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If there was no Amitabh Bachchan
Could Dharmendra have pulled off an angsty 'Deewar' ? Would Rajesh Khanna's charms have worked in 'Kabhi Kabhie' ? Tongue firmly in cheek, TOI-Crest makes some wild guesses.
Let's tackle the big question first. Who else could have been Indian cinema's biggest star? Before AB there was Dilip Kumar. During the early AB years there was Rajesh Khanna. The slot for the Angry Young Man, cleverly crafted by Salim-Javed in the '70s, was wide open. Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer was AB's first solo blockbuster. The hero's role was first offered to Dharmendra, Dev Anand and Raj Kumar. All of them declined. So who would have fit into the Angry Young Man shoes? My bet is on Vinod Khanna or Shatrughan Sinha.
Would either of them have de facto become Indian cinema's biggest star? I doubt it. They would have become huge stars - just like Dharmendra was. What they lacked was not talent or charisma. It is just that AB was hungrier and more disciplined. Amitabh Bachchan is a long distance runner. Many who sprinted with him have given up running. Some are heaving and panting still. Others are ambling along. AB is still running.
That is why in this era when the race for the superstar tag is between the Khans, you still cannot ignore Bachchan. He is running for the sheer joy of it. Look at the way he conducts himself and the manner in which he is pushing the envelope as an actor. He is not part of the Superstar Race, he is in the race of Living Legends.
There are two memorable periods of AB's life at the movies. One, from 1970-82. And another from 2000-till now. Between 1982 (when he had that near fatal accident on the sets of Coolie) and 2000 (when his career was resurrected with Mohabattein and Kaun Banega Crorepati), he did act in many forgettable movies. But that was a time when AB seemed to be more interested in politics and business.
Hrishikesh Mukherji' 1971 film Anand was the first where 'Babumoshai' Bachchan became popular. Kishore Kumar was to play the lead, but he backed out at the last minute. Then Mukherji wanted Shashi Kapoor to play the lead but he demanded a fee that ruled him out. Finally, Gulzar took Rajesh Khanna to Hrishida. If AB hadn't stepped in, any of these stars could have played Babumoshai. Bachchan worked the most with Hrishida. While the hugely talented Hrishida would have still gone and made his mark, would Anand, Abhimaan, Namak Haram, Mili, Chupke Chupke, Jurmana, or Bemisal been the same without Bachchan? Inversely, would he be the actor we revere without these films? 1975 was the most defining year of AB as an actor. It was the year that saw him play the silent lover in Mili, the mutinous son in Deewar, the comic friend in Chupke Chupke and a character who combined all these attributes - Jai - in Sholay. We saw a versatile Dharmendra in Chupke Chupke and Sholay. Could he have pulled it off in Mili and Deewar? Maybe. Sanjeev Kumar? Yes. Vinod Khanna? Hmmm...
Three people who unfortunately couldn't see eye-to-eye later in life created the AB persona as an actor - Salim Khan, Javed Akhtar and Gulzar. It was Salim-Javed's writing that brought out some of the best of Yash Chopra-Amitabh Bachchan drama combos - Deewar, Trishul, Kaala Pathar. And it was Gulzar's writing and dialogues that brought out the exquisite charm of the Hrishikesh-AB combo. Could the pot have existed without the potter? Would the potters have been known if they didn't make that pot? As AB himself admits, he was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time with the right people.
It is not tough to imagine Kabhi Kabhie and Silsila minus AB. I think Yash Chopra would have done it with Rajesh Khanna, whom he had already directed in Daag and Itefaaq. Chopra continued to make romantic dramas without AB - Chandni with Rishi Kapoor, Lamhe with Anil Kapoor, Dil to Pagal Hai, Veer Zara and the latest Jab Tak Hai Jaan with Shah Rukh Khan.
The Manmohan Desai scenario minus AB is tougher to envisage. Together they made about eight films starting from Amar Akbar Anthony in 1977 to Ganga Jamuna Saraswati in 1988. Unlike Desai, Prakash Mehra experimented with other leads apart from AB but was not very successful, except with Vinod Khanna (who turned down Mehra's request to play Shashi Kapoor's role in Namak Halal). When Bachchan was unavailable, Mehra made films with Shatrughan Sinha and later Raaj Kumar too. They didn't work.
The remarkable thing about AB is his sheer will to adapt, survive and strive. Dilip Kumar, Raaj Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra, Naseerudin Shah...none of them could adapt to the new entertainment industry. Some of them could have been the person Chopra chose for AB's role in Mohabattein. But it was AB who picked up the phone and called Chopra for a role. The others were probably waiting for their phone to ring.
Any of the above stars or Anil Kapoor or Jackie Shroff could have been hosts for Kaun Banega Crorepati in 2000. But Bachchan was willing to adapt to the TV medium. He was willing to sit opposite a commoner, empathise with his life's struggle, and edge him or her on to winning crores. Shah Rukh Khan tried to do the same but failed.
Today's filmmakers love two things most about AB. His energy to adapt and experiment. And his sheer professionalism. That is why he was picked for Baghban (Dilip Kumar was to do it with B R Chopra), Black, Sarkar and Paa.
AB has now cut down on films. Young filmmakers go to Rishi Kapoor for his kind of roles. Naseer and Nana could be good options too, but they are whimsical despite being hugely talented. While he is now taking it slow working on films, AB's hunger to be in touch with his fans has made him a huge success on Twitter and the Internet.
FAME & FAMILY
If there was no AB, we would know of Harivanshrai Bachchan and his family as much as we know of Maithili Sharan Gupt, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar or Sumitranandan Pant - those wonderful poems we learnt in school and no more.
As someone who has seen most of Jaya Bachchan's films, I do not think her screen or public life would have differed vastly if AB was not there. She would have continued to act, married someone sensible. And yes, being the kind of person she is, my bets are she would have made it to the Rajya Sabha.
My guess is that if AB had not survived the Coolie accident, Abhishek Bachchan would have been launched later in Bollywood. He would have failed to make it as an actor. But he might have been more successful than his father in making AB Corp a successful film company.
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