Free Press Journal

Big B, Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan: Not just screen heroes!

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On the sets of Coolie AMITABH BACHCHAN and AMJAD KHAN

While we are used to seeing our reel actors often play a heroic life on the screens, many have been scripting a story of a never-say-die spirit in their real lives. S Ramachandran takes us through their stories of triumph of the soul with a message: Never give up.

A e tair-e-lahoti us rizq se mout

achi – jis rizq se aati ho parwaz
me kotahi, wrote Sir Allama
Iqbal about the Phoenix bird.
Translated it means, ‘O ethereal
bird! It is better to starve to death… than to live on a prey that clogs thy wings in flight.’


Bollywood has been home to several such stories of people striking back fighting physical, mental and financial duress, time and again. Some of them have a tendency and a tenacity to do it again and again.

Circa 1982. Amitabh Bachchan was shooting for the film Coolie with Manmohan Desai at the Karnataka University campus. As Puneet Issar plunged one paw into Bachchan’s solar plexus, the actor was on all fours. He was rushed to a hospital in Bangalore and when doctors gave up, he was moved to Breach Candy in Mumbai. Doctors had given up hope. Bachchan plunged into darkness. “I was brain dead for eleven minutes,” Bachchan once confided to this writer.

And then, the doctors led by Farokh Udwadia pumped adrenaline into him… and Jaya Bachchan saw life. “His hand just moved,” she said and Bachchan was back. Also affected by Myasthenia Gravis, Bachhcan entered politics defeating HK Bahuguna by a huge margin. But the Bofors scandal pulled him back. He started ABCL and did a Miss World Event in Bangalore which failed. Bachchan had no work. He thought of declaring himself bankrupt when he remembered his poet father’s word to always fight back. Bachchan indeed fought back; he anchored a TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati, went to the offices of Yash Chopra, BR Chopra and the others and asked for work. His films worked and Bachchan was back with a Hainnn?

So, when he was celebrating his 60th birthday, he sent an invitation to the media and the industry which said, ‘Second Innings.’

Director Prem Soni who has directed Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor in Main Aur Mrs Khanna and Preity Zinta in her debut production Ishq in Paris is back in action after his fight with cancer. Prem was diagnosed with the Big C when he was shooting Ishq. The film got stuck and was somehow released, but it failed. Prem’s debut film Main Aur Mrs Khanna too was a failure. Prem has managed to fight the gall bladder cancer and now has the gall to take on Bollywood yet again. He has just signed his next film. And he is not the first filmmaker to do so.

Not long ago, Anurag Basu of Barfi fame was making a film called Tumsa Nahin Dekha with Emraan Hashmi and Dia Mirza when he was diagnosed with blood cancer. The doctors told him that he could beat it if he had the will to fight. His assistant and producer Mahesh Bhatt’s nephew, Mohit Suri finished the film and Anurag who had made films like Saaya and Murder earlier, took a break and came back strongly with films like Gangster, Life In a Metro, Kites and Barfi. His upcoming release will be the Ranbir-Katrina starrer Jagga Jasoos.

The women have also fought the Big C like tigresses, the recent example being that of Manisha Koirala who came back unscathed after a fight with ovarian cancer. Four years ago, in December 2012, the actress underwent a surgery and has been cancer-free ever since. She will soon be seen in a film Dear Maya and in the Dutt biopic, playing the role of Nargis Dutt.

Actress Lisa Ray who worked in films like Deepa Mehta’s Water and Mahesh Bhatt’s Kasoor was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, seven years back. Multiple Myeloma, for the less enlightened, is a rare disease and a cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow. She is being treated for the same now. Doctors haven’t still found a complete cure for the cancer. Lisa is still working in Bollywood and crossover films. She was last seen in Killing Veerappan and will now be seen in the upcoming film, Dobaara.

Veteran actress Mumtaz and actor Fardeen Khan’s mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago when she was around 54 years old.

The actress went through several chemotherapies and radiations and has fought back her stalker.

Bollywood’s bad boy Salman Khan fought trigeminal neuralgia which is a severe pain in the face and jaw. He could not shoot properly. 70 mm cinema requires close-ups and fans could not be deprived of it. Salman, who was also battling court cases at the same time and had to put his best face before the camera, had a bigger fight to tackle. He was operated twice and recently saw the release of his film, Tubelight… Interestingly one of his next releases is also called Tiger Zinda Hai. Salman clearly is a shining example of someone who has fought on. “I am God’s favourite child,” he smiles.

The Nawab of Pataudi, Saif Ali Khan, had a heart attack a few years ago. His film Eklavya had just been released. Saif arrived from South Africa at 12.30 am and drove straight to the MHADA complex to rehearse for the Stardust show.

“I practised all night. Next morning, I did the act in the sun again. I found it a little hard to breathe and felt a burning sensation in the chest, and hence went home to rest. My kids Sara and Ibrahim were driving me mad at home and I told Sara, ‘I think I am getting a heart attack, so stop shouting’. The acidic feeling did not subside. So as I left home instead of taking a left turn for the show, I went to meet Dr Agarwal and an ECG was done. Then I went to Lilavati. I could have died in a traffic jam or if I had gone up on stage,” he says.

“It was all because of my smoking. I have changed my lifestyle and hopefully I hope people who smoke a lot also change their lifestyle or they could end up with a heart attack anytime,” says the actor who is among the A-listers in Bollywood today. He has been carrying on work well now and his next release is Chef.

When Hrithik Roshan was young and wanted to be an actor, he was told by the doctor that his body was not good enough. “I was in college and wanted to be an actor like my dad. But I was told often by various doctors including a specialist that I could never dance all my life. I used to have a bad back problem, a disc that slipped among other issues. I was told that I could not do things that were needed to be an actor and was advised to concentrate on something else. I was aghast, upset, shattered. But I was determined to be an actor. I thought that I would do everything possible and try and be what I wanted to be. My parents were a little wary because they did not want me to do anything that could hurt me too badly physically. But I started working on my back on my own.

I did various kinds of treatments to myself and got into the shape that I have got today,” he says.

Hrithik not only has done quite a few films till now, but he is among the best dancers in Bollywood today. And yes, the actor ended up with a bad back again before the shooting of Krrish 3. “Doctors in fact had warned me not to do the film and had even informed my father that it will be very dangerous for me. Dad wanted to shelve the film but then I asked for three months to get strong again and I did.” Immediately after Hrithik decided to do a stunt on his own for Bang Bang and ended up with a clot in his brain. It was pretty serious and threatened his life. He was hospitalised and operated and now he is back. Again.

Truly, some of them are not just heroes on screen. They have been heroes in their fight with life as well.