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Big B's beginnings

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By: Molly, IndiaFM
Monday, January 22, 2007
There are stories and more stories about how Dr. Amitabh Bachchan made his first beginning, and took his first step ever in Hindi films. He has told his story himself in his autobiography, "Amitabh Bachchan - To Be Or Not To Be". But I have had the privilege of knowing the truth from the man who gave him the opportunity to take an offer. He is the man who has made a difference to many lives - Padma Shri Khwaja Ahmad Abbas. He is the man who gave me a reason to live and the one man who really knows the truth about how Amitabh Bachchan started his career as an actor.

Abbas was a man who kept making films even though his films didn't work at the box office. He kept losing his own money which he earned by writing articles, short stories, books and scripts for other filmmakers like Raj Kapoor who made some of his biggest hits which were based on the scripts written by Abbas. Raj Kapoor was so grateful to Abbas that he called Abbas "my soul, my mind and the pillar of my company, R.K. Films" Abbas was known as one of the first few filmmakers who made films on topical and timely subjects which he created from the headlines of newspaper and from every day happenings of life.

Abbas was inspired by the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese - a victory won by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India and his friend and Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon. It was also a victory of hundreds and thousands of jawans of the Indian army. He (Abbas) decided to make a film on the subject, the role played by seven Indians, six young men and a woman in the struggle. He was happy when he found all the seven artists and was ready to start shooting in Goa.

There were just four days left for his unit to leave for Goa when there was a crisis created by a young man who was also very close to Abbas - Tinnu Anand. Tinnu, the son of his best friend, Inder Raj Anand, was brought up by Abbas and was also his assistant. Tinnu was the first Indian film writer who was paid a price that was as good as the price paid to any big star. Tinnu gave his 'Mamoojaan' (uncle) the shock of his life when he very timidly told him that he could not go to Goa to do the film, which was now called "Saat Hindustani". Abbas felt he was joking as he was used to the little pranks played by Tinnu. The latter, however, was serious. He told Mamoojaan that he had another tempting option. He had received a letter from the greatest Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, to be his assistant. Incidentally, it was Abbas himself who had asked Ray to take Tinnu as one of his assistants and now his own idea was creating a crisis for him! Abbas was furious, wondering how Tinnu could do this to him. Later, however, he calmed down and finally told Tinnu that he would let him go to Calcutta only on the condition that he found a replacement for him within two days, otherwise it was certainly a big no for him.

Tinnu was in a fix. He did not know what to do. Then an unexpected idea struck him. He put his hand into his back-pocket and culled out his purse. Abbas asked him if he was working some magic. Little did they know that Tinnu was working the kind of magic which would shake up the world one day. He remembered he was carrying the photograph of a young man given to him by Neena, his friend in Delhi. She had told him it was the photograph of her family friend who had a very good job in Calcutta but was very interested in making it in Hindi films. Tinnu placed the photograph of the unknown young man before Abbas. Abbas just looked at the photograph once and asked Tinnu to send a message to him, to come down to Bombay, and that he was willing to pay his one way third class fair from Calcutta to Bombay. Tinnu immediately called Neena and got his telephone number, spoke to him and asked him come down to Bombay.

The young man flew down to the city with his brother, contacted Tinnu who took the two to Abbas. The two brothers found Abbas and he asked, "Inn dono mein actor kaun banna chahta hain?" One of them spoke up and said "Main sir" the voice was rich. He introduced himself and told Abbas all that he could. Abbas asked him if he was willing to give up his job for which he was being paid a handsome salary of three and half thousand rupees a month. Abbas clearly told him that even if he was selected to play the role he would pay him a total sum of Rupees five thousand for which he would have to work for forty days at a stretch in Goa. It was an offer accepted by all the other six artists, which included leading actors like Utpal Dutt from Calcutta, Madhu from Kerala and Anwar Ali, brother of the famous comedian Mehmood from Bangalore. The young man was silent and so was his brother. Abbas read meaning into their silence and gave them a night's time to think over his offer and report to him the next morning at 11.

The two brothers found a place to rest for the night. They did not sleep. They discussed the offer made by Abbas. They went over the achievements of Abbas and finally took a decision they would go and meet him. The next morning they reached his office ten minutes before 11. Abbas was already there, waiting for them. He made them sit on two steel chairs while he sat across a large old fashioned wooden table. He came to the point. He asked them for their decision. The two brothers looked at each other and said they were willing to work in his film. That was not the end of the test for the young man. He was asked what he had done as an actor. He then told him that he would have to live in a dormitory where the entire unit would live. The young man agreed and then came that dramatic moment. Abbas asked the two brothers for their names for the first time. The brother who wanted to be an actor said his name was Amitabh Bachchan. The other brother said he was Ajitabh Bachchn. The names force Abbas to stop for a moment and he then asked them if they were in any way related to the well-known poet Harivanshrai Bachchan. They said they were his sons. Abbas shook his head and then asked them for their father's telephone number. He picked up the phone and called their father. The brothers look anxious.

Abbas spoke to Bachchan, who was his dear friend. He told him that his sons were sitting with him and one of them, Amitabh wanted to be an actor. He asked Bachchan if the boy had his permission or had run away from home. The father laughed and said if he, Abbas was giving him a break as an actor he had absolutely no objection. Abbas heaved a sigh of relief. The two brothers look nervous for the first time in several hours! Abbas then drafted a contract with the help of his secretary, Abdul Rehman. The young man signed the contract without having any sense of premonition that he was not signing his name but writing his name down in history. He was then given two days to get ready to leave for Goa. He said he would not need to take anything much because they would be shooting almost round the clock. Abbas completed the film and at the end of it patted Amitabh on his back and said he was confident that he would make it as a good actor if he made the right choice when it came to roles. The film was released. It did not do very well like most of the films made by Abbas, but Amitabh stood out as an actor with a difference. His worked was seen by a friend of Abbas, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who decided to cast him in his upcoming project Anand. He then did a film called "Bombay to Goa". The ruling writers of the time, Salim and Javed saw just two scenes from the film and recommended him as the hero to Prakash Mehra who was making "Zanjeer" for which he was looking for a hero after Dev Anand, Dharmendra and Raaj Kumar had turned down his offer. Mehra reluctantly agreed to cast him as the angry young police officer in his film. The film was released on a Friday morning. During the interval Amitabh kicked the chair on which Pran was to sit on and the audience roared with applause. At the end of the first-day first-show of this movie, a superstar called Amitabh Bachchan was born! Then there was no looking back for him. Amitabh has never forgotten "Philomena Apartment", Juhu where Abbas lived and where he signed his first film to create history.

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