In the 70s and the 80s, cinema was an Eastman colour, 70 mm or cinema-scope as the case may be, ‘cannot bear to miss a scene’ event. And if you have not watched Trishul and Deewar or Kala Patthar or Sholay in a cinema hall, you will never know what it was like to be in the heart of a storm called Amitabh Bachchan. But he was not just the angry outsider challenging entrenched power equations in a dockyard worker’s blue shirt with a badge that just happened to read 786, a coal miner in a white shirt knotted at the waist, surveying the world with a haunted gaze, with that delicious stubble on his gaunt face and bursting in immaculate English, “This pain is my destiny.” Oh dear God, the serendipity of the moment when an actor runs into his destiny and finds a pair of shoes no one else could have filled.
Bachchan was the dialogues that he delivered. He was the body and soul of a line, he was rage and conflict and angst and sublimation. But he was also his brooding silences. His gravitas. His deep love for his women even in films where he was the hero and the anti-hero and the script and the music and the comedy and frenetic action. And that Amitabh Bachchan is the one I go back to again and again.
He was lucky to be respected as an actor by his directors who despite the long list of films where he was doing everything he was not meant to do (Ek Nazar? Aalaap? Even Bombay To Goa?) saw in him the Amitabh Bachchan he became later. And directors like Ramesh Sippy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Yash Chopra saw his intensity, channelled it in roles that seared the screen but also used it to express elemental human emotions. Like, yes, love. Watch him walk down the rain filled streets of Mumbai in Basu Chatterjee’s 1979 film Manzil. There is the melody of RD’s Rim jhim gire saawan and then there is Bachchan flowing with the song, untutored like the rain and so believably in love. My favourite bit is right at the end when he is sitting on a bench with Mausami Chatterjee and whispering something in her ear that we wish we could hear.
And so here is my list of the 10 best moments when Amitabh Bachchan was in love on screen and we could not breathe or look away.