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22 October 2022

My Favourites: Amitabh Bachchan Scenes

I’m travelling this week, so a new watchalong review will have to wait until my return. So, what is the best way to continue to celebrate Amitabh Bachchan in the interim? Reams have been written about him. I have waxed eloquent on this blog each time I review a film of his – and sometimes, even when I don’t. The words that are often used to describe his talent and his superstardom – or even my love for all things Amitabh – are now sadly repetitive. After all, in how many different ways can you say that, in his heyday,  he towered over the industry?

Songs, perhaps, like I did for Rajesh Khanna? No, it’s universally acknowledged that the advent of Amitabh Bachchan proved to be the death knell of good Hindi film music. He did have some good numbers picturised on him, but his chartbusters are momentary pleasures and do not really feature in my favourites. Then what?

Amitabh’s voice has always been lauded, well, almost always. After all, A.I.R famously rejected his application to be a news reader. But that famous baritone, coupled with his ability to modulate his voice and his expressions to capture the nuances of a scene, has charmed millions throughout the decades. It is rather overused right now but at his peak, it was a voice that commanded and held your attention. But there are enough lists of his most famous dialogues. So, I have chosen a few of my favourite scenes (there are too many to document fully) – they may or may not be famous or popular – that have the actor doing what he does best – act. These cover the spectrum from dialogue-baazi to eloquent silences to comic scenes to recitations.

Deewar – “Main aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahin utaatha.”

I know the bridge scene is oft quoted for Shashi Kapoor’s famous ‘Mere paas maa hain’ retort, followed by the scene in the temple where a distraught son pleads for his mother’s life to a god he’d turned his back on. But this one establishes, at least to me, Vijay’s character. Embittered he may be, his moral code may be amorphous enough to consider smuggling a career choice, but life’s hard knocks and the ensuing poverty have not rid him of his self-respect. When he meets the man who will change his life forever, he does not meet him as a dock worker meeting a wealthy businessman, but as an equal. The words are spoken in a conversational tone, but they still pack a punch.

Shakti  Toh kaha kyun nahin, Dad?”

An anguished query from a son who has spent a lifetime waiting to hear that his father does love him sears the father as much as it does us, the audience. Amitabh has done death scenes before – plenty of them: Deewar, Sholay, Muqaddar ka Sikander… but each time he dies on screen, I feel a lump in my throat. Here, he is the embittered son of a conscientious cop, who having misunderstood his father’s actions as a child, grows up estranged from him. It is only in the climax when his actions draw his father’s fire that the latter is finally able to express what he feels for his only child. Too little, too late, but the words that should have been said years earlier are now spoken and listened to.

Sholay – “Ajeeb baat hain. Mere itne samjhaane par bhi aapne inkaar kar diya. Bechara Veeru!

Sholay is filled with whistle-worthy dialogues by the dozen. However, I have deliberately chosen a scene that does not rely on histrionics but is nevertheless comic, purely for Amitabh’s deadpan delivery. Amitabh’s Jai is arm-twisted into going to Basanti’s (Hema Malini) mausi to promote Veeru’s (Dharmendra) alliance. Jai always plays spoilsport in the Veeru-Basanti romance and this occasion is no different. He makes the most outrageous claims about Veeru’s character and counters each one of mausi’s protests with an even more outrageous ‘defence’. Just listen to the voice modulation and watch his expressions as he lays it on thick. The icing on the cake is when mausi compliments Jai on being ‘such a good friend’ to Veeru. Awesome!

Namak Halal – “I can talk English, I can walk English, I can laugh English because English is avery phunny language.

It takes talent to pull off the silliness, and Amitabh has that in spades. By the time you wrap your head around ‘Bhairon’ becoming ‘Baron’ (‘because their minds are very narrow’) he has gone on to talk of Vijay Mankad and Vijay Gaekwad and Wasim Bari and Wasim Akram. It’s mind boggling because it is a long take, and it can’t have been easy to spout such arrant nonsense.

Trishul – “Aur aap, Mr RK Gupta, mere naajayaz baap hain.”

Dramatic dialogues and confrontation scenes between a man and his illegitimate son populate the film. But in this pre-climax scene, when he has stripped his father not only of his wealth but estranged his family, Vijay reveals who he is. And why he had set about to destroy his father. The contempt in his tone, the bitterness carefully nurtured by his mother, the repressed anger all come out in this one scene. Having returned all his father’s wealth, he leaves him with cold comfort: “Aaj aap ke paas aap ki saari daulat hai sab kuch sahi, lekin maine aap se bada garib aaj tak nahin dekha.” It’s check. And mate. 

[I could not find the clip on YouTube. The movie is on einthusan.com, and the scene starts from 2.26.26.]

Kaala Patthar The rain sequence

Amitabh has the felicity of turning silence into eloquence. If it’s not the intensity in his dark, brooding eyes, it is the glimpse of a smile that plays on his lips or the twitch of an eyebrow that expresses so much without a word. Here, in a dark film about a man haunted by his past lies an oasis of comfort – a person offering him unconditional friendship. When does that friendship turn into love? During a walk under a shared umbrella in the pouring rain, that’s when. They are not even conscious of walking closer together, their hands touching, not touching… until she stumbles, and he reflexively steadies her. The sudden tenderness in his eyes… Who knew romance could come in such intriguing shades? 

[The movie is not available on YouTube. The movie is on einthusan.com. The scene begins at 1.13.32]

Kabhi Kabhie – “Daag daaman pe nahin, dil par liya hain hum ne.

This Vijay is a man whose past weighs his present. Even his house is named ‘Ateet’. Unable to let go of a lost love, he suffers, almost in penance for a decision he made years ago. That pain festers like a wound that’s never healed. Eventually, when that past catches up with him, that pent up bitterness bursts out like lava searing the listeners with his hurt and his anger. After all, this is the man who recites:
Kabhi raste mein mil jao toh katrakar guzar jaana
Humein is tarah taakna jaise pechaana nahin tum ne
Hamara zikr jab aaye toh yun anjaan ban jana
Ke  jaise naam sun kar bhi humein jaana nahi tumne”

It makes his treatment of his wife even more horrifying.
Amitabh aced the ‘drunken scene’ as much as he did the ‘death scene’. I can’t think of another actor who has been drunk so often on screen or died so many times – a monologue often accompanies both events. Here, however, director Raj Sippy allows his actors to improvise, so the dialogue between Ravi (Amitabh) and Ranjit (Amjad Khan) is 90% ad-libbed by the actors. The complicated one-take scene is hilarious. I’m rather awestruck that Amitabh could come up with expressions like ‘Koochie koo’ while talking about one of his brothers and ‘Gaai nahin, bhains’  while describing the other. Amjad Khan, on the other hand, must have had a tough time keeping himself from laughing at the farce.

Amar Akbar Anthony"Tere ko main iska vaastayich bolta ke daaru mat pii mat pii…"

This, of course, is a classic. After Anthony Gonsalves has been beaten up by Zebisco at the Easter Party, Anthony is back in his kholi, trying to clean up the blood and the bruises. He’s still drunk however, and so we get a scene where he mops up his reflection in the mirror, cleans the ‘wound’ with Dettol and even sticks a band-aid on it, all the while excoriating his reflection in pure Bambayya for his inebriation, “Dekh apna thopda dekh! Dekh apna thopda aaine mein dekh! Pakka idiot dikhta hain, pakka idiot!”  This was comedy gold.

Chupke Chupke – “Kehta main hii hoon. Kehtaa… main hi hoon! Lekin woh main jo tum ho, aur woh tum jomain hoon.,.”

Poor Sukumar! Trapped in a farce not of his making, he’s finding it difficult to handle his love life while pretending to be Prof Parimal Tripathi. Frustrated, he comes to his friends to complain. Unfortunately for him, he is so muddled that he loses track of what he’s trying to say. Adding insult to the injury is Parimal scoffing at him – Ye kya ‘meh’ laga rakha hain!”

Mr Natwarlal – Abe, ye jeena bhi koi jeena hai, lallu?

I confess I was not the demographic it was aimed at even when I watched the film as a pre-teen, but there was something endearing about Mere paas aao mere doston ek qissa sunaao. It was Amitabh’s first song rendition and while he’s no great shakes as a singer, the comedic element worked very well indeed. It also gave him a chance to show off some physical comedy at which he excels.

Silsila – Main aur meri tanhaii

This was an absolute wreck of a movie, but this song has been one of my favourites, ever since I heard it simply because of Amitabh’s recitation. Javed Akhtar’s lines speak of his loneliness, his reminiscences of his beloved’s beauty, the countless ‘What ifs’, and the urge to break all bounds to let love triumph. Amitabh’s voice makes you want to believe in that all-encompassing passion that breaks social and moral codes. Alas, neither the script nor the director had the courage to follow that narrative.

When my husband had first come to the US, he used to run a programme of Hindi songs on the local radio station. Once, he played Ye kahaan aa gaye hum and Amitabh’s baritone filled the studio. A lady working there stopped and put her head inside the door to ask who was speaking. She was simply entranced by Amitabh’s voice.

What are your favourite Amitabh scenes?

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