77 & Going Strong - Amitabh

He was born to a great father and he understood this even as a little child. His mother, Teji Bachchan said that he listened with his eyes and could recall the most mundane moment, in minutest details. He went to St Mary's Boys High School and a few years later, when his younger brother, Ajitabh joined the same school, Amitabh assumed responsibility for his younger sibling. It is said he was a promising student, both in the classroom and on the playground and also inclined towards theatre.

At home, he was often mischievous, but dependable during a crisis. The brothers learnt early in life to guard their father's privacy. Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan was a professor at the Allahabad University and when at home, spent long hours behind the desk, writing. After his graduation, Amitabh struggled for a job in Calcutta. The early days were filled with challenges; there was restlessness about him that he could not express but his younger brother fathomed it and one day, Ajitabh brought him an admission form printed in a film magazine that would enable him to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.

The application required photographs of the candidate, so Ajitabh clicked his brother standing beside odd props and posted the pictures to the printed address. The eternally pessimistic Amitabh didn't expect a reply, but the response came soon, and it involved taking major decisions. First, the parents had to be informed in Allahabad, then, a secure job to quit. Amitabh knew he was taking a risk yet boarded a train to Bombay, the city of dreams. KA Abbas launched him as one of the seven heroes in 'Saat Hindustani'. The year was 1969.

The journey ahead should have been easy but show business is full of heartbreaks and Amitabh was knocking on producers' doors, but roles were not easy to come. There were days he slept hungry on the Marine Drive parapet, but he didn't give up. Filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee confirmed him for 'Guddi' and even shot with him for a day but when he learnt that he was doing 'Saat Hindustani', Mukherjee replaced him with Samit Bhanja. He later cast him as Dr Bhaskar Banerjee in 'Anand'. On the evening of the release when Amitabh stopped by at his regular petrol pump to fill fuel, he was asked for his first autograph.

Eleven films followed and all of them bombed at the box-office and filmmakers began to replace him with other heroes. Around this time, Salim-Javed had a script that every hero had rejected. The duo happened to watch 'Bombay to Goa' and liked the way Amitabh did his action scene. They convinced Prakash Mehra to sign him for 'Zanjeer' and rest, of course, is history! Over the decades, different directors perceived different identities for the superstar. He was complex and brooding in Hrishikesh Mukherjee films, romantic in Yash Chopra's, dramatic in Prakash Mehra's and entertaining in Manmohan Desai films.

He was raining blockbusters every Friday and the trade pundits described him as phenomena. The aura was overwhelming and all it needed was a prick to burst the bubble. It happened on the sets of Manmohan Desai's 'Coolie'! A miss-timed kick, from villain Puneet Issar during an action scene, led to a near-fatal accident and Amitabh ruptured his intestines. He was critical and the tragedy created headlines, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, his mother's friend, visited him at the hospital. The country mourned for him and 'Khuddar' showing in the theatres was the only place his fans could find solace.

The hospitalization lasted over six months and the entire nation prayed for his recovery. Unknown people from remote places brought him holy threads, kept fast and undertook arduous pilgrimage for his survival. It is an obligation he has time and again said he can never repay. Then just like it happens in his films, the hero suddenly recovered and resumed shooting from where he left. If there was fear lurking behind the mask, one would never know for his eyes didn't reveal it. 'Namak Halal' was his first post-accident release and 'Coolie' followed soon after, freezing the frame where the hero hurt himself.

Joining politics was an emotional decision for Amitabh. His childhood friend Rajiv Gandhi was distraught after his mother Indira Gandhi's assassination and needed people he trusted, and Amitabh was the perfect candidate. He fought elections from the Allahabad constituency and won a thumping victory, but the triumph came with a price. The poet's son was unprepared for the vicious controversies that followed and quit politics forever! The 'Shahenshah' was back to the celluloid and the film fraternity applauded K Bhagyaraj's 'Aakhri Raasta'.

The disillusionment set in post-1988 when 'Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswati', 'Main Azaad Hoon', 'Jaadugar', 'Toofan' failed to make a mark. Whiz director Mukul Anand reinvented the superstar with 'Agneepath' 1990, 'Hum' '91, 'Khuda Gawah' '92. The actor had not taken a break since 'Zanjeer' became a hit in 1973 and decided he wanted to reflect and rejuvenate. He launched TV Asia, his own company previously ABCL now AB Corp. After a hiatus of five years he returned with 'Mrityudaata', a film universally rejected by all. 'Sooryavansham', 'Major Saab' and 'Lal Baadshah' were not promising either and then came 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' followed by 'Mohabbatein' and Bachchan not yet 60 had transited from hero to patriarch! Now he played all types of roles – 'Aks', 'Baaghban', 'Black' and 'Bunty aur Babli', 'Cheeni Kum', 'The Last Lear', he was unstoppable!

The older he got the savvier he became, the more dashing he looked on KBC and various public appearances and the more titles he was bestowed with - Padmabhushan, Padmavibhushan, Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the more gratitude he expressed. His on-screen roles became bigger and bolder – 'Paa' in 2008, 'The Great Gatsby' in 2013, 'Piku' in 2015, 'Pink' in 2016, 'Sarkar 3' in 2017 and '102 Not Out' in 2018. Today, Amitabh Bachchan is easily the most loved man all over the nation and also the most dependable.

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