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When Ramesh Sippy pulled off the biggest casting coup in Hindi cinema, brought together Dilip Kumar-Amitabh Bachchan

Even 40 years later, Shakti finds itself in the pages of cinema’s history for bringing together Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar, and it was all thanks to Ramesh Sippy.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: January 24, 2022 8:51:59 am
amitabh bachchanRamesh Sippy pulled off a miracle when he brought together Amitabh Bachchan and Dilip Kumar for Shakti.

The movie business loves a good casting coup. The bigger the names on the poster of a film, the higher the interest from the audience, even before they know anything else about it. At the movies, we are a little too obsessed with the stars, and with the right names on the billboard, a filmmaker has us hooked. So when Sholay director Ramesh Sippy announced a film named Shakti with Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan in lead roles, it was seen as the biggest casting coup of the time.

Amitabh Bachchan became a star in the era of multi-hero films, so he was quite familiar with sharing screen space with other big names. But Dilip Kumar, the first superstar of Indian cinema, was the one who defined stardom in this side of the world. By the time Shakti was announced, Dilip Kumar had moved on to the next phase of his career that saw him take up projects like Kranti and Vidhata. Bachchan too, had grown out of the ‘angry young man’ phase and was progressing into the territory of an all-round star. He could do comedy, romance the ladies on screen and knew how to shake a leg when needed. With films like Lawaaris, Namak Halaal, Satte Pe Satta and Yaarana, he was now a refined version of the angry young man who first came into being with Zanjeer and Deewar. Of course, they were the two biggest stars of their respective eras and thus when they came together, fireworks were expected.

shakti Dilip Kumar, Rakhee and Amitabh Bachchan in Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti.

Sippy was well aware of the coup he had landed. “At that time Amitabh Bachchan, who was on top, and Mr. Dilip Kumar, who was the best till then, were keen and interested in doing something different and the timing was absolutely right. Both heard the script and both totally okayed it without asking any questions,” he shared with The Hindu in 2013.

The film was being directed by Ramesh Sippy, the filmmaker who is still remembered for Sholay, and even though he was still recovering from the not-so-successful Shaan, there was no doubt about the fact that Sippy knew how to put together a fine film. Salim-Javed, who were the defining voices behind the movies of the 1970s, had written the film so as far as the names on a billboard are concerned, Shakti had everything going for it.

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For the unversed, Shakti is the story of a father and son. A father (played by Kumar) who can’t see beyond his duty as a cop, and a son (played by Bachchan) who demands to be seen by his father. As the son grows up, the two head towards different paths and soon, they are on the opposing sides of the law. The father is still dedicated to his uniform and the son is constantly pushing boundaries. Their troubled relationship never allows them to be on the same page, despite the underlying love they have for each other until tragedy strikes.

shakti Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan play father-son in Shakti.

Shakti’s duration might be close to three hours but the essence of the father-son story lies in one scene, and watching that scene makes you understand the core of the film. This is where you see the best of Bachchan and Yusuf saab. The son visits the father’s house after his mother (played by Rakhee) is killed. He walks towards her corpse in the middle of the room. Unable to contain his grief, he glances towards his father who is crouched on the floor and is crying like he has never cried before. He sits besides him, lays his hand on his father’s arm and it is in this moment that the father and son are one. Without exchanging any words, they know they are inseparable, they are there for each other in the darkest time of their life. Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan rip your heart out with their performance here and this is the moment you know what the hype was all about.

Dilip Kumar was left in awe of Amitabh after working with him in Shakti. In a 2013 interview with Filmfare, he recalled that he was impressed “by the way Amitabh held the scenes where he had minimum or no dialogue and the camera was focussed on him.” “I remember telling Ramesh here is an actor who has understood the secret of acting for the camera,” he said.

Shakti was the only time that Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan shared screen space and it was Ramesh Sippy who brought them together. Even 40 years later, Shakti finds itself in the pages of cinema’s history and for valid reasons.

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