Amitabh Bachchan, the master of comebacks who defeated bad health, returned from brink of bankruptcy
Happy Birthday Amitabh Bachchan: To a millennial, the Bollywood superstar’s life couldn’t have been more blessed. What they ought to know is the back story.Updated: Oct 11, 2019 17:17 IST
It can be safely be said that actor Amitabh Bachchan, who turns 77 on Friday, is an apt example of triumph of the spirit against seemingly insurmountable odds. If success has been his second nature, failure, misfortune and ill health have threatened his life at every juncture, at least in the last 35 years. On Amitabh Bachchan’s birthday today, here’s a look the struggles he braved in his long and chequered life.
Born Inquilaab Bachchan in 1942, Amitabh is the elder son of noted Hindi poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan. His mother Teji was a Punjabi Sikh, originally hailing from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) from modern-day Pakistan. His father named him so as it was the year of Gandhiji’s clarion call to the British: Quit India. However, at the behest of celebrated Hindi poet Sumitranandan Pant, Harivansh Rai changed his son’s name to ‘Amitabh’.
By the mid and late 1970s, Amitabh would become one of the biggest film personalities Indian screen has ever seen. Such is the magnetism of his personality that he continues to hit limelight to this day, despite a line of younger stars grabbing headlines. Amitabh’s life, however, has seen rather difficult times. How many of us would believe that a megastar like him actually had a dry run at the box office at the start of his career, which ran into years? He reported gave 12-13 successive flops before Zanjeer (1973) became a hit. Isn’t it ironical that a man who would be known by his rich baritone, was rejected by All India Radio? How about facing a 15-year-old media ban (conversely he too refused to talk to the media) during Emergency for his family’s proximity to the Gandhi family? All the above notwithstanding, Amitabh’s real struggle has been over health and financial issues and irrelevance in career.
Amitabh was grievously injured during the shooting of his film, Coolie (1983) at the University Campus, Bangalore. He reportedly suffered splenic rupture, after a stunt for the film went wrong. Doing his own stunts, Amitabh had to fall over a table and fall on the ground. However, a wrong landing resulted in the corner of the table hitting his abdomen. The injury meant that he lost a lot of blood and needed an emergency splenectomy surgery. He remained critically ill for several months and in coma for much of this period. He did eventually recover and walk out of hospital, but his troubles with ill health were far from over.
During his hospitalisation, he contracted the Hepatitis B virus, which would manifest itself many years later. So here’s how it happened: while in a critical condition and having lost a lot of blood, he was administered 60 bottles of blood, donated by 200 people. During one such a blood infusion, Hepatitis B virus entered his system and stayed dormant. For many years, he was unaware of it, but in 2000, after a normal health checkup, he was told by doctors that 75% of his liver had been damaged. He had developed cirrhosis of liver, despite being a teetotaller.
Speaking about it earlier, he was quoted in Hindustan Times as saying, “Hepatitis B came to me accidentally. After my accident on the sets of Coolie, I was infused with the blood of about 200 donors and 60 bottles of blood were injected into my system. The Australian antigen Hepatitis B had only been detected three months ago and it was very new for being detected also among various tests needed to be carried out before giving blood to another patient. One of my blood donors was carrying Hepatitis B virus which went into my system. I continued to function normally till year 2000. Almost 18 years after the accident, during a very normal medical checkup, I was told that my liver was infected and I had lost 75% of my liver. So, if I am standing here today, you are looking at a person who is surviving with 25%of liver. That is the bad part. The good part is you can survive even with 12%. But no one wants to get to that stage.”
He rarely talks about his condition, but there have been occasions where he has. In 2010 too, he spoke about it and had said: “I was, therefore, technically or shall we say in medical terminology, a patient by default. A patient that had developed cirrhosis of the liver - a condition that is normally associated with that of an alcoholic. So here I was, a non-alcoholic, a teetotaller, with an ailment that I imbibed through a blood transfusion from a donor,” he added. “Now since the liver and any ailment associated with it is extremely sensitive, I have to be under constant vigil and monitoring, to keep checking if there is any further damage taking place. A few days back my blood report showed a sudden rise in my liver counts and the doctor felt it necessary to investigate further through an MRI. For me, this is an every three month procedure.”
This wasn’t his only post accident fallout. Shortly after the Coolie incident, he was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease — Myasthenia Gravis. This disorder makes it impossible to do even the simplest of daily routine like brushing one’s teeth, lifting one’s arms or even walking. With treatment and medicines, he did recover but this is a condition that can trigger any time.
Amitabh’s financial condition and career graph too suffered major setbacks through the 1990s. The period from 1988 to 2000 was particularly painful. Post Coolie, Amitabh did see a slight revival in career with hits like Khuda Gawah and Shahenshah but it was mostly a declining curve. A series of major flops like Jaadugar, Toofan, Main Azad Hoon etc led to Amitabh partially retiring from films (he had no releases from 1992 to 1996) and later saw him launch his own production company, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation, Ltd. It was meant to be an umbrella company that would operate in all fields of entertainment including production, distribution and event management.
Post the moderate success of its production, Tere Mere Sapne (which launched the careers of Arshad Warsi and Simran) and the fiasco of 1996 Miss World beauty pageant, held in Bangalore, coupled with high salaried top management, ABCL turned into a financial disaster and shut shop in 1997. Matters went so bad that, at one point, he came close to giving up his Juhu home, Pratiksha and two flats, to creditors to pay off dues.
His brief stint in politics (1984) not only ruined his peace of mind but, to his utter chagrin, his name figured in the infamous Bofors scandal. He had to fight a long and protracted legal battle in a court in the UK, against a Swedish newspaper that named him as one of the beneficiaries of the alleged kickbacks. Years later, his position was vindicated when Sten Lindstrom, the former head of Swedish police, spoke about the scandal. In a detailed article in The Wall Street Journal, Sten has been quoted as saying: “The only team I met in early 1990 damaged the seriousness of my work and the media investigation. I met them on a courtesy call… They gave me a list of names to pursue including the name of Amitabh Bachchan. They also told me they did not trust you entirely because you had refused to link the Bachchans to the kickbacks.”
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First Published: Oct 11, 2019 17:12 IST