It’s Amitabh’s birthday, yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!! The greatest day of the year! Well, not really, but it’s up there.
Amitabh! Born in 1942 and named “Inquilaab” (revolution) by his very radical parents. And then one of their fellow artist radical friends had a dream and came to their house and said they should name him “Amitabh” (light) instead. So, he started off life from a bit of a mythological place.
Amitabh grew up and had an excellent education at school, and at home. His father was a great poet, and was also the first Indian to receive a PhD in English from Cambridge. His father had broken from his Brahmin family when he fell in love with his mother, a Sikh woman. His family had little patience with the old ways and the imaginary Indian “culture”, they were building their own culture. That’s why his family went by the name “Bachchan”, his father’s pen name meaning “child”, an acknowledgement of his allegiance to a new young world and a rejection of his caste-name from his family. Amitabh was taught poetry, reason, fluent English, and to think all the radical thoughts of young India. He was also raised with the Gandhi-Nehru family. His parents had earned their place in the highest levels of north Indian radical society through their work, and their was an affinity between young Amitabh and young Rajiv Gandhi, Indira’s older son. They two boys played together, went to school together, were good friends all their young lives.
After he finished school, Sherwood College (an old prep school) and Delhi University, Amitabh went off to make his way in the world. He got a job in Calcutta, a good office job. But it didn’t make him happy. His mother had always been active in amateur theatricals, Amitabh started trying them a bit too, and finally told his parents he wanted to be an actor. In other families, this might have been shameful or strange, but Amitabh’s father was a poet after all, and his mother had acted, so they sent him off to Bombay with their best wishes.
In Bombay, Amitabh famously wasn’t a success from the start. But he was self-supporting and working from the start. He didn’t sit around waiting for a “perfect launch film” or any of that. He worked in film after film and was easily accepted into the film fraternity. Not as someone who was going to be powerful and important, but just as a good solid man. As part of the young educated film crowd going about together, he met Jaya Bachchan, the top student of her year at FTII and quickly becoming the top actress in Hindi film. Jaya and Amitabh liked each other, had similar backgrounds (educated artistic progressive) and began dating. They dated for well over a year, then had a last minute marriage so their parents would let them take a planned trip to London together.
Jaya and Amitabh’s wedding was small and pleasant and calm. Probably the last small and pleasant and calm time of their lives, because right after Amitabh’s series of career making films released, Zanjeer and Deewar and Sholay. Within a year, Jaya had their first child Shweta and Amitabh was the biggest star Hindi film had ever known.
The thing about Amitabh is, success didn’t change him. He stayed married to Jaya and actively involved in their marriage and raising their children. At work, he continued to listen to his directors, work hard on his dialogue, and do everything he could to support his scene partners. His fame ebbed and flowed over the years, he left in the 80s to join politics, and again in the early 90s to start a company. In the late 90s, he started his current phase of his career, playing character parts, no longer the “hero” type, with the girlfriend and the action scenes and so on. And through out that, he stayed married to Jaya, involved in his children’s lives, and working hard on his dialogue, his parts, his profession.
So, now he is 78. No doubt celebrating at home with his family, in between the many jobs he has taken on (even during quarantine). Amitabh the movie star may have changed a lot over the years, but Amitabh the Man has remained remarkably stable.