances. Amitabh could see the response I was getting. That’s why he didn’t want me in some of his films.” He added, “People say that Amitabh and I made a dynamic pair on screen but if he did not wish to work with me, if he felt that in Naseeb, Shaan, Dostana or Kaala Patthar, Shatrughan Sinha bhari pad gaya (having Sinha around worked against him), it didn’t affect me.”

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The two famously worked together in Dostana and Shatrughan remembered a particular incident when he was terribly late for a shoot and the schedule was such that him and Amitabh had to shoot one of the most important scenes of the film on that very day. In the end, they were left with only half an hour to complete the scene and Sinha aced it. He recalled in his biography, “To be very fair to Amitabh, he hugged me and said, ‘What a beautiful shot.’ I was all set for another take. I repeated the shot but halfway through it, Amitabh stopped me and said, ‘That was your best shot, now forget it.’”

Shatrughan Sinha saw the best of times through the 1970s and 1980s but most would agree that had the times been different

First published on: 09-12-2022 at 15:31 IST
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