Amitabh Bachchan: Evergreen Octogenarian is Hindi Filmdom’s “Shahenshah” (King of Kings)


Well-known Hindi film actor Amitabh Bachchan celebrated his eightieth birthday on October 11th. The veteran thespian continues to be active , playing a variety of roles in films. As a “rasika” who relishes his performances, it is with great pleasure that I write about him this week. It has been the practice of this column to focus on a film, film personality or film related topic on the first Saturday of each month. Since I was unable to write on the first two Saturdays of this month, I do so now on this third Saturday.

The six-foot three inch tall Amitabh Bachchan with a deep baritone voice is a towering personality in Hindi cinema. He has been walking tall for more than five decades as a lead and supporting actor. He has given voice-overs in some films too. Bachchan has also been a playback singer and film producer.

Amitabh Bachchan dominated Hindi cinema as a superstar from the mid-seventies to the early nineties of the 20th century. So great was his power and influence in those years that the famous French director Francois Truffaut described him once as a “one-man industry”. He is no more a super star playing the lead nowadays. Nevertheless the evergreen actor playing assorted non-hero roles remains perennially popular with a broad fan base.

Amitabh Bachchan has won numerous awards at film festivals and from film journals over the years.India’s reputed film journal in English is the ‘Filmfare’ magazine. Gaining a laurel from ‘Filmfare’ in any category is considered to be a milepost in the career of a film artiste. Amitabh Bachchan has been nominated in the past for 43 awards in the categories of supporting actor, lead actor and critic’s choice and has won 17 awards from the magazine.

Dadasaheb Phalke Award

He is also the recipient of India’s celebrated Dadasaheb Phalke Award. The annual award given by the Indian Govt honours a distinguished person in the field of cinema for his or her “outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema”. The Dadasaheb Phalke Award is the jewel in Amitabh’s crown.

Apart from cinema-related awards, Amitabh Bachchan has also been honoured by the Indian Government with three of the four high civilian awards. He got the ‘Padma Shri’ in 1984, the ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 2001 and the ‘Padma Vibushan’ in 2015 for contributions made in the arts sphere. Only the highest civilian award of all ,the ‘Bharat Ratna’ , awaits him now.

The love and adulation showered on Amitabh by fans is almost unbelievable. In 1982 he was injured while an action scene was being filmed for the film ‘Coolie’. He was hospitalised in a serious condition. Fans in India began conducting thousands of poojas for his recovery in temples. Hundreds of special prayer meetings and devotional ‘Bhajans’ were held. Numerous people observed fasts and rituals. Some rolled on the grounds surrounding places of worship. A temple dedicated to him was constructed.

Amitabh Bachchan was the first living Asian actor whose waxwork model is displayed at the Madame Tussauds in London. A BBC online poll voted him as the Most Popular Actor in the World. He had the honour of carrying the Olympic flame in London. Once when he went to Egypt the fans at Cairo Airport including employees mobbed him. Officials formed a human circle around the actor to protect him from the ecstatic fans. He could not move outside it. Eventually Amitabh was whisked away under police escort to a hotel. Airport and Immigration authorities went to his hotel suite and completed the paperwork formalities.

Born on 11 October 1942

Bachchan was born on 11 October 1942, Amitabh’s father Harivansh Rai Shrivastava was a Hindi=speaking Kayastha Hindu from Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state in India. He had a doctorate in English literature from Cambridge University in Britain but was also a renowned Hindi writer and poet.

Harivansh Raj used the pseudonym “Bachchan” meaning ‘childlike’ in spoken Hindi. Later he adopted it as his surname. Amitabh’s mother Teji Bachchan was a Punjabi Sikh hailing from Faisalabad in present-day Pakistan. She was very much interested in theatre.

The couple moved to Allahabad where Amitabh and his younger brother Ajitabh were born. Amitabh’s given name at birth was “Inquilaab” meaning revolution in Urdu. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi known as “Mahatma (great soul) Gandhi” had launched the ‘Quit India’ freedom campaign against the British colonialists in August 1942. It electrified the political environment of what was then “British India”. Among the slogans and chants popular then was the Urdu “Inquilaab Zindabad” meaning “Long live the revolution”.

Inquilaab to Amitabh

Many felt the Indian freedom struggle was a revolutionary process then. The poetic father inspired by the slogan named his son “Inquilaab” (revolution). However after some years the name Inquilaab was changed to Amitabh at the request of another Hindi poet and friend Sumitrananda Pant. Amitabh means “infinite or immeasurable light”. Inquilaab Srivastava became known as Amitabh Bachchan. The family name is now Bachchan.

Amitabh called Amit during childhood had his primary schooling at Allahabad. He was later boarded at Sherwood College in Nainital for his secondary studies. While at Sherwood he acted in school dramas and discovered that he had both a flair as well as passion for acting. His mother encouraged him saying the son should always “take the centre stage”. Amitabh completed his tertiary education at the Kirori Mal College in New Delhi that was affiliated to the Delhi University. He obtained two Masters Degrees in the arts there.

After finishing university Bachchan got a job as executive trainee at the Shaw, Wallace and Hedges firm in the Eastern Indian city of Calcutta now known as Kolkata. He relocated to the West Bengal state capital. Subsequently he shifted to the shipping firm Bird and Co and became a freight broker.

Even though he was financially well-off with bright prospects, Amitabh found himself restless and discontented. Calcutta was a cultural haven where Bengali plays were staged and films screened regularly. Amitabh saw many of them and felt the powerful urge to act. His heart desired to be an actor. After mulling it over for many months he finally decided to act.

Calcutta to Bombay

Amitabh Bachchan quit his lucrative job in Calcutta and moved to Mumbai known as Bombay then. Bombay dubbed in lighter vein as “Bollywood” is the Hollywood of India. It is a factory of dreams and illusions for those interested in entering the cinema industry. Amitabh Bachchan knocked on the doors of many a film producer and director and film agents. He was rebuffed by all saying he was “too tall and dark”. Exasperated he tried to be a singer and went to an All-India Radio audition. He was rejected.

A thoroughly disappointed and dejected Amitabh was about to bid farewell to Bombay and his dreams when fate intervened benevolently. The famous Bengali Director Mrinal Sen who along with Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak pioneered the new wave of Indian cinema had embarked on a project to make a film in Hindi. The film was ‘Bhuvan Shome,’ released in May 1969. The film won national awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor. Mrinal Sen gave Amitabh Bachchan a break by getting him to do voiceovers and the narration. Though critics and fans raved over the film, Amitabh Bachchan the narrator went unnoticed. Yet the opportunity to be involved in the film was a morale booster to Bachchan.

‘Saat Hindustani’

Meanwhile the well-known film maker K. A. Abbas (Khwaja Ahamad Abbas) had written the story and screenplay for a film based on the successful Western ‘The Magnificent Seven’ directed by John Sturges. K.A. Abbas “indianised” the film by changing the story.

In the English film seven cowboys led by Yul Brynner help free a terrorised Mexican village from bandits led by Eli Wallach. In Abbas’s Hindi film the story was changed into that of six men and a woman from different regions of India infiltrating Goa ruled by Portugal and hoisting the Indian flag atop liberated Portuguese forts. He named the film ‘Saat Hindustani’ or ‘Seven Indians’ and went on to produce and direct it.

K.A. Abbas selected several actors for the film. One was Utpal Dutt who acted in ‘Bhuvan Shome’ and won Best Actor award. Utpal Dutt suggested the name of Amitabh Bachchan for a role to Abbas. The Director auditioned Amitabh and was impressed. He cast Amitabh Bachchan in the role of Anwar Ali, a Muslim poet from Bihar who recites poetry at times. The film released in November 1969 won two national awards. Amitabh Bachchan’s debut performance was noted by film critics and reviewers.

Among those who acted in the film was the Kerala artiste Madhu who had enacted the role of Paarikkutty in the award-winning Malayalam film ‘Chemmeen,’ directed by Ramu Kariyat. Madhu and Bachchan struck up a close friendship when Abbas’s film was being shot in Maharashtra and Goa. Later Madhu spoke about acting along with Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Saat Hindustani’ in an interview to the ‘Rediff’ website. Here are a few excerpts:

“Several of the seven Hindustanis in the film were newcomers. Amitabh Bachchan was one of them. We shot in Mumbai and Goa for a month. Those days, all of us stayed together in guesthouses like one big family. We were all young and enthusiastic. Though several years have passed by, how can I forget the days when we spent 24 hours a day together and also slept in the same room for more than a month?

“I had noticed Amitabh’s attitude toward work and his willingness to learn. Though it was his first film, he did not give the feeling that he was facing a camera for the first film. I could see an unusual spark in him and a special talent that was waiting to be tapped. But I was more impressed with his voice. Later, I came to know that he had the habit of reciting his father’s verses all the time. That is was what made his voice so attractive. Perhaps he does not know how much those recitations have helped his voice but I am sure that is why his voice is so delightful to ears now.”

Amitabh began to catch the eye of many directors after Saat Hindustani. One of these was Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He was planning to make the film ‘Guddi’ starring Dharmendra, Utpal Dutt and Jaya Bhaduri a Bengali actress.

Romancing Jaya Bhaduri

Jaya Bhaduri played the schoolgirl Kusum who had a huge crush on the Hindi film star Dharmendra played by Dharmendra himself. Mukherjee thought of casting Amitabh Bachchan in the role of Kusum’s boyfriend Navin. This was endorsed by Utpal Dutt.

Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri met each other for the first time on the sets of ‘Guddi’. They began dating each other and a romance sparked. Amitabh Bachcan was quoted by an Indian magazine saying: “First I saw her pictures, she looked small, cute and impish. Then Hrishikesh approached me for Guddi, and I came to know that Jaya was the actress. I first met her on the sets. We liked each other’s company, went out together and had a good group on the sets.”

When asked what attracted Jaya to Amitabh physically, Jaya coyly replied: “His eyes. But it’s impossible to explain…so many personal things.”

Interestingly enough, Amitabh never got to play the role of Navin with Jaya in ‘Guddi’. Apart from ‘Guddi’, Hrishikesh Mukerjee was also making “Anand” with the then reigning Hindi super star Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. While shooting ‘Anand’ the director realised that Amitabh had the potential for being a great actor and should not be “wasted”in a minor ‘Guddi” part. So Hrishikesh replaced Amitabh with Samit Bhanja. Subsequently Amitabh won his first “Filmfare” award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in ‘Anand’.

Despite being taken off ‘Guddi”, the budding Amitabh-Jaya relationship on the sets of ‘Guddi’ bloomed into committed love on the sets of their later films ‘Zanjeer’ and ‘Abhiman’. Amitabh and Jaya played lovers in one and husband and wife in the other. Zanjeer was released on 11 May 1973. They married on 3 June 1973 and Jaya Bhaduri became Jaya Bachchan. A month later ‘Abhiman’ was released on 27 July 1973.

“Angry Young Man”

The year 1973 was a remarkable life-changing year for Amitabh Bachchan. Apart from his marriage to Jaya, Amitabh’s career was on the ascendant from 1973 onwards. The tall man with intense eyes and a deep voice went on to become the “Angry Young Man”of Hindi cinema. The launching pad for this angry, young image was ‘Zanjeer’ directed by Prakesh Mehra.The screenplay and dialogues were written by the Salim-Javed duo.The Salim-Javed duo comprising Salim Khan and Javed Akthar was to write the scripts for several films starring Amitabh as the angry young man in the seventies of the last century. In a write-up on Amitabh Bachchan the BBC described this phase thus –

“The 1970s were turbulent in India. There was political unrest, unemployment and labour unrest, and a souring of the post-Independence dream of a new dawn.”

“The Bachchan persona, as packaged by Salim-Javed, was a creation of the times. Essentially an urban creature, he was a loner, born and bred in the slums. Bachchan became a symbol of protest against India’s ills – and his popularity triggered a decline in the traditional rural romances that dominated Hindi films.It was in Yash Chopra’s film “Deewar”(Wall) in 1975 – also scripted by Salim-Javed – that the persona came into its own – an angry young man seething with an intensity seldom seen on the Indian screen.”


Then came fims like Namakharam, Chupke Chupke, Majboor, Faraar, Mili, Sholay, Kabhie Kabhie,Adalat and Amar,Akbar, Anthony. All of these were critically acclaimed commercial successes especially Sholay. With these films Amitabh Bachchan was acknowledged as the brightest super star in the Hindi cinematic constellation. This position was further cemented with films like Don, Trishool, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Sulaag,Mr.Natwarlal(in which he sang on screen for the first time), Kalaa Pathar, The Great Gambler, Dostana,Silsila, Desh Premee, Namak Halaal, Coolie and Maard.

Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s family and the Bachchan family were long time friends. Amitabh and Rajiv Gandhi were close friends long before they entered films or politics. Rajiv Gandhi became Premier after Indira’s assassination in 1984. When Parliamentary polls were announced Rajiv requested Amitabh to contest on the Congress party ticket and Amitabh obliged.

Lok Sabha MP

Amitabh Bachchan faced off with former Uttar Pradesh chief minister HN Bahuguna in Allahabad at the December 1984 elections. Bachchan defeated Bahuguna in a straight fight with a majority of 187,795 votes. Amitabh polled 297,461 (68.l2%)to his opponent’s 109,666 (25.15%). Amitabh Bachchan became a Lok Sabha MP with other movie stars like Vyjayanthimala Bali and Sunil Dutt. It was then thought that Amitabh would bid adieu to Cinema but it turned out to be only an au revoir. He quit politics and returned to films in 3 years.

The infamous Bofors Scandal regarding alleged corruption in arms purchases by the Rajiv Gandhi Govt had erupted in 1987 following disclosures made in the Swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter”. It was alleged that “middlemen” had played a dubious role in a shady deal in 1986 where four hundred 155 mm Howitzer guns had been procured from the Swedish firm AD Bofors for the Indian army. Amitabh’s brother Ajitabh was allegedly implicated. The adverse fall-out resulted in Amitabh Bachchan resigning his MP seat in July 1987.

Amitabh Bachchan returned to films with a bang in 1988. He starred with Meenakshi Seshadri in the block buster ‘Shahenshah’. In 1990 he acted in “Agneepath” where his role as a Mafia Don earned Amitabh his first national award for Best Actor. Things however were not rosy. Many of Amitabh’s films became box office flops. His superstar status dimished.

Bachchan then turned to business and set up the Amitabh Bachchan Corporation, Ltd. (ABCL) in 1996. The company introduced products and provided services covering a cross-section of India’s entertainment industry. Amitabh’s foray into the commercial world was a disaster with the company collapsing due to a string of failed business ventures. The ABCL was declared a failed company by the Indian Industries board.

Older Character Actor Roles

Though heavily in debt, the proud Amitabh refused to declare bankruotcy. He returned to his first love the cinema. Though in his fifties, Bachchan hoped to revive his acting career and initially pay off his debts. He did not try to play younger “hero” roles. Instead he began acting in older character actor roles. The parts he played were more in keeping with his age. Many of these roles were varied and challenging unlike most of the stereo-typed roles he played in his thirties and forties. It appeared that he was getting a wider range of roles than earlier. In fact he has won three of his four national awards for Best Actor after 2000 playing elderly roles in Black, Paa and Piku.

In 2005 Amitabh actedin “Black “as the elderly teacher of a deaf and blind girl played by Rani Mukerji. This won Bachchan his second national award for best actor.His first was for “Agneepath”in 1990. Amitabh’s third national award for best actor was in 2009. This was for “Paa” where he played a 1 Progeria afflicted 13 year old boy. This is a disease that makes persons age faster and looking much older than they actually are. Amitabh’s son Abishekh acted as his father in Paa. Bachchan’s fourth national award for best actor was in 2015. The film was “Piku” where he acted as the father of Deepika Padukone.He was in his element as a cantankerous old man suffering from chronic constipation. Rachel Salts wrote in the “New Yoork Times”- “ there’s no mistaking the scene-stealing energy that Mr. Bachchan, India’s erstwhile Angry Young Man, musters for his new role of Cranky Old Man”

Some of the remarkable films Amitabh has acted in during this on going, tmmensely productivr phase are Major Saab, Baghban, Mohabbatein,Kabhi Khushi Khabbie Gham, Bunty aur Bably, Sarkar,Black,Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Eklavya, Paa, Cheeni Kum, Shootout at Lokhandwala,Pink and Piku.

Amitabh acted in his first English film “The Last Lear” directed by Rituparno Gjosh and starring Preity Zinta and Arjun Ramphal in 2007. In 2013 he made his Hollywood debut in ‘The Great Gatsby’ acting along with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.

Bachchan not only paid off his debts but also began earning huge sums of money as remuneration for acting and for appearing in advertisements. “Brand Bachchan” is very much in demand for sponsoring products despite reportedly charging Rs 5 to 8 crores for an endorsement. He also hosted the hugely popular “Kaun Banega Crorepati”show on TV. This was the Hindi adaptation of the British TV gameshow “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Will Not Stop Acting

Though an Octogenarian now, Amitabh will not give up acting. The veteran Thespian has made a name and earned fame and wealth but still keeps acting. When he was asked about this in a media interview. Amitabh’s response was: “I am insecure about tomorrow. Will I get another job? Will it be appreciated? I will pursue acting for as long as I have a face and body that is acceptable to the people but I still worry that if I don’t do better tomorrow, it will all go away.”

When asked whether acting in films excited him still, Bachchan replied: “I get excited every day: it is wonderful, and it is inexplicable. It would be a horrible day if I was to think, I have done it. It would kill any creativity I possess if I was to be satisfied. Any creative person should never be satisfied with their work.”

Abishek and Shweta

Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri have been married since 1973.Their marriage has stood the test of time despite rumours linking Amitabh to actresses Rekha and Parveen Babi in the past.

The Bachchans have a son Abhishek and a daughter Shweta . Abhishek Bachchan is a well known actor like his father. He is married to beauty queen -actress Aishwarya Rai.They have a daughter Aaradhya, Shweta is a former model,journalist and author,She is narried to Businessman Nikil Nandha who is the grandson of the famous actor Raj Kapoor.They have a daughter Navya and a son Agastya.

Evergreen Emperor

Amitabh burst into superstardom by enacting the angry young man in “Deewar”. In his goden twilight, Bachcan played a cranky old man in “Piku”. Amitabh Bachchan was the hero in the film ‘Shahenshah”meaning Emperor or King of Kings. One thing is certain. The angry young man turned cranky old man remains the evergreen Emperor of Hindi Cinema.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at

This is an updated version of an article appearing in the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” of the “Daily Mirror”dated 15th October 2022.It can e accessed here –