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On Amitabh Bachchan birthday, here are the 10 underrated performances that never got their due

Some of the films may not exactly be works of eminent filmmaking, but Bachchan dazzled in all of them, proving this his brilliance was irrespective of the kind of film he was starring in.

Most film superstars would dream of having one tenth of Amitabh Bachchan’s body of work. He has starred in myriad films that are now regarded as classics.

Zanjeer, Deewaar, Don, Sholay, Trishul, Kabhie Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar Ka Sikander, Kaalia, Shehenshah, Agneepath, Hum, and myriad others have transcended cinematic boundaries to become cultural milestones. Many of the one-liners and moments from the films are quoted in regular conversations

But the downside of having so many blockbusters in a filmography is they steal the limelight from many other equally commendable efforts and didn’t receive the same affection from fans, critics, and film historians.

These overlooked gems were enough to make him a huge star. But Bachchan redefined the rules of film superstardom and set new standards for success at the box office. Consequently, these films are regarded as second-tier.

On his 80th Birthday, here’s a look at some of Bachchan’s eminent but almost forgotten works, in no particular order of importance.

Parwana 

Bachchan’s character is a jilted lover who hatches an elaborate plot to exact revenge against the individual who stole the love of his life. The Big B delivers a nuanced performance as a brooding artist who goes to the dark side. It is always fascinating to see an actor prior to achieving superstardom where he is unaware of his strengths.

The running time of the film is just 2 hours and it still is a thrilling experience.

Gehri Chaal

Once again this is pre-superstardom Bachchan playing a character with shades of grey. He plays an unwitting participant in a bank robbery to pay off his father’s debts. Another sterling performance by the Big B playing a man who is in a moral quandary. We are used to seeing Amitabh play the tough and resourceful hero, but here we watch him crumble under pressure both physically and metaphorically. 

Benaam

The film is based on the Hitchcock thriller “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. Amitabh plays an executive in a multi-national company who finds himself embroiled in a sinister conspiracy after he, from the goodness of his heart, transports a stab victim to the hospital in his car, while on his way to a party.

Big B plays the ordinary man trapped in an extraordinary situation to perfection.

Do Anjaane

The film explores greed, lust, and revenge with Shakespearean undertones.

The Big B plays a regular man who struggles to keep up with the demands of his ambitious wife, Rekha. An old wealthy friend of Bachchan’s character with a proclivity for ostentatiousness appears who has his eye on Bachchan’s attractive wife.

Another sterling performance by Bachchan as a flawed and insecure husband, the loving father, and the avenger.

The Great Gambler

It is surprising that this film doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

This is 007 territory with exotic locations, two beautiful leading ladies, sinister dual agents with phone Italian accents, and colorful villains humming  Beethoven symphony No. 9 IV while planning to sell state secrets to sinister foreign powers. There are amazing fights including one with a butcher, there are chases in cars and speed boats, there is mistaken identity,  great music, and above all, Bachchan in James Bondian form in two spectacular roles.

Faraar

Bachchan plays a fugitive from justice who holds the family of a policeman hostage while on the run from the law. As luck may have it, the family has links. This is a tight suspenseful thriller with a fine performance by Bachchan as an artist who unwittingly breaks the law after being wronged. This was among the rare films that were released with two different endings across cinemas

Shaan

Ramesh Sippy’s follow-up to Sholay was destined to fail because the expectations from Sholay were impossible to match. Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor play loveable con men whose brother Sunil Dutt is a principled policeman determined the punish the sinister master criminal Shakaal. A fast-paced thriller with plenty of humor and Bachchan at his charismatic and comic best. Some have called this Sholay in the city, but it is much more than that.

Main Azaad Hoon

This was a remake of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe. While Capra’s original was light-hearted, this film explores the murky nexus between industrialists, politicians, and even the news media. The film examines celebrity culture and the perpetual quest that the public has for messiahs who can deliver them. How the citizen is often cannon fodder in a politician’s quest for power. This has another sterling performance, Bachchan. The film has several funny, poignant, and very meaningful moments and survives the test of time with ease.

Nishabdh

This is Ram Gopal Varma’s most sensitive film. Bachchan plays Vijay, a world-class photographer who finds himself swamped by the mundaneness of life. He often cannot relate to his wife who is occupied by the household chores and his daughter who is focused on her own life. Enter Jiah a free-spirited girl who is there to spend her summer with the family. Jiah is the only person curious about Vijay’s life and his art and treats him with playful irreverence that he finds intriguing. The two form an emotional bond.

This is a master class in film acting from Bachchan where he is often understated. Watch him recounting his experiences and reliving his guilt-ridden affection for Jiah. If you were to press the mute button, his eye would convey everything that his words do and much more. This is a story beautifully told. It is a great shame that RGV’s sleazy promotional campaign ended up hurting this very poignant film.

Ek Ajnabee

Bachchan plays a retired colonel suffering from almost debilitating PTSD which he drowns with scotch. He is hired by a wealthy businessman as a bodyguard for his young daughter. After an initial frosty exchange, Bachchan’s character warms up to the little girl becoming a father figure, mentor, and coach. Alas, danger is always lurking around the corner.

Bachchan aces every aspect of his character, from the alcoholic retired army man struggling with his past to the father figure of the little girl and finally the avenger.

There are a few other notable mentions such as MiliBemisalJurmana, Manzil, Shamitabh, Eklavya, Armaan, Aks, Aarakshan, Te3n, etc.

Some of the above-mentioned films may not exactly be works of eminent filmmaking, but Bachchan dazzled in all of them, proving this his brilliance was irrespective of the kind of film he was starring in.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Rajan Laad
Rajan Laad
Rajan enjoys writing about politics, cinema, and current affairs. He tweets at @Sir_R_U_L

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