bachchan: From bankrupt to bankable star in the 70s, Amitabh Bachchan is the ‘Shahenshah’ of comebacks
Bollywood had seen its fair share of superstars who commanded a legion of sycophant fans and admirers. However, no star till date has enjoyed the longevity that Bachchan enjoyed. There have been many leading men who, once surrounded by hordes of adoring fans, found themselves as “has-beens”, unceremoniously uprooted to make way for the “next big thing”. A recent example would be this tragi-comic fan commercial from 2012, featuring an old-time superstar pointing at the spinning fan overhead and making a wistful, self-deprecating joke that no one could take his ” fans”. One cannot help but recall the words of the famous poet Emily Dickinson “fame is fickle food on a changing plate”, in this case.
However, Bachchan, who turned 80 on Tuesday, appears to have had the last laugh. With a career that spans more than six decades, the “Angry Young Man” has remained relevant through each decade and embraced the cultural ethos of each generation.
However, it’s not like Lady Fortune hasn’t tested it. His 53-year career has had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In his heyday (1970s and 1980s), the “Zanjeer” star enjoyed stratospheric success. From ‘Deewar’ to ‘Abhimaan’, it looked like the man could never falter at the box office. French author François Truffaut aptly described it as a “one man industry”.
However, this dream race did not last. There was a time when Bachchan went from being an industry darling to almost being written off for his lackluster box office performance. The years between 1984 and 1999 saw many of his misadventures in business and politics.
“ Back to recommendation stories
As his stars temporarily dimmed, he had to brave several scandals, deal with bankruptcy and face public ridicule. Yet, like a phoenix, it rises from its ashes. How he overcame these seemingly insurmountable challenges and re-established himself as a bankable star is a story for the ages.
Shahenshah’s short-lived political career
In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, asked him to challenge the Lok Sabha polls from his hometown of Allahabad. Although the ‘Namak Halaal’ star got off to a good start, beating Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna who was a formidable figure in UP politics by a whopping margin of 187,895 votes, he soon lost all public goodwill when his name was involved in the Bofors scam (a weapon-political contract scandal between India and Sweden) with Gandhi. Faced with a massive backlash, the actor decided to quit politics. Almost 25 years later, when his name was cleared, the ‘Black’ actor expressed his thoughts on his personal blog ‘Bachchan Bol’. “When my family and I were charged with charges from the Bofors scandal, they painted every aspect of our existence with the darkest colors ever… 25 years later the prosecutor of the event went public with the truth – the Bachchans name was ‘planted!!’ For 25 years you have been living under the burden of deceit and lies.. When it is leaked, they ask me for my reaction!What reaction can I give..that’ do we say.. who do we say.. can they erase the pain of 25 years.. will they be able to lessen the color tainted with defamation..!!??’ read one of his messages.
1988-2000 Major setbacks
Although his career got a mini-boost in the form of blockbusters ‘Shahenshah’ (1988), ‘Agneepath’ (1990), ‘Hum’ (1991) and ‘Khuda Gawah’ (1992), many of his films have also been filmed. by critics and turned out to be a non-runner at the BO. After a long series of failures like ‘Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi’, ‘Jaadugar’, ‘Toofan’, ‘Main Azaad Hoon’, the
India’s Illustrated Weekly magazine, put Bachchan on their cover with the scathing headline, “Done!” From 1992 to 1996, the actor went on hiatus.
Bachchan’s bad luck continued as ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd), the entertainment company he started in 1995, turned into a financial disaster. The venture enjoyed some initial success. He produced the hit TV show “Dekh Bhai Dekh”. However, he soon became embroiled in controversies over mismanagement. The 1996 Miss World pageant fiasco brought more notoriety to the company. The company attempted to bring the Miss World beauty pageant to India. Competitors from over 90 countries gathered in Bengaluru, but following a public outcry the swimsuit contest had to be moved to the Seychelles.
This tarnished the ABCL’s image. To add insult to injury, company-produced films bombed to the soundtrack. This ultimately led to a crippling loss of Rs 90 crore. To make matters worse, Bachchan’s comeback film “Mrityudata” (1997) also turned out to be a dud. In 1999, Bachchan faced bankruptcy and risked losing his house ‘Prateeksha’. In a 2013 interview with
India today, the ‘Muqaddar Ka Sikandar’ star remembered those dark times. “It was without a doubt one of the darkest times of my 44-year career. I will never forget how creditors would show up at our door, be abusive, threatening and demanding, and even worse, when they came for the ‘kudkee’ at Prateeksha, our residence,” the star told the English daily.
The great return
Bachchan decided to do what he did best – play. To repay his creditors, he reinvents himself, this time as a supporting actor. In debt, the actor approached producer-director Yash Chopra for work. “I got up and walked over to Yashji (Chopra, filmmaker), who stayed behind my house. I begged him to give me work. That’s when the worm turned around, it gave me Mohabbatein,” the star reportedly told
India today in 2013.
Although it was a desperate move to clear his debts, it gave Bachchan’s career a second life. Released in 2000, “Mohabbatein” was one of the biggest hits of the year. Amitabh’s performance as Narayan Shankar, a strict disciplinarian, was praised by both critics and audiences. His words describing the institution he leads
“Parampara, Pratistha aur Anushashan(tradition, honor and discipline) have become part of memes and pop culture. ‘Mohabbatein’ was followed by other hits like family drama ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, tearful ‘Baghban’ and many more.
Bachchan also made his small screen debut as the host of the TV show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (inspired by the British reality show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ in 2000. KBC made him a household name in no time.
Today, the Big B is once again a force to be reckoned with in the industry. He has critical and commercial hits to his name like ‘Pink’, ‘Paa’, ‘Piku’ etc.
Bachchan’s comeback story is a valuable life lesson in persevering through adversity and reinventing oneself. Perhaps Big B’s USP wasn’t his baritone voice or his smoldering gaze, but his relentless thirst to re-innovate and evolve with the times.
‘Pink’, ‘Paa’, ‘Black’: 9 times Big B has reinvented itself
‘Pink’, ‘Paa’, ‘Black’: 9 times Big B has reinvented itself
There’s nothing Amitabh Bachchan can’t do, at least on screen! From the angry young man to the angst-filled amorous poet to the patriarch struggling to keep his flock together, he killed it all with great momentum and panache. As Bollywood’s Shahenshah turns 80, here’s a look at some of the more unconventional roles he’s played.