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Numero Unos: A Survey of the Top Hit Films: 1970s

Bollywood News

Over the last six decades, it is indeed a fascinating exercise to see which films proved the topmost box-office hits in their respective years from 1950 till the present. Their successes proved eye-openers not just for film buffs, industry and trade but frequently for their makers themselves, proving that hits happen and cannot be designed! In Part 3 of this 7-part series, we examine the films that have topped the box-office each year from 1970 to 1979.

The Top Guns

The '70s saw trends shifting to action and crime, and not as believed because of Amitabh Bachchan, who merely consolidated the genre in 1973. At the peak of the Rajesh Khanna wave itself, we saw the slick crime drama, Vijay Anand's Johnny Mera Naam, Dev Anand's career-biggest hit as actor, as the first topper of this decade, trouncing two more crime dramas, Khanna's own Saccha Jhootha and Dharmendra's Jeevan Mrityu.

The remaining nine years' toppers were:

-1971 - M.A.Thirumugham's Haathi Mere Saathi, a film about a man's relationship with animals, which trounced the action drama Mera Gaon Mera Desh

-1972 - Ramesh Sippy's Seeta Aur Geeta, a romantic comedy, which beat Pakeezah and the crime comedy Victoria No. 203

-1973 - Raj Kapoor's Bobby, a teenage love story

-1974 - Manoj Kumar's Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, a social

-1975 - Ramesh Sippy's Sholay, an action drama

-1976 - Madan Mohla's Dus Numbri, a crime story

-1977 - Manmohan Desai's Amar Akbar Anthony, an entertainer with everything from crime to romance and family drama and music

-1978 - Prakash Mehra's Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, a love story with a social base and a backdrop of crime, and

-1979 - K.Vishwanath's Sargam, a musical romance.

Vox Populi, Vox Deii!

Escapist entertainment escalated in the '70s as a stress-buster from harsh socio-political realities that included frustration with the system, corruption, unemployment and even the first signs of inflation, and bang in the middle of the Rajesh Khanna wave, a new Raja of Romance arrived - Rishi Kapoor, who was the solo hero of the only two classic musical romances that topped the BO: Bobby and Sargam. In a tangy irony, Kapoor annexed Khanna's short-lived position as the romantic icon, and the Phenomenon (as Khanna was called) in turn married Dimple Kapadia (who was Bobby on screen!) in real life some months prior to the release of Raj Kapoor's blockbuster! Rishi Kapoor also acted in the multi-star Amar Akbar Anthony.

Rajesh Khanna's sole claim to a Numero Uno position came in Haathi Mere Saathi, the children-centric entertainer that is the nearest Hindi cinema ever has got to a Walt Disney feature.


Amitabh Bachchan, the new superstar, came in with Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, the four multi-star films that highlighted the biggest trend of the '70s - of the audiences' overwhelming preference for films in which they could watching many stars instead of a single lead pair for the price of one ticket!

Ironically, Bachchan missed a spectacular feat of having the biggest hits (albeit mostly multi-star bonanzas) for six consecutive years from 1973 to 1978 because, firstly, Bobby generated a mammoth craze in 1973 that beat Amitabh Bachchan's breakthrough film, the cult Zanjeer, by a good margin, and secondly, the 1976 Kabhi Kabhie lost out to Dus Numbri in box-office grading, as traditionally, that is always decided by the proportion of profit to investment and Kabhi Kabhie was a far-costlier film!

Hema Malini starred in four films (Johnny Mera Naam, Seeta Aur Geeta, Sholay, Dus Numbri), and producer G.P.Sippy and his director son Ramesh Sippy were the only filmmakers to notch up more than one film - Seeta Aur Geeta and Sholay.

Forever the biggest

Sholay, of course, was the topper of the '70s and remains India's biggest hit ever. Along with Roti Kapada Aur Makaan and Deewaar earlier in 1975, it consolidated the 'multistarrer' (as it was called in ungrammatical film parlance) trend. As long as 12 years ago, it was assessed that the number of people who had watched the movie in theatres had exceeded the total population of India, what with people going to experience the revenge spectacle dozens of times!

The 70mm canvas, the Stereophonic Sound (a first in Indian films), the cult villainy of Gabbar Singh, the memorable major and minor characters and the taut screenplay and dialogues by Salim-Javed rightly made Sholay an unparalleled epic that is unbeaten even today.

Interestingly, one film almost came to match the scale of its cost-to-profit ratio - the same year's devotional Jai Santoshi Maa that spawned dozens of such films.

Landmark decade

The '70s remains a landmark decade in more ways than one. Johnny Mera Naam became Hindi cinema's first film to gross Rs. 50 lakh. It was the comeback of Premnath as a character artiste and saw Padma Khanna breaking through with their seduction song 'Husn Ke Lakhon Rang'.

1971's Haathi Mere Saathi smashed Johnny…'s record to become Hindi cinema's first film to gross a crore - the costliest tickets in any part of the country then were three rupees! Haathi Mere Saathi was the first film scripted by Salim-Javed who in the following year co-scripted Seeta Aur Geeta and finally Sholay and of course created the Angry Young Man persona of Bachchan. Haathi Mere Saathi also was the first-ever music score to notch a Silver Disc (250,000 gramophone records) for outstanding music sales.


Bobby was Hindi cinema's first teenage love story that had actual teenagers in the leads. Amar Akbar Anthony took Bachchan to the official Numero Uno position till then held by Dharmendra. This perhaps explains why Bachchan's most popular multi-hero teams despite Sholay were formed with his remaining male co-stars like Shashi Kapoor, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor. Muqaddar Ka Sikandar popularized the Cinemascope format on a large scale in Hindi cinema. And finally, Sargam saw a deaf-mute protagonist, the heroine Jaya Prada, singing in Lata Mangeshkar's voice - in three dream and imagination sequences!

Music all the way

A significant point of the '70s was that the new trinity of composing entities - Kalyanji-Anandji ('70, '78), R.D.Burman ('72, '75) and Laxmikant-Pyarelal (all the remaining six years!) completely dominating the scene.

L-P swept the decade like mega-stars even outside these 10 films, but Haathi Mere Saathi and their four Gold Disc-winning scores here - Bobby, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan, Amar Akbar Anthony and Sargam had a mammoth hand in the incredible success of these movies. Kalyanji-Anandji's Johnny Mera Naam and the Platinum Disc-winning Muqaddar Ka Sikander, too, remain cult scores that boosted the films' initial appeal and repeat value and therefore the box-office. However, the music of Sholay was supported by the film rather than the other way around. Lyricist Anand Bakshi was the out-and-out Supremo with six films (Haathi Mere Saathi, Seeta Aur Geeta, Bobby, Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony and Sargam). Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle ruled but Mohammed Rafi blazed back to a busybee status with and after Amar Akbar Anthony and sang all the seven songs of Sargam.

Audiences across the nation threw coins at the screen when 'Dafliwale' from Sargam came on, and the other cult songs were 'O Babul Pyaare' and 'Husn Ke Lakhon Rang' (Johnny Mera Naam), 'Duniya Mein Rehna Hai' (Haathi Mere Saathi), 'Hawa Ke Saath Saath' (Seeta Aur Geeta), 'Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate', 'Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Band Ho', 'Main Shaayar To Nahin', 'Beshak Mandir Masjid Todo' and 'Na Maangoon Sona Chandni' (Bobby), 'Main Na Bhoolunga', 'Haaye Haaye Yeh Majboori' and 'Mehangai Maar Gayee' (Roti Kapada Aur Makaan), 'Yeh Dosti' and 'Mehbooba O Mehbooba' (Sholay), 'Parda Hai Parda', 'Shirdiwale Sai Baba' and 'My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves' (Amar Akbar Anthony) and 'O Saathi Re' and 'Salaam-E-Ishq' (Muqaddar Ka Sikander) .

Click here to read Part 1 - Part 2


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