Early work: 1969–1972
Bachchan made his film debut in 1969 as a voice narrator in Mrinal Sen’s National Award winning film Bhuvan Shome. Thereafter he got his first acting role as one of the seven protagonists in Saat Hindustani, a film directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and featuring Utpal Dutt, Madhu and Jalal Agha. Though the film was not a financial success, Bachchan won his first National Film Award for Best Newcomer
Anand (1971) followed, where he starred alongside Rajesh Khanna. Bachchan’s role as a doctor with a cynical view of life garned him his first Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award. Amitabh then played his first negative role as an infatuated lover-turned-murderer in Parwaana (1971). This was followed by several films including Reshma Aur Shera (1971). During this time, he made a guest appearance in the film Guddi which starred his future wife Jaya Bhaduri. He narrated part of the film Bawarchi. In 1972, he made an appearance in the road action comedy Bombay to Goa, directed by S. Ramanathan.
Rise to stardom: 1973–1983
The main male leads of Sholay. Left to right: Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Amjad Khan.
Director Prakash Mehra cast him in the leading role for the film Zanjeer (1973) as Inspector Vijay Khanna. The film was a sharp contrast to the romantically themed films that had generally preceded it and established Amitabh in a new persona—the “angry young man” of Bollywood cinema,. He earned a Filmfare Nomination for Best Actor. 1973 was also the year he married Jaya and around this time they appeared in several films together, not only in Zanjeer but in films such as Abhimaan which followed and was released only a month after their marriage. Later, Bachchan played the role of Vikram in the film Namak Haraam, a social drama directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and scripted by Biresh Chatterjee addressing themes of friendship. His supporting role won him his second Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award.
In 1974, Bachchan made several guest appearances in films such as Kunwara Baap and Dost, before playing a supporting role in Roti Kapda Aur Makaan. The film, directed and written by Manoj Kumar, addressed themes of honesty in the face of oppression and financial and emotional hardship. Bachchan then played the leading role in film Majboor, released on 6 December 1974, which was a remake of the Hollywood film Zigzag. The film was only a moderate success at the box office. In 1975, he starred in a variety of film genres from the comedy Chupke Chupke, the crime drama Faraar to the romantic drama Mili. 1975 was the year when he appeared in two films which are regarded as important in Hindi cinematic history. He starred in the Yash Chopra directed film Deewar, opposite Shashi Kapoor, Nirupa Roy, and Neetu Singh, which earned him a Filmfare Nomination for Best Actor. The film became a major hit at the box office in 1975, ranking in at number 4. Indiatimes Movies ranks Deewaar amongst the Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films. Released on 15 August 1975 was Sholay (meaning flames), which became the highest grossing film of all time in India, earning INR equivalent to US$ 60 million, after adjusting for inflation. Bachchan played the role of Jaidev. In 1999, BBC India declared it the “Film of the Millennium” and like Deewar, has been cited by Indiatimes movies as amongst the Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films. In that same year, the judges of the 50th annual Filmfare awards awarded it with the special distinction award called Filmfare Best Film of 50 Years.
Bachchan starred in comedies such as Chupke Chupke (1975) and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and in films such as Kabhie Kabhie (1976). In 1976, he was once again cast by director Yash Chopra in his second film, Kabhi Kabhie, a romantic tale in which Bachchan starred as a young poet named Amit Malhotra who falls deeply in love with a beautiful young girl named Pooja played by actress Rakhee Gulzar. The film saw him again nominated for the Filmfare Best Actor Award. In 1977, he won his first Filmfare Best Actor Award for his performance in Amar Akbar Anthony where he played the third lead opposite Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor as Anthony Gonsalves. In 1978 he starred in all four of the highest grossing films of India in that year He once again resumed double roles in films such as Kasme Vaade as Amit and Shankar and Don playing the characters of Don, a leader of an underworld gang and his look alike Vijay. His performance won him his second Filmfare Best Actor Award. He also performed in Trishul and Muqaddar Ka Sikander which both earned him further Filmfare Best Actor nominations. He was billed a “one-man industry” by the French director François Truffaut.
In 1979, for the first time, Amitabh was required to use his singing voice for the film Mr. Natwarlal in which he starred alongside Rekha. His performance in the film saw him nominated for both the Filmfare Best Actor Award and the Filmfare Best Male Playback Awards. In 1979, he also received Best Actor nomination for Kaala Patthar (1979) and then went on to be nominated again in 1980 for the Raj Khosla directed film Dostana, in which he starred opposite Shatrughan Sinha and Zeenat Aman. Dostana proved to be the top grossing film of 1980. In 1981, he starred in Yash Chopra’s melodrama film Silsila, where he starred alongside his wife Jaya and rumoured lover Rekha. Other films of this period include Ram Balram (1980), Shaan (1980), Lawaaris (1981), and Shakti (1982) which pitted him against legendary actor Dilip Kumar.
1982 injury while filming Coolie
On 26 July 1982, while filming Coolie in the University Campus in Bangalore, Bachchan suffered a near fatal intestinal injury during the filming of a fight scene with co-actor Puneet Issar. Bachchan was performing his own stunts in the film and one scene required him to fall onto a table and then on the ground. However as he jumped towards the table, the corner of the table struck his abdomen, resulting in a splenic rupture from which he lost a significant amount of blood. He required an emergency splenectomy and remained critically ill in hospital for many months, at times close to death. The public response included prayers in temples and offers to sacrifice limbs to save him, while later, there were long queues of well-wishing fans outside the hospital where he was recuperating. Nevertheless, he spent many months recovering and resumed filming later that year after a long period of recuperation. The film was released in 1983, and partly due to the huge publicity of Bachchan’s accident, the film was a box office success.
The director, Manmohan Desai, altered the ending of Coolie after Bachchan’s accident. Bachchan’s character was originally intended to have been killed off but after the change of script, the character lived in the end. It would have been inappropriate, said Desai, for the man who had just fended off death in real life to be killed on screen. Also, in the released film the footage of the fight scene is frozen at the critical moment, and a caption appears onscreen marking this as the instant of the actor’s injury and the ensuing publicity of the accident.
Later, he was diagnosed with Myasthenia gravis. His illness made him feel weak both mentally and physically and he decided to quit films and venture into politics. At this time he became pessimistic, expressing concern with how a new film would be received. Before every release he would negatively state, “Yeh film to flop hogi!” (“This film will flop”)
In 1984, Bachchan took a break from acting and briefly entered politics in support of long-time family friend, Rajiv Gandhi. He contested Allahabad’s seat of 8th Lok Sabha against H. N. Bahuguna, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and won by the one of the highest victory margins in general election history (68.2% of the vote). His political career, however, was short-lived: he resigned after three years, calling politics a cesspool. The resignation followed the implication of Bachchan and his brother in the “Bofors scandal” by a newspaper, which he vowed to take to court. Bachchan was eventually found not guilty of involvement in the ordeal
His old friend, Amar Singh, helped him during a financial crisis due to the failure of his company ABCL. Therefore Bachchan started to support Amar Singh’s political party, the Samajwadi party. Jaya Bachchan joined the Samajwadi Party and became a Rajya Sabha member. Bachchan has continued to do favors for the Samajwadi party, including advertisements and political campaigns. These activities have recently gotten him into trouble again in the Indian courts for false claims after a previous incident of submission of legal papers by him, stating that he is a farmer.
A 15 year press ban against Bachchan was imposed during his peak acting years by Stardust and some of the other film magazines. In his own defense, Bachchan claimed to have banned the press from entering his sets until late 1989.
Slump and retirement: 1988–1992
In 1988, Bachchan returned to films, playing the title role in Shahenshah, which was a box office success due to the hype of Bachchan’s comeback.After the success of his comeback film however, his star power began to wane as all of his subsequent films failed at the box office. The 1991 hit film, Hum, for which he won his third Filmfare Best Actor Award, looked like it might reverse this trend, but the momentum was short-lived as his string of box office failures continued. Notably, despite the lack of hits, it was during this period that Bachchan won his first National Film Award for Best Actor, for his performance as a Mafia don in the 1990 film Agneepath. These years would be the last he would be seen on screen for some time. After the release of Khuda Gawah in 1992, Bachchan went into semi-retirement for five years. In 1994, one of his delayed films Insaniyat was released but was also a box office failure.
Producer and acting comeback 1996–1999
Bachchan turned producer during his temporary retirement period, setting up Amitabh Bachchan Corporation, Ltd. (A.B.C.L.) in 1996, with the vision of becoming a 10 billion rupees (approx 250 million $US) premier entertainment company by the year 2000. ABCL’s strategy was to introduce products and services covering the entire section of the India’s entertainment industry. Its operations were mainstream commercial film production and distribution, audio cassettes and video discs, production and marketing of television software, celebrity and event management. Soon after the company was launched in 1996, the first film was produced by the company. Tere Mere Sapne failed to do well at the box office but launched the careers of actors such as Arshad Warsi and South films star Simran. ABCL produced a few other films, none of which did well.
In 1997, Bachchan attempted to make his acting comeback with the film Mrityudaata, produced by ABCL. Though Mrityudaata attempted to reprise Bachchan’s earlier success as an action hero, the film was a failure both financially and critically. ABCL was the main sponsor of the 1996 Miss World beauty pageant, Bangalore but lost millions. The fiasco and the consequent legal battles surrounding ABCL and various entities after the event, coupled with the fact that ABCL was reported to have overpaid most of its top level managers, eventually led to its financial and operational collapse in 1997. The company went into administration and was later declared a failed company by Indian Industries board. The Bombay high court, in April 1999, restrained Bachchan from selling off his Bombay bungalow ‘Prateeksha’ and two flats till the pending loan recovery cases of Canara Bank were disposed of. Bachchan had, however, pleaded that he had mortgaged his bungalow to Sahara India Finance for raising funds for his company.
Bachchan attempted to revive his acting career and had average success with Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (1998),and received positive reviews for Sooryavansham (1999) but other films such as Lal Baadshah (1999) and Hindustan Ki Kasam (1999) were box office failures.
In the year 2000, Bachchan stepped up to host India’s adaptation of the British television game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? entitled, Kaun Banega Crorepati. As it did in most other countries where it was adopted, the program found immediate success. Canara Bank withdrew its law suit against Bachchan in November 2000. Bachchan hosted KBC till November 2005, and its success set the stage for his return to film popularity. In 2009 Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire in the first question of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? contest “Amitabh Bachchan” was the correct answer to the question “Who was the star of Zanjeer? Feroz Abbas Khan performed as Amitabh Bachchan in a scene in the movie while Anil Kapoor performed as the host of the contest. Bachchan hosted the third season of the reality show Bigg Boss in 2009.
Return to prominence: 2000–present
In 2000, Amitabh Bachchan appeared in Yash Chopra’s box-office hit, Mohabbatein, directed by Aditya Chopra. He played a stern, older figure that rivalled the character of Shahrukh Khan. His role won him his third Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award. Other hits followed, with Bachchan appearing as an older family patriarch in Ek Rishtaa: The Bond of Love (2001), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) and Baghban (2003). As an actor, he continued to perform in a range of characters, receiving critical praise for his performances in Aks (2001), Aankhen (2002), Khakee (2004) and Dev (2004). One project that did particularly well for Bachchan was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black (2005). The film starred Bachchan as an aging teacher of a deaf-blind girl and followed their relationship. His performance was unanimously praised by critics and audiences and won him his second National Film Award for Best Actor and fourth Filmfare Best Actor Award. Taking advantage of this resurgence, Amitabh began endorsing a variety of products and services, appearing in many television and billboard advertisements. In 2005 and 2006, he starred with his son Abhishek in the hit films Bunty Aur Babli (2005), the Godfather tribute Sarkar (2005), and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006). All of them were successful at the box office His later releases in 2006 and early 2007 were Baabul (2006) Eklavya and Nishabd (2007), which failed to do well at the box office but his performances in each of them were praised by critics.
In May 2007, two of his films Cheeni Kum and the multi-starrer Shootout at Lokhandwala were released. Shootout at Lokhandwala did very well at the box office and was declared a hit in India, while Cheeni Kum picked up after a slow start and was declared an overall average hit A remake of his biggest hit, Sholay (1975), entitled Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, released in August of that same year and proved to be a major commercial failure in addition to its poor critical reception. The year also marked Bachchan’s first appearance in an English-language film, Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear. The film premiered at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival on 9 September 2007. He received positive reviews from critics who hailed his performance as his best ever since Black.Bachchan was slated to play a supporting role in his first international film, Shantaram, directed by Mira Nair and starring Hollywood actor Johnny Depp in the lead. The film was due to begin filming in February 2008 but due to the writer’s strike, was pushed to September 2008. The film is currently “shelved” indefinitely. Vivek Sharma’s Bhoothnath, in which he plays the title role as a ghost, was released on 9 May 2008. Sarkar Raj, the sequel of the 2005 film Sarkar, released in June 2008 and received a positive response at the box-office. His latest movie was Paa, which released at the end of 2009. Paa was a highly anticipated project as it saw him playing his own son Abhishek’s Progeria-affected 13-year-old son, and it opened to favourable reviews, particularly towards Bachchan’s performance. It won him his third National Film Award for Best Actor and fifth Filmfare Best Actor Award. In 2010, he debuted in Malayalam film through Kandahar, directed by Major Ravi and co-starring Mohanlal. The film was based on the hijacking incident of the Indian Airlines Flight 814. Bachchan did not receive any remuneration for this film.
In November 2005, Amitabh Bachchan was admitted to Lilavati Hospital’s ICU once more, to undergo surgery for diverticulitis of the small intestine. This occurred after Bachchan complained of pains in his abdomen some days prior. During the period and that following his recovery, most of his projects were put on hold, including the television show he was in the process of hosting, Kaun Banega Crorepati. Amitabh returned to work in March 2006.
Bachchan is known for his deep, baritone voice. He has been a narrator, a playback singer and presenter for numerous programmes. Renowned film director Satyajit Ray was so impressed with Bachchan’s voice, that he decided to use his voice as commentary in Shatranj Ke Khiladi since he could not find a suitable role for him. In 2005, Bachchan has lent his voice to the Oscar-winning French documentary March of the Penguins, directed by Luc Jacquet.
Controversies and criticism
Barabanki land case
In the runup to the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections, 2007, Bachchan made a film extolling the virtues of the Mulayam Singh government. His Samajwadi Party was routed, and Mayawati came to power.
On 2 June 2007 a Faizabad court ruled that he had legally acquired agricultural land designated specifically for landless Dalit farmers. It was speculated that he might be investigated on related charges of forgery, as he has allegedly claimed he was a farmer. On 19 July 2007, after the scandal broke out, Bachchan surrendered the land acquired in Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh and Pune. He wrote to the chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, to donate the lands that were allegedly acquired illegally in Pune. However, the Lucknow Court has put a stay on the land donation and said that the status quo on the land be maintained.
On 12 October 2007, Bachchan abandoned his claim in respect of the land at Daulatpur village in Barabanki district. On 11 December 2007, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court gave a clean chit to Bachchan in a case pertaining to alleged fraudulent allotment of government land to him in Barabanki district. A single Lucknow bench of Justice said there was no finding that the actor “himself committed any fraud or manipulated any surreptitious entry in the revenue records”.
After receiving a positive verdict in Barabanki case, Amitabh Bachchan intimated to Maharashtra government that he did not wish to surrender his land in Maval tehsil of Pune district.
Raj Thackeray’s criticism
Main article: 2008 attacks on North Indians in Maharashtra
Bachchan featured on an advert in shopping mall in India
In January 2008 at political rallies, Raj Thackeray, the chief of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, targeted Amitabh Bachchan, asserting that the actor was “more inclined” towards his native state than Maharashtra. He expressed his disapproval of Amitabh’s inaugurating a girls’ school named after his daughter-in-law, actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, at Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, rather than in Maharashtra. According to media reports, Raj’s censure of Amitabh, whom he admires, stemmed out of his disappointment of not being invited to Amitabh’s son Abhishek’s marriage to Aishwarya, despite invitations to his estranged uncle Bal and cousin Uddhav.
Responding to Raj’s accusations, the actor’s wife, SP MP Jaya Bachchan, said that the Bachchans were willing to start a school in Mumbai, provided the MNS leader donated the land to build it. She told the media, “I heard that Raj Thackeray owns huge properties in Maharashtra, in Mumbai—Kohinoor Mills. If he is willing to donate land, we can start a school in the name of Aishwarya here. Raj responded to it saying, “Jaya bachchan claims she does not know me then how come she knows how much property I own?”. Amitabh abstained from commenting on the issue. However, he apologized to Raj for controversial remarks from Jaya in some other incidence.
Bal Thackeray refuted the allegations, stating, “Amitabh Bachchan is an open-minded person, he has great love for Maharashtra, and this is evident on many occasions. The actor has often said that Maharashtra and specially Mumbai has given him great fame and affection. He has also said that what he is today is because of the love people have given him. The people of Mumbai have always acknowledged him as an artiste. It was utter foolishness to make these parochial allegations against him. Amitabh is a global superstar. People all over the world respect him. This cannot be forgotten by anyone. Amitabh should ignore these silly accusations and concentrate on his acting.
On 23 March 2008, more than a month and half after Raj’s remarks, Amitabh finally spoke out in an interview to a local tabloid saying, “Random charges are random; they do not deserve the kind of attention you wish me to give. Later, on 28 March at a press conference for the International Indian Film Academy, when asked what his take was on the anti-migrant issue, Amitabh said that it is one’s fundamental right to live anywhere in the country and the constitution entitles so.He also stated that he was not affected by Raj’s comments.
Awards, honours and recognitions
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Amitabh Bachchan
Apart from National Film Awards, Filmfare Awards and other competitive awards which Bachchan won for his performances throughout the years, he has been awarded several honours for his achievements in the Indian film industry. In 1991, he became the first artist to receive the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award, which was established in the name of Raj Kapoor. Bachchan was crowned as Superstar of the Millennium in 2000 at the Filmfare Awards. The Government of India awarded him with the Padma Shri in 1984 and the Padma Bhushan in 2001. France’s highest civilian honour, the Knight of the Legion of Honour, was conferred upon him by the French Government in 2007, for his “exceptional career in the world of cinema and beyond”.
In 1999, Bachchan was voted the Greatest Star of stage or screen of the Millennium by BBC online poll where he defeated many Hollywood legends. In 2001, he was honoured with the Actor of the Century award at the Alexandria International Film Festival in Egypt in recognition of his contribution to the world of cinema.Many other honours for his achievements were conferred upon him at several International Film Festivals, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Asian Film Awards.
In June 2000, he became the first living Asian to have been immortalised in wax at London’s prestigious Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Another statue was installed at New York and Hong Kong in 2009.
In 2003, he was conferred with the Honorary Citizenship of the French town of Deauville. He was honoured with an Honorary Doctorate by the Jhansi University in 2004, the Delhi University in 2006, the De Montfort University in Leicester, UK in 2006 the University Brandan Foster by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Yorkshire in 2007.Another an Honorary Doctorate was conferred by the Queensland University of Technology in Australia in 2009. But he turns down the honour as mark of protest to racial attacks on Indian students.
Severals books have been written about Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan: the Legend was published in 1999, To be or not to be: Amitabh Bachchan in 2004, AB: The Legend: (A Photographer’s Tribute) in 2006 Amitabh Bachchan: Ek Jeevit Kimvadanti in 2006, Amitabh: The Making of a Superstar in 2006, Looking for the Big B: Bollywood, Bachchan and Me in 2007 and Bachchanalia in 2009.Bachchan himself has also written a book in 2002: Soul Curry for you and me – An Empowering Philosophy That Can Enrich Your Life.