Amitabh and India: A tale of two parallel lives

Superstar Amitabh Bachchan has been in the Bollywood industry for more than four decades now and in a way his life has held great parallels with the history of India during this period. Big B has come a long way from Saat Hindustani in 1969 to his cameo in Bol Bachchan recently and so has this country.

The 1970s was a period of great tumult. After the triumphant Bangladesh war in 1971, it was all downhill. The economy was in ruins and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had lost the moral right to rule thanks to a court verdict cancelling her election.

Jayaprakash Narayan led a revolution and instead of heeding the voice of the people, Indira imposed Emergency with all its excesses. The subsequent Janata Party that came to power in 1977 was a great disaster and Indira returned not because she succeeded at anything but because her opponents failed.

There was great angst and anger in the country.

This mood of the nation was played out brilliantly by the angry young man. Films about taking on the corrupt system and bringing down the villain (the way Indira was toppled) ruled the roost.

Romances went into decline and Bollywood became more realistic in nature. It all began with Zanjeer in 1973. Murdered parents. Nightmares. The underworld. An honest police officer being humiliated and fixed on bribing charges. A climax where the baddie is killed and revenge is taken. Zanjeer set the tone for years to come.
Brilliant movies like Dewaar and Trishul carried the flame forward. The climax was Sholay, and probably for the first time the villain Gabbar Singh overshadowed everyone else in a blockbuster. Amitabh also died in the end, which was becoming quite a common affair.

Movies like Namak Haraam and Kala Patthar focused on the rich-poor divide and also on the issue of trade unions and the working conditions and plight of the labour class.

After the feel-good era that had just ended, even other movies like Mili, Majboor, Zameer and Abhimaan had a darkish tinge to them.

Of course there were light-hearted comedies like Chupke Chupke, but they were the exception.

In 1977, JP brought together a multi-starrer government at the Centre and another multi-starrer in the form of Amar Akbar Anthony became a superhit in the same year. Movies with 2-3 heroes together became quite common at that time.

In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi came to power with a whopping 400+ seats, unimaginable in today’s day and age. There was great optimism in the country and everyone felt great and extremely hopeful about the future. There was a feel-good factor everywhere.

It is also at that time that Amitabh could be called at his peak. While all his competitors like Rajesh Khanna and Vinod Khanna had fallen by the wayside, Bachchan was delivering one superhit after another and looked as if he could do no wrong.

Dostana, Naseeb, Laawaris, Yaarana, Kaalia, Satte Pe Satta, Namak Halaal, Khud-Daar, Coolie… it was one long winding train of blockbusters.
Amitabh plunged into politics. He became an MP by defeating a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh by a record margin. Everyone was sure that he would eventually become a cabinet minister. Some even predicted that he would one day become PM!

Then the Rajiv Gandhi government fell apart. One problem kept coming after another and the Bofors scam eventually brought the government down.

Exactly the same thing happened with Amitabh. His name was unfairly dragged into Bofors and he quit in disgrace in 1987 calling politics a cesspool. His movie career also went downward. Even though he had a handful of hits, the flops started defining him.

Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, Toofan, Jaadugar, Main Azaad Hoon… none of them met the lofty expectations of the superstar. In fact when some questioned the success of Hum, Amitabh knocked on every publication door to give his account of the film, a low for someone who boycotted all filmi magazines at his peak.

By 1991-92, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy and looked finished.

By 1991-92, Amitabh’s filmi career also was on the verge of bankruptcy and looked finished.

1992’s Khuda Gawah could probably be called the last superhit of the old Amitabh.

Then India liberalized its economy. Private players entered all sorts of industries and capitalism seemed to be the way forward.
That is exactly the path that Amitabh also chose. He decided to become an industrialist and launched the much hyped Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited in 1995. He wanted to get into film production, the music business and event management in a big way.

Tere Mere Sapne was released after a talent hunt with much fanfare in 1996. ABCL brought the Miss World contest to Bangalore.
But the company far from becoming a top business house collapsed and went bankrupt. By 1999, Amitabh was finished in life. The superstar failed at politics. The superstar failed at business.

While liberalization has seen umpteen success stories for India there also have been a string of failures. Amitabh shows us that we should not forget those failures.

There is something about a new year which makes one hopeful that one’s life will change. A new decade is even more hopeful. What about a year like say 2000? Almost magical!

India entered 2000 wiser and more mature after almost a decade of liberalization and eventually the decade was one of great all-round growth for the country, the rise of many new industries like IT and India finally getting a position in the world stage.

The same thing happened to Amitabh. 2000 was probably his most magical year after 1973. In the 1990s movies, Amitabh had two looks. One was clean-shaven, making him look quite quite old. The other was full-fledged beard which also did not go down well with the audiences.

In 2000, Amitabh sported a new dapper salt and pepper beard which re-invented him and gave him a classy image that lasts till this day.

There was Kaun Banega Crorepati, which was a TV sensation that brought Amitabh from the brink and helped him pay his dues. In Bollywood came the superhit Mohabbatein, which set the tone for the next stage of his career. All in 2000!

The superstar had been fully revived. “Stick to your core competency” is a much used phrase in the corporate world, but that’s something that is a mantra for Amitabh.

The superhits were back: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Baghban, Veer-Zaara, Bunty Aur Babli…

The superlative performances were back: Khakee, Black, Sarkar, Paa…

While the government is grappling with the Internet and sees it as a major threat, Amitabh has happily taken to blogging and has become quite regular at it. He has more than 16,000 Tweets and 3.6 million followers. He sure knows how to keep up with the times.

What next? He has a guest appearance in Hollywood production The Great Gatsby and might get a bigger role in Shantaram. There’s no knowing what role his career will take.

In the last 40 odd years, India has seen a whole gamut of tumultuous events.

In the last 40 odd years, Amitabh has seen a whole gamut of tumultuous events.

India isn’t finished yet and neither is Amitabh!