75 years is a long time. Amitabh Bachchan has spent a good 40 of those 75 years giving performances to cherish. So consistently outstanding is his output that we forget his earlier performances. Some of the work he did before Zanjeer and overnight superstardom was absolutely stunning, but largely unrecognized. Here’s looking at the 10 performances that deserve to be dug out of anonymity.
1. Saat Hindustani (1969) In his very first film AB played Anwar, a poet from Bihar who gets together with 6 other nationalists to liberate Goa from the Portuguese. The legendary intensity and the rugged rigour of emotions that won’t be polished or pushed aside, were evident in every frame where AB stood tall. K A Abbas who directed Amitabh Bachchan in this underrated film picked this actor to play one of the 7 protagonists because he saw a certain fire in the Bachchan personality. Yeah yeah, we know.
2. Bandhe Haath (1973) A thief and a poet, Amitabh Bachchan then struggling for footspace in the speeding train of stardom was remarkably signed up by the mighty O P Ralhan for a double role. Mumtaz, the top heroine of those days, sportingly agreed to co-star with this “lanky brooding young man who spoke every line like poetry.” She had all the songs. He had all the intensity.
3. Ek Nazar (1972) Again a poet! This is the third pre-Zanjeer film where AB plays a poet who falls in love with the tawaif played by Jaya Bhaduri. This is the second time that the two of them came together. Just before this film AB and JB were seen together in the awful Bansi Birju. There is a certain fire burning between them even at this early stage. Laxmikant Pyarelal’s immortal songs like ‘Patta Patta Boota Boota’, ‘Pehle Sau Baar’ and ‘Humeen Karen Koi Soorat’ went a long way in igniting the AB-JB chemistry.
4. Raaste Ka Pathar (1972) Loosely adapted from Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, this is an oddity of a film. It is uneven yet striking for the tense chemistry between AB and Shatrughan Sinha. SS plays AB’s boss, a married man in an affair with hapless working girl (Neeta Khayani) whom AB secretly loves. Later the same story became Yes Boss. Small world.
5. Pyar Ki Kahaani (1972) Directed by Ravikant Nagaich who made mostly espionage thrillers, this remake of hit Tamil film was a resounding flop. But if we go back to it we see how skillfully controlled AB was in playing the working class hero who rescues a friend (Anil Dhawan) from suicide and falls in love with a woman with a dubious past. This is the only film where Amitabh Bachchan and Tanuja came together as Man and Woman. They were quite a couple together.
6. Parwana (1972) Absolutely the best performance by AB from his pre-Zanjeer days and still among his most unsung triumphs, Amitabh Bachchan plays a desperately in-love man who would go to any lengths, even murder, to get the girl he loves (Yogita Bali). But she prefers Navin Nishchol. There is no telling about tastes. Go back to this film to watch the sequences where AB plots the murder of his love’s father Om Prakash. Chilling!
7. Sanjog (1972) It’s not easy playing weak characters with such conviction. In this early film Amitabh Bachchan starred as an indecisive man who dumps his wife Mala Sinha and remarried without telling the second wife (Aruna Irani) about the first. The film has Mala Sinha in the author-backed role. But AB is dazzling in the scenes where he has to stand meekly as a lowly clerk in an office run by his abandoned wife. Gender equation deliciously tilted away from the man.
8. Reshma Aur Shera (1969) In a brief role as Sunil Dutt’s speech-impaired brother Chotu, AB conveys so much of the anguish about the bloody feud that governs the lives of the two warring families who form the central core of the film. Solid presence even in a semi-cameo, Amitabh Bachchan proved it with this one.
9. Gehri Chaal (1973) Jeetendra played the hero to Hema Malini in this film while AB was cast as her brother trying to protect the family name from a dark secret. This film came just before the release of Zanjeer and there are clear indications that the Angry Young Man was about to emerge from the shadows.
10. Saudagar (1972) Fearless and unfettered by the demands of superstardom, Amitabh Bachchan played a gur-seller who marries a widowed gur-maker (Nutan) for monetary benefits. The low moral values of AB’s character did not diminish the impact of his towering performance. Though the focus was on the timeless Nutan, AB held his own with a powerful performance that left us hungering for more.