Bengaluru big in Bachchan’s story

Amitabh Bachchan, this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner, shared a warm friendship with Rajkumar, who won the award in 1995
Last Updated 25 September 2019, 15:22 IST

Sholay, the most spectacular production in Amitabh Bachchan’s early career, was shot near Bengaluru.

The hills and ravines you see in the film are in Ramanagara, just an hour’s drive from Bengaluru. The town is today known for a folklore museum, and is a pit stop for motorists on the way to Mysuru, but in the 1970s, when Sholay was shot, it had no easy access from the main road, and the production unit had to make its own road to reach the sets.

The film features two real-life couples: Amitabh and Jaya, already married, and Dharmendra and Hema Malini, whose romance was blossoming. Dharmendra, the story goes, used to pay the crew money to tell the director he had messed up his scenes with Hema, and he could get some extra hugs.

The action adventure was inspired by Wild West cowboy films such as The Magnificent Seven and My Name is Nobody, and Amitabh played a mercenary hired to avenge the humiliation inflicted by dacoit Gabbar Singh on a village and its headman.

Without doubt, Sholay is one of the biggest hits in Amitabh’s career, and it introduced him to a city he was to visit several times in later years. Gabbar Singh, the evil man he takes on, became one of Indian cinema’s most memorable villains, with telling lines that to this day provide grist for ads, trolls, and memes. Rahul Gandhi recently invoked the daku’s name to criticise Modi government’s GST: he called it Gabbar Singh tax!

The Dadasaheb Phalke award announced for Amitabh on Tuesday was conferred on his dear friend and Kannada actor Rajkumar 23 years ago. Rajkumar had a special place in his heart for Amitabh, and the sentiment was mutual.

The friendship began with a conflict. Films starring them were contending for release at a cinema hall, and that had left Rajkumar fans angry. Amitabh flew down to Bengaluru, met Rajkumar, and brought the curtains down on the controversy.

A decade later, Amitabh has shooting in Bengaluru for Coolie, and was involved in a deadly accident that put his life in danger. He was treated at St Philomena’s Hospital, and recovered after an operation. On many occasions, Amitabh has recalled how Rajkumar had gone to Nanjangud to pray for him. Rajkumar performed an urulu seve (worship by rolling on the floor all round the temple) to pray for Amitabh’s recovery. Once Amitabh was back on his feet, Rajkumar told him to visit the temple.

When Rajkumar was kidnapped by Veerappan, Amitabh was equally concerned, and would frequently call up the family in Bengaluru to ask about the developments. More recently, Amitabh appeared in a guest role in the
Kannada film Amritadhare (2005). A company he had founded hosted a beauty pageant in Bengaluru amid protests.

Over the years, Amitabh’s films have enjoyed tremendous runs in Bengaluru, and his many admirers told Metrolife how happy they were that he is being decorated with the Dadasaheb honour.

‘He has a sharp memory’

K S Ramesh
K S Ramesh

K S Ramesh, better known as Magic Ramesh, has appeared in several films over three decades, and his association with Amitabh Bachchan goes back to the time ‘Jaadugar’ was being shot.

All the magic scenes in the film were composed and choreographed by the Bengaluru magician.

“As a young man, I had the honour of working with Amitabh. It was one of the biggest productions in Bollywood with a combination of (director) Prakash Mehra and Amitabh,” recalls Ramesh.

Amitabh asked him to create his title song. “I made him crawl, bend and do all kinds of things for the song,” he says. The film was made after ‘Coolie’ which had left him wounded. “He told me he had holes all over his body because of the operation. He also said in the same tone, ‘But you do whatever you want with me and I will do it,” Ramesh says.

In the early 1990s, Amitabh had launched the Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd (ABCL) which conducted a Miss World contest in Bengaluru. “I was a part of the creative team. He also conducted India’s first talent hunt called ‘Star Track’. Some top heroes of today were selected there. I was on the jury,” says Ramesh.

In his Mumbai days, Ramesh was a regular at the Holi parties Amitabh hosted at his house. “He formed a Holi committee and called a handful of us to party with him for seven or eight days,” says Ramesh.

Ramesh finds Amitabh’s passion for perfection inspiring. “He knows who he is and what that name must cater to. Whether it is doing a stage show or redefining himself, he knows exactly what to do. He has a very sharp memory. When we met after a gap of two or three years, he still remembered I was an army officer’s son,” says Ramesh.

Puneeth Rajkumar describes himself as an Amitabh “fan from my childhood days.”

He told Metrolife: “I first met him when I was about five. And I met him several times after that. The most memorable moment was before hosting the reality show Kannadada Kotyadipathi, I went to the sets of Kaun Banega Crorepati and Bachchan sir called me to the stage. He introduced me to the audience by saying he had seen me as a child and carried me in his arms. He announced to those on the stage that I was going to host the show in Kannada. I still have a picture. I feel extremely humbled that a person of his stature introduced me to the audience.”

‘At Mumbai, he saw my dad in me’

Actor Shivarajkumar is overjoyed at the honour for Amitabh, and says it feels like someone from the family has won it. “It is the same joy I felt when my father got the award.”

In his words: “I have worked with him for a Kalyan Jewellers ad and that’s when I got to know him. He is such an amazing actor. He becomes like a child when he is on the sets. I still remember that he was so full of life and would laugh and joke with us all. I never saw him angry. When we were shooting in Mumbai, he told the director I was good at emoting with my eyes. He also said he saw my father in me. That was the best compliment.”

(Published 25 September 2019, 15:11 IST)

Follow us on