51 Years Ago, On This Day, Amitabh Signed His First Film “Saat Hindustani” For 5000 Rupees
Ali Peter John
He was the elder son of the well-known Hindi poet, Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan who was a close friend of the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He was educated in the best of schools and was a graduate. He had a keen interest in amateur theatre and performed characters from the plays of Shakespeare and other world renowned playwrights, encouraged by his mother, Mrs. Teji Bachchan. He had to take up a job and joined Bird & Company in Kolkata as a junior executive on a salary of Rupees three thousand and five hundred. He lived the life of any other young man having his own group of friends, male and female and made the best of his time in the city of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore…
But somewhere within him he had a dream to be an actor in films. It was this interest that had made him request one of his female friends in Delhi, Sheela who had contacts with the film industry in Bombay to carry one of his photographs with her which she handed over to her friend in Bombay, Tinnu Anand, who was an aspiring actor and an assistant of the renowned writer and filmmaker, K.A Abbas…
Abbas was planning a film based on the fight to gain freedom for Goa from the Portuguese. Tinnu Anand was to play one of the seven important characters in the film, “Saat Hindustani”. A strange crisis arose just a few days before Abbas could start shooting for the film in Goa. It was at the same time that Tinnu Anand received offers to work as assistants to three of the best directors in the world, one of them was Satyajit Ray. Tinnu was keen on joining Ray as his twelfth assistants, but he was too scared of letting Abbas know about his ambition. When Abbas was finally told about his decision, he lost his cool, a mood which used to scare the likes of Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Shammi Kapoor and every other star who worked with him and even some of the most powerful politicians…
Abbas refused to let Tinnu leave his film unless he gave him a replacement within two days. Tinnu who was anxious put his hand into the back pocket of his trousers, took out his purse and showed Abbas the photograph of the young man his friend Sheela had given him in Delhi and told Abbas about his background, but did not tell him who his father was. Abbas was more anxious and ordered Tinnu to ask the young man to come to Bombay as soon as he could. The young man was told that he would only be given a third class one way railway ticket to Bombay. The young man had heard about Abbas making actors and stars of the most unknown faces. He together with his younger brother,Ajitabh landed in Bombay. Abbas took tests of the young man for two days and finally signed him to play the “Seventh Indian” is “Saat Hindustani”. The young man who had a cushy job and a very good family background agreed to be a part of the film even though he was offered Rupees five thousand to do the entire film and on the condition that he would have to live with the entire unit in a dormitory for forty days.
It was before the shooting could start that he made friends with Tinnu and they have been friends for the last fifty odd years and Tinnu has directed the young man in films like “Kaalia”, “Shahenshah”, “Main Azaad Hoon” and “Major Saab”.
It was during the shooting of “Saat Hindustani” that he made friends with actors like Utpal Dutt, Madhu from the south, Jalal Agha and his sister Shehnaaz (who later married Tinnu Anand) and Anwar Ali, the youngest brother of the famous comedian Mehmood.
It was also during this time that he had men from the unit of the film being made by Abbas that he had the privilege of knowing what assistants were and among them were a senior like Akhtar Husain, Abdul Rehman and Jaffer and costume designers like Mehboob and Ramchandra who had worked during the making of “Mughal-E-Azam”. The man from the unit of Abbas who was most important and the closest to the young man was the typist of Abbas whose name was also Abdul Rehman and who had typed the contract between Abbas and him before starting work on the film.
“Saat Hindustani” was followed by “Anand” and it was his first experience working with Hrishikesh Mukherjee who had worked with every big star and was working with the superstar Rajesh Khanna together with the young man who was later to do several big films with Hrishida. It was during the making of “Anand” that the young man found a new group of friends like lyricists Gulzar and Yogesh and a cinematographer like Jaywant Pathare and a dialogue director called Biren Naug and other assistants and technicians. It was the first time that he realized what making a big film was all about, and he was on his way…
He grew into a very good friend of Anwar Ali and lived in his own flat and even shared his clothes. It was in this flat that the young man was taken aback to see the legendary comedian Mehmood who asked him what he wanted to do and the young man told him he wanted to be an actor and had already worked in two films. Mehmood was impressed with the scenes he performed and his voice, but Mehmood was not satisfied with his dancing, but wished him all the luck…
Mehmood and his partner N.C Sippy were planning a film called “Bombay To Goa” but were finding it difficult to find a suitable hero. Mehmood and his director-friend S.Raamnathan who was to direct the film were standing in the compound of Ranjit Studios where N.C Sippy had his office and where the young man had found a very good friend in Sippy’s son, Romu Sippy. The young man was running up the stairs to Sippy’s office when Raamnathan’s look fell on him. He asked Mehmood who the young man was and Mehmood said he was a friend of his brother Anwar and was struggling to be an actor. Raamnathan said, “Why don’t we take this young man as our hero in our film?” The comedian thought Raamnathan was joking, but he was serious. Mehmood called the young man down and told him what the veteran director had to say about him and within an hour, the young man was signed to play the hero in “Bombay To Goa”. There was another problem. No established heroine was willing to work with this unusual hero till Mehmood asked his girlfriend, Aruna Irani who was best known as a dancer and a vamp to play the heroine and the young man had no choice. There was a new villain in the film called Shatrughan Sinha and a whole lot of comedians.
It was at this time that the known director Prakash Mehra was looking for a hero for his song less film called “Zanjeer” after heroes like Dev Anand, Raaj Kumar and Dharmendra had turned down the offer. Mehra had heard about this new fiery actor from seniors like Pran and Om Prakash and he finally sent his writers Salim-Javed to see the film, “Bombay To Goa”. They came back impressed and Mehra signed the young man as his hero which had Jaya Bhaduri as the heroine. The film was made within a short time and when it was released, the young man was a nobody but at 3pm when the first show was over, the young man was Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar all out to oust the ruling superstar Rajesh Khanna and then there was no looking back and there is still no looking back for Amitabh Bachchan even as he turns seventy-four on October 11…
On this occasion, I remember some of the small and simple people who stood by Amitabh at all times. He found his greatest source of inspiration in Jaya Bhaduri who was his heroine in several films mostly during the time he faced eleven flops in a row before “Zanjeer” happened.
He found other friends like Danny Denzongpa, Romesh Sharma and the younger son of Dara Singh. The sons of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay and Rajiv were his childhood friends but they were involved in politics and not interested in films. It was only when Amitabh married Jaya in a very private ceremony that he had only one special guest and that was Sanjay Gandhi.
Amitabh bought his first small imported car and lived in an apartment called “Mangal” in Juhu. He had a driver whose name was Nagesh Shetty who worked with him till 2006 when he suddenly died and now it is his son Rakesh Shetty who has been the right hand man of Amitabh for the last ten years and says, “hamaare sahab toh hamaare liye bhagwaan hai, unhone kabhi bhi hum logo ko naukro ke tarah vyvhaar nahi kiya, bhagwaan unko lambi umar de”. The first security man Amitabh had was Vaz who had served in the Indian Air Force and was in complete charge of everything to do with Amitabh’s security and even when his parents shifted to Mumbai and when he had his two children, Shweta and Abhishek.
The other man who Amitabh found at the Ranjit Hotel in Delhi was Sheetal Jain who he found as the right man to be his manager which he was till two years ago when things had completely changed. Amitabh and his family first shifted to “Prateeksha” and then to “Jalsa” and had a huge office named “Janak” and there were many “helps” who were in charge of different departments. Among the other staff at “Jalsa” who I know of besides Rakesh Shetty is Raju Gauda who has been Amitabh’s chauffeur for the last twenty five years, Subhash More, Deepak Sawant who has been his make-up man for almost forty years and his genuine and sincere Man Friday, Pravin Jain who seems to know the real side of Amitabh the man better. Some other men who were managers in his office at “Prateeksha” were Khare who left to join as the secretary of the Shiv Sena Supremo, Bal Thackeray and Gangadharan.
And now, there is Rosy Singh, one of the most efficient managers whose working style and her approach and attitude I have experienced and admired. I sometimes wonder if Amitabh today would be able to manage himself and his many activities without having a soft, sweet but still stern manager like Rosy Singh.
There are men and women who have been working for Amitabh and the Bachchan family for years because the Bachchans are not known for sacking any of their workers. They are looked after very well and what they find most important about working with Amitabh and his family is the fact that they are all treated like a part of the family.
On this day, Amitabh will have millions of people praying for his long and healthy life, but the best and most sincere prayers for him will be the prayers of all the small and simple people who have stood behind him during good times and bad times, during the time when he was the angry young man and till now when he is the lovable grandfather of Navya Naveli and Aaradhya. He has always said that he is whatever he is because of the love of the people and he has always proved it beginning with his family and his staff, a great example of a human being who can be human even when he has reached heights when he is considered super human and even “God”.
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