On February 15, Amitabh Bachchan completed 50 years in Hindi cinema. To make a list of the immortal characters he has created for the screen would be superfluous as they are known to all. However, based on the axiom that, given a great script, good actors feed off each other, he and his characters have been instrumental in creating many unforgettable roles, and therefore, performances for co-stars who did their own thing and did not put him on a pedestal as the mega-star he was.
This is how Amitabh prefers his co-stars to be, so let us list the 10 best characters generated in his near-300 movies. Needless to add, we include only those films in which Amitabh Bachchan was the pivot of the plot.
Zanjeer / Pran: As Sher Khan, the doughty and straight-talking Pathan who comes to intimidate Inspector Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) but ends up as his best and staunchest ally, Pran was simply phenomenal. So much so that this Salim-Javed trailblazer from Prakash Mehra became the fount of the male-bonding or ‘dosti’ song in our cinema with Manna Dey’s ‘Yaari Hai Imaan Mera’, which even set the trend for qawwalis and topped the countdown of the year.
Deewaar / Nirupa Roy and Shashi Kapoor: The fabulous script revolving round what went into the genesis of the hardened cynic Vijay, Amitabh Bachchan’s unforgettable character, gave birth to two extraordinary characters that have achieved immortality in Hindi cinema. One was the resolute mother (Nirupa Roy), who never deviates from the straight and narrow despite what she and her late husband went through, and her younger son Ravi, played by Shashi Kapoor, who becomes an honest cop.
Nirupa Roy becomes the prototype of the lead character from Mehboob Khan’s 1957 classic Mother India in the way she shoots down her errant older son, while Ravi, the brother, is determination personified, as he refuses to be corrupted and speaks out the unforgettable line, “Mere paas maa hai!” when Vijay challenges him about what he has after leading an honest life.
Nirupa’s role was initially offered to Vyjayanthimala for a comeback, while Shashi Kapoor ended up with an award even as Amitabh himself missed that bus.
Do Anjaane / Rekha: She was a materialistic woman, a fickle soul who could not spend life in the humble way her husband (Amitabh Bachchan) lived. She wanted to be a professional dancer, and in that era, working housewives were frowned upon in cinema. However, this screen adaptation (of a Bengali short story) by famed writer Nabendu Ghosh of Bandini fame etched out a memorable gray character who was so easily swayed by temptation and yet not evil, though the sympathies all went to the hero. In turn, Rekha made her first real mark as an actress of calibre—after more than 20 films in six years—with this layered character.
Waqt—The Race Against Time / Shefali Shah: It is said that Amitabh himself insisted that filmmaker Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s actress wife Shefali Shah nee Chhaya be his co-star and reel wife, and an ecstatic Shefali, a renowned name on television, jumped at it. To match the power and stature of the mega-star is not easy, but Shefali stood up to her on-screen husband, and came up with the first of her many fabulous performances on the big screen.
Cheeni Kum / Zohra Sehgal: Buddhadev, as a bachelor at 60, lives with his 90-something mother (Zohra Sehgal), who is forever chiding him for not going to the gym. Buddhadev abhors her terrible cooking too, but his barbs only convince the spunky mom that her 60-plus son is still a spoilt, grumpy child and needs to be treated and addressed as one! The late Zohra Sehgal brought to life a woman of substance who handles her son with gumption and true grit!
Paa / Vidya Balan: In this unique story of Auro, a Progeria patient (this is a condition in which a child ages prematurely) played by Amitabh Bachchan, Vidya Balan played his affectionate and helpless mother, who sees her only child aging at 12 and then dying. A gynecologist estranged from her politician husband (Abhishek Bachchan!), Vidya’s facial expressions conveyed more than elaborate lines from a lesser actor would have.
Aarakshan / Deepika Padukone: We know how Deepika Padukone, seemingly overnight, grew into a phenomenal actress and scene-stealer, with her sudden decision to work on herself and devour and absorb every character offered to her. But few realize that the actress zoomed to this histrionic height not with the more-hyped and successful Cocktail but in the small but intense role of Poorvi in this 2011 flop. Watch her face Amitabh Bachchan on screen and we see how today’s Numero Uno took the first step towards superstardom actually with this film:she dominated their scenes!
Piku / Moushumi Chaterjee: The film revolved around father Amitabh Bachchan and daughter Deepika Padukone, with Irrfan Khan as the third angle in his role of Deepika’s potential suitor. Within this powerful triangle, Moushumi Chaterjee, as the garrulous and sprightly Chhobi Mousi, shown as the widower Amitabh’s sister-in-law, was a steal in the relatively shorter but fiery role she had.
102 Not Out / Rishi Kapoor: Truth to tell, Rishi Kapoor as the 76 year-old Babulal, son of Amitabh Bachchan (who was 102 year-old Dattatraya in the film) not only matched his reel-father but had a meatier role and was a shade more impactful. As the grumpy, oh-so-conventional man whom his young-at-heart father wants to dispatch to an old-age home (!), Rishi Kapoor, was flawless. His body language and expressions were magnificent. In a sense, this was Nature avenging the second fiddle Rishi played to his contemporary in films like Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Coolie and Ajooba!