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There is no one like Amitabh
An analysis of the star's box office run.

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    There is no one like Amitabh

    Komal Nahta

    "Amitabh is Amitabh".
    "There's no one like Amitabh".
    "Nobody can match Amitabh Bachchan's popularity".

    These statements are almost run-of-the-mill today. Not just in the film trade but also among the general public.

    What is it that made Amitabh so different from the others of his ilk?

    Why, in the last 30 years, have we never had any actor who has had the same fan following and who could clearly step into his shoes? What is it that really made Bachchan stand above all the other stars who have come after the superstar first made an appearance on the screen in 1969 in Saat Hindustani?

    QUITE simply, the answer is Bachchan's string of box office hits.

    One after the other, the actor's films hit the jackpot with such sustained regularity that in the seventies and eighties, Amitabh Bachchan became the safest bet for producers, distributors and exhibitors alike.

    I use the word 'alike' to differentiate the scene that existed when Bachchan was the numero uno and the one that exists today. For instance, a Salman Khan today may guarantee mega bucks for the producer of his films but there is no like guarantee that distributors and exhibitors of his starrers will also make money.

    As in the case of his latest release, Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega, while producer Sajid Nadiadwala made comfortable crores in the film, several distributors and exhibitors who invested in it stood to lose.

    Ditto in the case of films of other topline stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan or Ajay Devgan, Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol. For that matter, anybody else.

    Why, even current heart-throb Hrithik Roshan's Fiza did not get for its distributors and exhibitors (barring Bombay circuit) what it fetched for its producers.

    THAT was not the case with Bachchan flicks. The only other actor who was close in popularity to Amitabh was Rajesh Khanna. The industry has never witnessed superstars of the like of these two.

    When hit films of other heroes used to do business of Rs 1 crore in a major circuit, Amitabh's average flicks used to cross the crore mark! Just a few examples of such average grossers of the superstar: Do Aur Do Paanch, Toofan, Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswathi...

    Second, the mere name of the superstar was enough to draw in the crowds into cinemas in his heyday.

    Today, no hero can boast of such charisma as to lure the audiences to the theatres on the sheer strength of their names.

    Shah Rukh Khan's home production, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, could not even manage decent houses on the opening day, leave alone full houses. Anil Kapoor has never really drawn initial crowds; his starrers usually pick up by word of mouth publicity if they are good.

    Even action heroes like Ajay Devgan and Akshay Kumar have had to remain content with dismal openings of their flicks on more occasions than one. But the Bachchan magic was one of a kind.

    Whether it was Prakash Mehra's Zanjeer in 1973 -- after which there was no looking back for the star of stars. Or Manoj Kumar's multistar cast Roti Kapada Aur Makaan in 1974; Yash Chopra's evergreen Deewaar; Ramesh Sippy's all-time blockbuster Sholay in 1975; Bachchan's first film with Rekha, Do Anjaane in 1976; or Manmohan Desai's biggest entertainer, Amar Akbar Anthony in 1977 -- there were two common features in all these hits: Amitabh Bachchan's towering presence and a bumper box office initial draw.

    Don, Trishul and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar made 1978 a memorable year for the Big B. The following year may not have been as good but Bachchan, nevertheless, did deliver Mr Natwarlal and Suhaag in the last year of the seventies.

    THE eighties were equally exciting for the superstar who did not seem to age at all. Today, when heroes find it difficult to hold their own for even ten years, Amitabh Bachchan ruled the box office for over two decades as the undisputed Maharaja of movies with no close second!

    Ram Balram, Laawaris, Naseeb, Khud-dar, Andhaa Kaanoon, Coolie, Sharaabi and Mard were some of the great hits in the first half of the eighties.

    OF course, when Amitabh Bachchan reigned supreme, films did not have to face the opposition of video and cable piracy as today. Cinema-going was the only and cheapest form of entertainment for the masses who identified with the angry young man.

    But where films of the great actor did not have to fight the piracy battle or even the opposition of countless satellite channels, the media hype, too, was far less in his case. He did not have every television channel covering him or his films because there were simply no satellite channels. (He even went off press for a few years but for that, he had himself to blame.)

    YET another factor that went in Bachchan's favour in making him the darling of all sections of the society was his unbelievable versatility.

    It is not for nothing that Big B became a superstar. Although he was adored in angry young man roles, he never let down his fans in non-action films, too.

    Comedy, like action, was his forte and if he could represent the frustrations of the helpless youth of those times, he could as well play the comedian with equal elan. Chupke Chupke and Amar Akbar Anthony come to mind instantly when one thinks of Bachchan's flair for comedy. With the same ease, Amitabh played the intense mature lover as in Kabhi Kabhie and Silsila.

    THE range which Bachchan portrayed in his performances remains unmatched even today.

    Like the superstar's fees those days! The actor used to command a remuneration which was more than double that commanded by the actor who was second in popularity.

    It was Amitabh who started the trend of an actor taking the distribution rights of a major territory like Bombay in lieu of his remuneration. And while distribution rights were, in those days, generally sold for ten years, the superstar got perpetual rights as his fees.

    Today, films do businesses of Rs 15 and Rs 20 crore per major territory. But in the seventies and eighties, when 1 crore was the magical figure, several of Bachchan starrers touched and even crossed the 1-crore mark. Three or 4 films of his even touched Rs 2 and Rs 2.5 crore. Of course, Sholay did a business of over Rs 4 crore in its first run. Add to that a couple of more crores in its repeat runs!

    AMITABH is also the last star to have had a universal appeal that cut across geographical boundaries. Whether it was the man on the street in Ludhiana in the North or Latur in the midwest, whether it was a company executive in Porbandar in Western India or a college student studying in Patna in East India, the fondness for Bachchan was the same.

    Today, a Sunny Deol runs more in Northern India because of his action image, a Govinda is a hot favourite of UP and Bihar whereas a Shah Rukh Khan flick records generally dull collections in Bihar.

    That is to say, Amitabh's charm affected the audiences in the North, South, East and West in the same way. (Now, whether Hrithik will be able to sustain his initial all-India acceptance is to be seen.)

    Why, just in India, across the seven seas too, Amitabh reigned supreme for over two decades. His superhit stage shows bore testimony to his immense popularity the world over.

    AGAIN, today, when jubilees are more manipulated than the truth, Amitabh's films celebrated genuine silver, golden and platinum jubilees. Amar Akbar Anthony in 1997 celebrated silver jubilee in as many as nine cinemas of Bombay -- a record unparalleled even today.

    As many as six of Amitabh's films released in 1978 celebrated jubilees -- yet another record, which remains unequalled till today.

    And he had a total of seven releases that year. The six jubilees were Khoon Pasina, Don, Ganga Ki Saugand, Trishul, Kasme Vaade and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar.

    As if the six jubilees weren't proof enough of the superstar's stardom, the nationwide hysteria that followed a life-threatening injury on the sets of Coolie saw the entire nation praying for this man's recovery.

    Amitabh got a new lease of life after he recovered from the accident.

    The film, of course, went on to become a runaway hit. Manmohan Desai played up to people's sentiments and froze the action shot in which Amitabh was injured.

    An aside: Punit Issar, who accidentally caused the near-fatal injury to Bachchan became a household name thereafter and also bagged a number of roles. He is today better known as Duryodhan in the epic television serial, Mahabharat.

    EVEN after Bachchan's downswing began in the late eighties, the actor managed to make successes out of ordinary films like Shahenshah in 1988, Aaj Ka Arjun in 1990 and Hum in 1991.

    Bade Miyan Chote Miyan in 1998 might have crossed the average line because of Govinda's antics but Amitabh Bachchan's towering presence in the David Dhawan flick cannot be overlooked.

    A three-year sabbatical in the nineties was followed by a disastrous comeback with his first home production, ABCL's Mrityudaata, a film which Amitabh's critics condemned as the death of the actor. But BMCM and Major Saab gave him a breather.

    With Kaun Banega Crorepati airing now on Star Plus, the ageing actor's fan following has increased tremendously once again.

    Critics derided Amitabh's foray into television and predicted the end of his career on the big screen.

    Far from it.

    For the superstar is now playing his age in the true sense -- whether in Aditya Chopra's due-for-release Mohabbatein or Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

    For another, he is doing films with directors who are among the most reliable in the country today -- something which Bachchan failed to do for the good part of the nineties.

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