Eastern Eye celebrates the legendary actor’s 81st birthday on October 11 with a watch list of his 21 most under-rated films
Asjad Nazir and Dharmesh Patel
AN INCREDIBLE body of work has turned Amitabh Bachchan into the greatest Bollywood star of all time. His landmark movies have entertained different generations, become an integral part of history and regularly been celebrated.
But what about the hidden gems in his 54-year career, which are great films overshadowed by the all-time classics, that perhaps don’t get the credit they deserve?
Eastern Eye decided to celebrate the legendary actor’s 81st birthday on October 11 with a watch list of his 21 most under-rated films, listed in chronological order, which deserve a lot more love.
Saat Hindustani (1969): Amitabh Bachchan’s debut is what this movie is known for, but the underrated classic won him his first National Award (for best newcomer). Bachchan played the weakest link in this story of seven Indians, but gave the best performance despite being a newcomer. Set during the Portuguese colonial period in Goa, the story of seen Indians coming together to liberate the state had a great message of unity. They all hailed from different states and were of different faiths, united as Indians to overthrow the invaders.
Parwana (1971): Despite entering films as a hero, Bachchan played a negative character in this lesser known movie very early in his career. The murder he plans and commits in the central storyline is engaging and brilliantly executed. However, despite him eliminating those in his way, he cannot beat true human emotion with power and soon realises that crime and deception do not pay.
Reshma Aur Shera (1971): Lead star and producer Sunil Dutt gave the struggling actor a prominent role in the movie. The Rajasthan desert set saga of warring feudal families had a Shakespearean-like drama of star-crossed lovers, murder, misunderstandings, enmity, alliances and regret. Bachchan played a mute, but still gave a brilliant performance with his actions and various expressions in a key role. Despite garnering national and international acclaim and winning multiple National Awards, the fine movie remained underrated.
Gehri Chaal (1973): A murder mystery, a bank heist and a case of concealed identity were webbed together in this layered thriller. The different and brilliantly made crime drama didn’t earn the credit it deserved. Relatively new and at the time unsuccessful Bachchan proved his mettle among established stars Jeetendra and Hema Malini.
Saudagar (1973): Perhaps Bachchan’s most underrated film pre-superstardom. He plays a villager, who deceptively marries a widow (Nutan) to earn quick money and make use of her skills as a gur (jaggery) maker to raise dowry for the supposed woman of his dreams. The tables turn when he realises the new bride can’t match the high standards of his first wife and he incurs heavy financial losses, which eventually humbles him.
Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974): Although this social drama was widely celebrated and captured the mood of the nation, most forgot about the powerful supporting role played by Bachchan. Writer, producer, director and lead star Manoj Kumar headlined the layered movie that weighed up honesty and patriotism, against vices like greed and lust. Bachchan gave a fine performance as a crippled army man who is on a journey of self-learning and discipline.
Majboor (1974): Bachchan plays a devoted son and brother with a terminal condition. Selfless love for his dependent mother and sister drives him towards drastic action. The kind-hearted man frames himself for a crime he didn’t commit, to secure their future after his death. The twist in the plot is when he is cured of his illness and must fight to prove his innocence before a death sentence.
Mili (1975): The story of a terminally ill free spirited woman, who inspires a depressed alcoholic is a beautifully crafted romantic drama. The actor starred opposite his real life wife Jaya Bhaduri in this emotional movie about not taking the life you have for granted and finding love in the most unexpected places.
Do Anjaane (1976): The multi-layered drama set over different time periods combined a revenge element with a beautiful father-son story. Bachchan portrays a grounded middle-class husband struggling to keep his unrealistically ambitious wife happy. He is later betrayed by a rich friend and thrown from a fast running train, while his unsuspecting wife pursues her dreams, at the cost of their son. What follows is a journey towards revenge and reunion.
Alaap (1977): Bachchan teamed up with Hrishikesh Mukherjee again for this story of a tyrannical father and a rebellious son on a collision course. Bachchan plays the stubborn son pursuing his passion, even at the cost of his health. The musical masterpiece didn’t receive its due, as audiences rejected Bachchan not playing the angry young man during his peak, despite it being one of his finest performances away from that superstar image.
Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978): With a similar but deeper storyline to Kaalia, Bachchan goes from a simple and honest man to a fearless dacoit in retaliation to the evil landlord’s atrocities and losing his mother. Set in the backdrop of the Ganges, the movie illustrated that despite the purity of the holy river and its significance, society continues committing sins. As per films of those times however, it gave the message that we must return to goodness, as ultimately it wins over evil.
Kasme Vaade (1978): Bachchan played a dynamic double role in this forgotten gem. He portrays an honest teacher, who is accidentally killed. Following that death, his fiancée and rebellious younger brother must find a way to move on. Bachchan then plays a lookalike criminal, who enters their lives, and triggers a positive change in the once wayward brother and grief stricken fiancée.
Kaala Patthar (1979): The magnificent multi-starrer loaded with big names revolves around a man who tries to forget a tortured past by working deep in a coal mine. The story of redemption was different to other commercial Bollywood films being made and ahead of its time in terms of storytelling in Hindi cinema.
Kaalia (1981): The action thriller is famous for its memorable dialogues and catchy songs, but never made it onto the list of Bachchan’s best movies. The film sees him portray a timid and innocent man, who is forced by society to become a tough, suave and stylish criminal following the death of his brother, caused by a corrupt boss. He later goes on a revenge mission in the cult classic.
Aakhree Raasta (1986): A lost and found revenge drama like no other. The subtle masala flick from the south showed Bachchan in his greatest double role, as conflicting father and son on opposite sides of the law, on their own justifiable paths. The intensity with which he played David over two generations shows just why there is no one better than him.
Main Azaad Hoon (1989): The great Bollywood adaptation of the 1941 Hollywood classic Meet John Doe matched up to the original and remains relevant today. Bachchan portrays a drifter, who pretends to be a fictional figure disillusioned with a corrupt society and unexpectedly becomes a nationwide hero. The thought provoking movie includes a brilliant finale speech from the actor.
Aankhen (2002): The story of three blind men trained by a mastermind (Bachchan) to rob a bank he was once an employee of, was unique on multiple levels. The trio of blind men form an unbreakable bond, which leads them on a collision with their mentor. The film highlighted the physical and mental strengths of those with disabilities wonderfully well. The finale left scope for a sequel which sadly never materialised.
Khakee (2004): Bachchan may have shot to fame after Zanjeer, but this multi-starrer was one of his finest cop dramas, with superlative performances from him as well as the supporting cast. All were in fine form in this twist-laden police movie loaded with entertainment, which didn’t get its due.
Ek Ajnabee (2005): The great Hindi adaptation of Hollywood hit Man On Fire saw Bachchan play a former army officer, hired by an old comrade to protect a little girl. He maintains his hard and insensitive personality but does eventually get attached to her. When the girl gets kidnapped, he makes it his mission to rescue her, by any means necessary. Like in Khakee, the actor showed age was no barrier to him taking on an action role in a thrilling film.
Cheeni Kum (2007): The cross-generational love story of an older chef falling for a much younger woman and finally having his cold heart melted was a progressive romance. Despite the difference in their ages, he seeks blessings from her father, who is younger than him in the great romantic comedy. Being in his sixties was no barrier to Bachchan showing he had lost none of his romantic charm, in a movie that started a great working relationship with writer/director R Balki.
Jhund (2022): Bachchan plays a football coach to slum kids in his most recent underrated movie. He thrives on equipping the underdogs with discipline and sporting skills, including teamwork and fighting for equal opportunities for them. He also teaches them about responsibility, not being victims, staying on the right path in life and realising their dreams. His son Abhishek Bachchan took on a similar role of a coach in 2023’s most underrated Bollywood film Ghoomer, which also features a great cameo from the Big B