Throughout his turbulent career, Amitabh Bachchan has lent his name to numerous films. Most of them were prodigiously successful, and a few weren’t so lucky. But in his heyday, there were quite a few interesting films that he shot for that were never completed. Amborish examines a few.
It is borderline redundant to continue to say how important Amitabh Bachchan was in the grand scheme of Hindi cinema and all that that entails. Its impact can be summed up in an errant phrase used in the cover story of a magazine’s 1984 issue: “A man sneezes and the industry catches a cold.” There were others who had their own fan, but for millions of Indians he was the number one star. He was the only one with a gold-plated guarantee of a massive box office opening. But it has not always been so. There was a time when everyone in the industry was convinced that this lanky guy with a baritone had no future in the business. He faced rejection at every step.
While his debut saat hindustani (1969) was critically acclaimed, the producers didn’t exactly line up outside its door. He had to actively look for work. It was at this time that he discovered a project called Ek Tha Chandar Ek Thi Sudha. It was based on the novel by Hindi novelist Dharmvir Bharti Gunahon Ka Devta. But a movie starring Jitendra by that name had already been released in 1967. Thus, the adaptation was named after the characters in the novel, Chandar and Sudha. The original cast included Rekha, Jaya Bhaduri and Amitabh Bachchan. It was prophetic. Filming began in the streets of Allahabad, Bachchan’s native land. Everyone knew the son of the poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, which required some hiding.
But the filming was stopped abruptly after doing a few songs and a few scenes. It was not uncommon in those days to stop shooting a film halfway through if the money taps dried up. Something similar happened to Ek Tha Chandar Ek Thi Sudha, and the movie could not be finished. One of the songs featured Amit and Rekha, likely their first screen appearance. The song, “Ye chehra ye zulfein / Tauba tauba”, resurfaced several years later on YouTube. There were a few attempts to finish the film, but to no avail. A few years passed and Bachchan’s stock was already on the rise. The fun is that he was one of the factors why the money for the project had dried up. Bachchan wasn’t a bankable star in 1969. But now he’s caused an overnight sensation and revived Ek Tha Chandar Ek Thi Sudha didn’t make any sense. But Bachchan worried about the fate of the producers who had backed the project. Veteran producer Poornachandra Rao heard about the quagmire and offered to buy out the producers on one condition. Bachchan was supposed to make a movie with him. He was working on Rajinikanth’s Bollywood debut, and who else to lend his support but Bollywood’s biggest superstar? Andha Kanun (1983) was, needless to say, a phenomenal success.
At the beginning of his career, Amitabh Bachchan had signed for a film with his friend Shatrughan Sinha. Shatru and Amit were great friends. The young actors struggled together and kept looking for ways to work together. Mehmood’s brother, Anwar Ali, was a mutual friend. It was in Anwar’s house that Bachchan had settled during his wrestling days. The first time Amit and Shatru worked together was in Parwana (1971). It was directed by the same Jyoti Swaroop who previously directed padosan (1968). Bachchan had a negative role in the film and Shatru appeared in a cameo as a lawyer. And came Mumbai to Goa (1972), in which it was finally time for Bachchan to play a hero and Shatru was the villain. Their friend Anwar played a comedic role as Rajesh, overshadowing his brother Mehmood’s Khanna.
Shatrughan Sinha and Amitabh Bachchan signed a film titled Yaar Meri Zindagi. They started filming in 1971. The director was lyricist-filmmaker Mukul Dutt. Mukul was going through a prolific phase. He had just done Raaste Ka Patthar with Amitabh Bachchan, Chhalia with Navin Nischol, and Aaj ki Dhara with Mahendra Sandhu. But his most ambitious film so far was Yaar Meri Zindagi, in which he pits two upcoming talents against each other. He had immense faith in these two unproven young men. Shatru had just returned from Khilona (1970), which gave it a lot of (well-deserved) attention. Bachchan hadn’t arrived yet, but the reviews were all praise, and Hrishikesh Mukherjee threw him into Anand (1971).
For some reason, filming was delayed. Due to a date issue, they were unable to complete the film. The hiccups continued, with filming happening in spurts. Progress was very slow, and once again Bachchan’s meteoric rise from 1973 became a hurdle the frail little film simply could not clear. Mukul Dutt eventually died and the film was left incomplete. Two decades later, in the 90s, someone decided to finish the film. But both Shatru and Amit were getting older. Anyway, Shatrughan Sinha decided to finish shooting the movie. To finish, Yaar Meri Zindagi was released in 2008, nearly 40 years after filming began. Imagine a first Amitabh-Shatru film released in 2008! The film can still be found on YouTube with the age of Shatru’s face fluctuating as the film progresses. Some of Bachchan’s incomplete scenes were done using someone else as a stand-in, and the camera was placed behind them. The movie had a lot of actors who weren’t even born when filming started. Sudha Chandran starred in it, and she was six years old when the project was first set up.
Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan were an unbeatable team in the 1970s and 80s. Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Coolie, Mard… the hits just kept coming, with no end in sight. Before he does Amar Akbar Anthony, Manmohan Desai had promised that he would now be called “Anthony Bhai”. And that’s exactly what happened. For a while, that’s what the average called this superstar. Amar Akbar Anthony was followed by Suhaag, both of which went box office gold. Around this time, Desai signed Bachchan for another film titled Khuda Gawah. Khuda Gawah. Yes, Khuda Gawah. Desai had designed a desi western, a la Sholay, but it would have been a very different movie. The movie was written and they started shooting. Bachchan had a dual role, with Parveen Babi as the heroine. It was the first time he had tried a negative role. One of the Bachchans was a good guy, and the other the bad guy. A few scenes were shot before the project stopped. Desai was said to be unconvinced with how the storyline played out. Again, one of the scenes from Manmohan Desai Khuda Gawah landed on YouTube, in which one of the Bachchans fights the other. Epic.
The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975) inspired Subhash Ghai to make Karz (1980) but there was someone else who was inspired by the same source material. He was the son of actor Pran, Sunil Sikand. It had a stellar cast, with Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Parveen Babi, Sharmila Tagore, Danny and Pran headlining. The movie was called Karishma. But Pran was already working in Ghai’s film, so he advised his son not to continue. There was simply no interest. It is often believed that Sanjay Leela Bhansali Guzarish was the first Hindi euthanasia-themed film. The fact, a movie on this subject was almost completed in 1984. It starred Kamal Hassan along with Bachchan, Sridevi and Jaya Prada. Kamal played the patient. About 80% of the film has been shot. But the producers chickened out for fear of public outcry. The topic was too controversial, and even more so for the rather docile 80s. Filming halted, and this extraordinary casting stunt was never seen.
Amborish is a National Film Award-winning writer, biographer and film historian.
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