Perhaps the greatest and most influential actor in Hindi cinema, Amitabh Bachchan is the ultimate benchmark of a great actor. Coming from a humble background and being rejected by All India Radio for his voice, he struggled for many years to become a leading actor. Most of his films kept bombing at the box office. But once the lady luck started shining on him, there was no looking back. His acting, huge baritone, and tremendous screen presence made him the darling of the masses. Despite having taken a break from acting in the nineties, he thundered back to the screens in the new millennium and since then, he has been enthralling the cine-goers with elan. At the age of eighty, the man is a force to reckon with. 

Though it’s difficult to rate his performances across the fifty years of his acting career, we, at The Cinemawala, have focused on his performances in the last two decades. This article is an observation of the variety of roles the great man has performed and has left the audience awestruck. Read on –

22. Mohabbatein (2000)

The chips were down for Mr. Bachchan. No one was willing to put their money on the man whose comeback films after a hiatus had all flopped. Grapevines say that Mr. Bachchan was looking for work and reached out to his old ally Mr. Yash Chopra. ‘Mohabbatein’ proved to be both – a career-saving option as well as a career-defining option. Playing a strict, no-nonsense, disciplinarian principal of a school, with a strong resentment towards students falling in love, Mr. Bachchan towered over a cast that had Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. Who can forget that booming voice saying – “Parampara, Pratishtha, Anushashan.. Yeh its gurukul ke teen stambh hain..!!”

21. Kaante (2002)

Sanjay Gupta’s ‘Kaante’, the unofficial remake of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ was a smashing hit. Along with Mr. Bachchan, the ensemble cast had Sanjay Dutt, Sunil Shetty, Kumar Gaurav, Lucky Ali, and Mahesh Manjrekar playing the roles of men wronged by the law, who then plan to rob a bank where all police officers’ salaries get deposited. Mr. Bachchan played the character of Major, who despite being on the wrong side of the law, believes in morality. It was an interesting characterization considering the motley group of men, belonging to different strata of crime. 

20. Baghban (2003)

‘Baghban’ was a smashing hit and is still a favorite among film watchers for its epic tale of parents not getting their dues from their children, despite having spent their whole lives taking care of them. Mr. Bachchan plays the head of the family, who suffers along with his wife, played by Hema Malini, for their children’s indifference towards them. It was well appreciated by the cine-goers, despite the film’s debatable premise that mostly clashes with the modern philosophies of contemporary life. 

19. Aankhen (2002)

Mr. Bachchan played an schizophrenic bank manager, who’s looking for revenge on his ex-employer. He employs three blind men to rob the bank. People who were habituated to seeing him playing mostly positive characters throughout his career were pleasantly surprised to see him portraying this out-and-out negative character. The film had two endings, the one in the theatres showed Mr. Bachchan being caught by the police. The alternate ending, had him escape from the police and set out for his revenge on the blind men. Some say Mr. Bachchan liked the alternate ending so much, that at his behest, it was retained for the version released overseas. 

18. Aks (2001)

In the fight between good vs evil, what happens when they switch sides? Does the evil become more deadly, when it’s committed by the good? Mr. Bachchan plays Manu Verma, the good side of the coin of good vs evil, with Manoj Bajpayee’s Raghvan being the other side. Though ‘Aks’ couldn’t do wonders at the box office, people still admire his ability to do something radically different at the present stage of his career. Over the years, ‘Aks’ has become a cult classic. 

17. Bunty Aur Babli (2005)

As the title suggests, it’s a film about a couple that decides to get back at people, by swindling their money, after their mistrials with life. But the tale of this “con-couple” gets interesting once DCP Dashrath Singh enters the scene. As the ‘gamcha’ and sunglass-wielding police man hell-bent to catch the con-couple red-handed, Mr. Bachchan is a treat to watch. His scenes, especially grilling all the accomplices of the epic ‘Tajmahal’ con is something that needs to be watched out for! Check out the scene, where he confronts the conned rich men upon complaining that the sale of Tajmahal was in the papers, by saying – ‘All American newspapers say – that Americans have sex 24 x 7, do I believe it??”

16. Dev (2004)

Based on the politics of religion, Govind Nihalani’s ‘Dev’ is a spiritual successor of his earlier film ‘Ardh Satya’. Mr. Bachchan plays the eponymous character, a senior police officer who’s torn between his duty and his morality. His scenes with the late Mr. Om Puri spent over a drink and discussing the politics of religion that divides people are a treat to watch. ‘Dev’ didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, yet film lovers remember the film for a dazzling performance from Mr. Bachchan.

15. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006)

As the colorful man Samarjit Talwar aka ‘Sexy Sam’, who likes to spend his life among women and other vibrant activities, Mr. Bachchan showed glimpses of his wild side. Yet he had a sensible way of looking at life, especially about happiness. In Karan Johar’s tale of love and betrayal ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’ talked about the shade of love, that nobody wants to talk about – infidelity. Despite being a man of questionable integrity, Mr. Bachchan understands the nature of the loveless lives led by the four leading characters and thus asks his daughter-in-law to consider separation, on his deathbed. An interesting choice of character, I must say!

14. 102 Not Out (2018)

In this slice-of-life comedy, Mr. Bachchan plays a 102-year-old man, who lives with his 75-year-old son. The father is an enthusiastic man whereas the son is a dull character. As the father decides to send his son to an old-age home, the son protests and thus starts the game between father and son where the son has to complete a task each day to continue staying at the home. Eventually, the film ends up on a poignant note where the relationship between parents and children is examined. Mr. Bachchan plays this delightful old man, who in the garb of mischief, has some very important life lessons to offer.

13. Rann (2010)

This film had Mr. Bachchan play a media baron, who prides himself on bringing factual news to the common people. With time, he becomes a pawn in the hands of a cunning politician and his own son’s aspirations and ends up betraying his audience by spreading fake news. This film is almost a cruel reminder of today’s times, where news channels have successfully managed to break the social fabric by spreading fake, misleading information. Mr. Bachchan is earnest in his role of Vijay Harshwardhan Malik, the media baron who in a near-chilling climax utters these almost prophetic lines – “Khabarein Ban Ti Nahin.. Banayi Jaati Hai!!”

12. Jhund (2022)

‘Jhund’ is based on a real-life incident where a group of talented footballers is identified from a slum, by a retired coach. Mr. Bachchan plays Vijay Barse, a coach who sees talent in a group of slum dwellers. He wants them to turn to sports, as it will keep them away from a life of crime and drugs. It’s not a sports drama but rather a social commentary on the gap between the haves and have-nots. Mr. Bachchan plays the man eager to help these people and keep them on the correct path in life.

11. Shamitabh (2015)

Again a very interesting take on the dynamics of professional rivalries between a man and his voice! Mr. Bachchan plays Amitabh Sinha, an aspiring actor who gets rejected for his voice. By a twist of fate, he ends up becoming the voice of Danish, a mute actor, albeit unknown to others. The combo Danish and Amitabh, thus ’Shamitabh’ goes well for a while before jealousy creeps in, where each ends up sabotaging the other. The film didn’t do well at the box office, yet Mr. Bachchan impressed all and sundry with his effervescent act along with Dhanush as Danish. 

10. Paa (2009)

‘Paa’ had Mr. Bachchan play the character of Auro, a twelve-year-old boy suffering from a rare disease called Progeria, which makes the patient look like an older man with accelerated aging. Covered under heavy prosthetics, Mr. Bachchan played the role of a twelve-year-old boy with the same sincerity that he usually does in his other roles. Interestingly, the role of his father was played by his son Abhishek Bachchan. It’s again an interesting choice of characterization of role reversals. Many cine goers appreciated this fresh casting and loved the dynamics of role reversal between the real-life father and son duo.

9. The Last Lear (2007)

An aging theatre actor, who swears by Shakespeare is living as a recluse. A meeting with an old acquaintance brings out old and bitter memories of his only cinema act. ‘The Last Lear’, based on the late thespian Utpal Dutta’s play ‘Aajker Shah Jahan’ was directed by the late Rituparno Ghosh. It dissects the craft of an actor and how much of his life gets consumed by it. Mr. Bachchan plays Harry, a man devoted to the stage, and Shakespeare, who dislikes cinema. Coaxed by a cunning director, he ends up performing his life, at the cost of his own sanity. Mr. Bachchan plays this man with ample and equal vulnerability.

8. Cheeni Kum (2007)

‘Cheeni Kum’ is a film that explores mature romance. It talks about an unusual pair – that of a sixty-year-old chef who falls in love with a woman, almost half of his age, after their encounter over their choice of food and its taste. When the couple decides to take their relationship to the next level, by discussing marriage, all hell breaks loose in the woman’s household. The woman’s father, a man who’s younger than the chef himself, becomes hellbent to break this alliance. Mr. Bachchan plays the sexagenarian chef falling heads over heels for a thirty-something woman, played by Tabu. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking film, yet needs to be watched for Mr. Bachchan’s earnest performance and his endearing chemistry with Tabu.

7. Nishabd (2007)

In one of the most difficult roles of his career, Mr. Bachchan plays an old man, infatuated with a young girl, of the same age as his daughter. Partly based on Russian author Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, it explores the dynamics of the relationship of an older man’s growing fascination for a young woman, bordering unhealthily on obsession. Mr. Bachchan plays Vijay Anand, a man who takes up with the free-spirited young Jiah once she arrives in their household. As a man who discovers his youth, and his penchant for living life once again after meeting this woman and exceedingly getting besotted with her, Mr. Bachchan gives a superb performance. 

6. Gulabo Sitabo (2020)

Named after two warring puppets, director Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is the story of two men, bickering over a dilapidated property that’s even older than both of them. They say, just like a marriage, the relationship between a landlord and the tenant is also psychological. One of them is psycho and the other one is logical, but it ain’t clear who is who! ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is a black comedy about a landlord and his game of oneupmanship with his tenants. Starring Mr. Bachchan as the eccentric landlord Mirza and Ayushmann Khurana as the tenant Bankey, ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is about different idiosyncrasies of people.

5. Piku (2015)

If ‘Baghban’ had explored the failing relationship between parents and children, then ‘Piku’ examines father-daughter dynamics over the father’s health, his weird notions about passing stool, and his daughter’s devotion to his well being, at the cost of her own sanity. It’s a lovely film about relationships and typical families that we see and experience every day. Mr. Bachchan plays Bhaskar Banerjee, an eccentric septuagenarian who lives in the Bengali-dominated area of CR Park in New Delhi with his daughter Piku, played by Deepika Padukone. It’s an endearing character as well as an irritating one, who despite having several shortcomings, warms up to you. 

4. Black (2005)

Mr. Bachchan won the national award for best actor for his performance as Dev Sahay, a man who teaches a differently abled young girl to strive ahead in life, despite her physical shortcomings. With an excellent Rani Mukherji as the young woman, Mr. Bachchan took his acting a notch up, with a spectacular performance. Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, ‘Black’ is sheer poetry on screen, that is led ably by Mr. Bachchan. 

3. Sarkar (2005)

Like many films, director Ram Gopal Verma’s ‘Sarkar’ is a tribute to Francis Ford Corolla’s ‘The Godfather’. But unlike the others, ‘Sarkar’ had Mr. Bachchan play the eponymous character. Subash Nagre, his character was partly inspired by the lives of the late Balasaheb Thackeray. As the man who often stays on the wrong side of the law, he is feared and revered for his ultimate sense of justice. RGV’s brilliance with the camera and those deep, searing eyes – Mr. Bachchan was a revelation as Sarkar.

2. Khakee (2004)

‘Khakee’ is one of the best police films to have come from the stables of Bollywood. A group of police officers appointed to bring an alleged terrorist to the court of law, face many adversities on their way. When the smoke clears up, it turns out to be a ruse, where far more sinister plans are being hatched in the shadows and the policemen are mere pawns in a bigger game. Playing an old police officer at the twilight of his career, Mr. Bachchan thunders with his performance. His confrontations with his own team, their moral dilemmas about their duty, and each scene of Khakee where Mr. Bachchan is a part of are to be watched and savored. One of his best performances ever!

1. Pink (2016)

‘Pink’ takes a sledgehammer to the feudalistic and patriarchal society that we live in, with its tale of consent. In this courtroom drama, Mr. Bachchan plays an aging lawyer who takes up the case of three women accused by a group of men of an attempt to murder and flesh trade. In a riveting sequence, where Mr. Bachchan thunders ‘No Means No’ – what consent means and what it should always be meant, is a master class of acting. ‘Pink’ is a brilliant film but it’s Mr. Bachchan who makes it even more brilliant with his silent, heart-piercing, searing gaze! 

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