Bachchan, Amitabh

Bachchan, Amitabh
(b. Oct. 11, 1942, Allahabad, India) Indian film actor.

Bachchan's first film success was Zanjeer (1973); by the end of the 1970s he was something of a cultural phenonemon in India and was regarded as the most popular star in the history of Indian films. He is often compared to such American action stars as Clint Eastwood, although Bachchan's talents also extend to singing, dancing, and comedy. After a brief stint in politics in the mid 1980s, Bachchan gained a new generation of fans in the next decade as host of the television game show Kaun banega crorepati, the Indian version of the U.S. and U.K. hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

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▪ 2002

      By far the biggest draw on Indian television in 2001 was Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The show captured the imagination of millions, and fueling its popularity was Kaun Banega Crorepati's charismatic host, Amitabh Bachchan. The television assignment was a decided departure for Bachchan, a former film star who was once regarded as “the king of Indian cinema.”

      Born on Oct. 11, 1942, in Allahabad, India, Bachchan was the son of a noted Hindi poet, Harivansh Bachchan. He was educated at Sherwood College, Nainital, and the University of Delhi. After working for a time as a business executive in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and performing in theatre, Bachchan began a long career in film. His screen debut, Saat Hindustani (1969; “Seven Indians”), flopped. Initially, Indian audiences found it hard to accept Bachchan's gangly physique and “angry young man” persona. Four years later, however, he tasted his first commercial success with Zanjeer (1973; “Chain”). A string of hit action films followed, including Deewar (1975; “Wall” ), Sholay (1975; “Embers”), and Don (1978). Bachchan's oeuvre was not confined to action alone, however; his comic flair was showcased in breezier fare such as Chupke Chupke (1975) and Mr. Natwarlal (1979).

      An accident on the set of the film Coolie in 1982 left Bachchan comatose, but he eventually made a full recovery. His subsequent films did poorly at the box office, however. Motivated by his friend Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Bachchan entered politics and was elected to Parliament from Allahabad by an overwhelming majority. His stint in politics proved to be short-lived. In 1989, after being implicated in the bribery scandal that toppled Gandhi's government, Bachchan was forced to resign his post. Returning to film, he won the National Award for his portrayal of a mafia don in Agneepath (1990; “Path of Fire”).

      In 1992 Bachchan took another hiatus from moviemaking, and when he reappeared three years later, it was as head of his own entertainment venture, Amitabh Bachchan Corp. Ltd. (ABCL). The business, which specialized in film production and event management, brought the Miss World beauty pageant to India in 1996 but quickly ran into deep financial trouble. The actor was forced to explore other options. Kaun Banega Crorepati first aired in July 2000. Taking a role on the small screen was perceived as a move that Bachchan was forced to make in order to pay off ABCL creditors. The transition was a successful one, however. Bachchan's fluent Hindustani and easygoing charm helped put contestants at ease and Kaun Banega Crorepati on top of the ratings chart. His annual salary of $3.2 million made him Indian television's highest-paid star.

Shalaka Paradkar

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▪ Indian actor
born October 11, 1942, Allahabad, India

      Indian film actor, perhaps the most popular star in the history of that nation's cinema, known primarily for his roles in action films.

      Bachchan, the son of the renowned Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, attended Sherwood College in Nainital and the University of Delhi. He worked as a business executive in Calcutta (Kolkata) and performed in theatre before embarking on a film career. Bachchan made his big-screen debut in Saat Hindustani (1969; “Seven Indians”) and achieved his first success with Zanjeer (1973; “Chain”). A string of action films followed, including Deewar (1975; “Wall”), Sholay (1975; “Embers”), and Don (1978). Nicknamed “Big B,” Bachchan personified a new type of action star in Indian films, that of the “angry young man,” rather than the romantic hero. He was often compared to Clint Eastwood (Eastwood, Clint)—although, unlike Eastwood and other American action stars, Bachchan was renowned for his versatility, and many of his roles showcased his talents at singing, dancing, and comedy.

      By the end of the 1970s, Bachchan had appeared in more than 35 films and was regarded as India's top film star. His popularity was such that he became something of a cultural phenomenon, drawing large crowds of screaming fans wherever he went. A near-fatal accident on the set of his film Coolie in 1982 touched off a national prayer vigil for his recovery. His subsequent films, however, did poorly at the box office, and Bachchan entered politics at the encouragement of his friend Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (Gandhi, Rajiv). In 1984 he was elected to India's parliament by an overwhelming majority, but he resigned his seat in 1989 after being implicated in a bribery scandal that toppled Gandhi's government.

      Bachchan returned to film and won the National Award for his portrayal of a mafia don in Agneepath (1990; “Path of Fire”). He later headed Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd., an entertainment venture that specialized in film production and event management. The business was plagued by financial difficulties, however, and Bachchan eventually returned to performing. In 2000 he began hosting the television game show Kaun Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of the U.S. and U.K. hit Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? His easygoing nature and charisma helped make the show one of India's top television programs.

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Universalium. 2010.

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