It’s one of those things. Like the rotary telephone dial, cyclostyle machine and Campa Cola, it’s very, very difficult to imagine that a non-superstar Amitabh Bachchan ever existed. But even as creationists continue to argue that evolution is bunkum and a white-bearded god made the world some 6,500 years ago, the truth is that Big B was a very Small A 40 years ago last week. Released on November 7, 1969, Saat Hindustani wasn’t much of a hit. It was only natural that the lanky Amitabh Srivastava, who took up the nom de guerre Amitabh Bachchan after his poet father’s nom de plume, didn’t quite stand out in the midst of six other ‘Hindustanis’ that included names like Utpal Dutt, A.K. Hangal and Jalal Agha.
But Bachchan managed to get a national award for ‘best newcomer’ for his role as a Muslim poet from Bihar who joins a mission to ‘liberate’ the Portuguese-ruled Goa and is captured. Filmwallas will now, of course, position themselves as a Nostradamus, making comments about how the 27-year-old Bachchan already bore the seeds of a superstar. Perhaps at that time, they didn’t want to upset the reigning monarch of Hindi fillums Rajesh Khanna or the iconic Dev Anand and thus kept themselves from gushing about this new chap. Or perhaps they had no clue that India would be waiting for an angry young man, something that the mild-mannered chap in Saat Hindustani or the character that Bachchan played in his next film, Anand — would have hardly fit.
Forty years down the line, Big B, in the publicity shots of the forthcoming film, Paa, where he plays the
role of a giant kid, is looking like what he did in 1969: unrecognisable.