Amitabh Bachchan – The Towering Inferno
Circa early 70s. The western screens especially the Hollywood screens were set ablaze by the huge flames of The Towering Inferno (1974). Hollywood had set an example of making one of its finest commercial movies. A mythical 135 floor San Francisco skyscraper catches fire from an electrical malfunction. What follows is a convincing special effects photography which looks very realistic though it is not. But a year before that Hindi screens all over were set ablaze with a tall, bright flame called Amitabh Bachchan. With a mere 2-liner dialogue like – Jab tak baithne ko na kaha jaaye, sharafat se khade raho…ye police station hai tumhare baap ka ghar nahi, the country was under his sweltering influence already and the era of an angry young man had begun. The Hindi audience were saying goodbye to the romantic dreamboat Rajesh Khanna and welcoming a tall, unconventional, lanky young man who defined attitude and swag with an ingenious spark. The nation is still reeling under that dynamism! He towered all artists around him not only with his height but with his mannerisms, style, dialogue delivery, his piercing look, his hairstyle, his dance moves, his comic timing and last but not the least, his voice. Often dubbed as the one man industry, he flamed up his way to the top. Epitomising the Hindi screen and engulfing every person along, this towering inferno never looked back post Zanjeer (1973). The entire backdrop of the Hindi movies of 1970-80 was set for this fiery young man. Special dialogues written, special costumes designed, special stories written and special songs made. Why I say special songs? Because his songs too brought a lot of attitude and fire on screen. He grooved to the music to quicken the pulses of men and women alike and with Kishore Kumar doing the playback for him was indeed a treat for cinema lovers.
Though ‘Amitabh Bachchan – the angry young man’ came into existence post Zanjeer, his attitude and swag was quite noticeable before that. Bombay to Goa (1972), gave the audience an idea of what was in store for them in future. Big, bold printed shirt that too in pink colour, was surely different from the trend then. And this young man knew how to be different.
The Amitabh era (70s and 80s) as we can rightly call it, also saw some of his best performances in the middle stream cinema, especially with Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Abhimaan (1973), was all about a troubled marriage with brittle egos. And since the story was based on a singer couple, songs had to be the main feature of the film and it rightfully created waves.
The 70s was a mixed bag of all the genres. Romance, thrillers, off-beat, middle stream, tragedies and art cinema too. Rightly called the masala movies age. And Amitabh experimented with all these genres. Zameer (1975), was one such experimental film. With an odd pair of Amitabh and Saira Banu, its songs too didn’t find a place in the popularity chart. Yet Kishore Kumar giving playback to Amitabh was in trend. And of course these songs had their own appeal.
If Prakash Mehra gave Amitabh a new face of an angry young man, Manmohan Desai gave his career a new level with some of the best multi starrers. Though usually chaotic, these films had their own charm. They were mostly made to charm the urban audience. Fast, frenzy and sans all the melancholia, these films had almost no place for songs. But Hindi films without songs was unheard of and hence songs were specially made to lure the audience. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) was a blockbuster and the music too topped the charts. Amitabh Bachchan of course got an independent song which he carried on his high shoulders effortlessly just as he carried the film.
Big budget films were specially made for this towering inferno on screen. The entire nation was soaking in this wave. Not that Hindi cinema had not seen such crazy waves, but this time it was different. The craziness was across the genders and age. Don (1978), was a flop when it was released, but it caught on the audience from the 2nd week and grew on till it became a cult classic. Don set an example and became an inspiration. The soundtrack again was a winner and the combination of Kishore – Amitabh hitting the charts.
Amitabh hit another jackpot with Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1979). One of the biggest blockbusters of that year, with Amitabh in the title role and him eclipsing all the other actors with his powerful performance, be it romance, melodrama or action. His image of riding a motorcycle on the plush Bombay roads and singing is what remained stuck with the audience. This time it was philosophy through attitude.
With the advent of the 80s, his swag oozed attitude like never before. Though all these films came under the category of typical masala formula, they still find a place in people’s hearts. The name Amitabh Bachchan meant instant success. The clothes he wore became a rage too. Just like the light suit he wore in Yarana (1980). It is said that Amitabh held the switch of those lights in his hands throughout the song. Have you noticed his walk towards the stage during this song? Doesn’t it define that impeccable Bachchan attitude?
The songs which were a part of these masala entertainers were quite far from the literary delights of 60s or early 70s, yet they were popular amongst the masses and that was all that mattered. The songs had good rhythm, beats for the common man to connect and sing along.
There were several potboilers which were churned one after the other. They weren’t any different from one another. The only attraction in all these films was Amitabh Bachchan. Without him there was no chance of survival of such films. But his attitude on screen along with the very manly Kishore Kumar’s voice suiting that attitude, remained constant.
Amitabh Bachchan’s brooding personality helped the masala films grow. His comic timing enhanced his career as an actor. His diction, his way of saying dialogues, everything became rage. People fell in love with his mannerisms, the use of his left hand to hold a gun, the intensity, the eloquent silence around him but more than anything his never say die attitude. Otherwise who apart from him would have carried a nearly 12 minute long song on his broad shoulders with such poise and calmness?