Article Hindi

Amitabh Bachchan turns 75: He had no time to feel shy, says Saat Hindustani co-star

On the actor’s 75th birthday (11 October), a look at his first film role in KA Abbas’s Saat Hindustani, with help from his co-star Shahnaz Anand.

Sonal Pandya

With 48 years as an actor and over 200 films to his name, Amitabh Bachchan is probably the hardest working septuagenarian in Hindi cinema today. After a quiet, compelling performance in 2016’s National award-winning Pink, he acted in Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar 3 (2017) as a powerful gangland patriarch and will be seen as a centenarian and Rishi Kapoor’s father in the December release, 102 Not Out.

But it all began with a film called Saat Hindustani (1969), written and directed by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. The film featured seven individuals, of different communities and faiths, who band together to help liberate Goa from the Portuguese. Six volunteers from all over India make their way to Goa where they are met by someone from inside the fight who is to help them infiltrate Portuguese police posts without violence and hoist the Indian flag to show Goans their support.

The seven chosen for the main parts were Malayalam actor Madhu, Irshad Ali, Utpal Dutt, Anwar Ali (brother of the actor Mehmood), Jalal Agha, his sister Shahnaz (in her debut feature) and Amitabh Bachchan (also in his debut role). Bachchan played the role of the sensitive poet Anwar Ali, which was, incidentally, the name of his good friend and co-star.

It is believed by some that Bachchan landed his debut role due to a letter of recommendation from then prime minister Indira Gandhi, a family friend. However, in a interview, actor Tinnu Anand had revealed that he was first cast as Anwar Ali and Bachchan was to play a small role as his friend.

Anand said a friend from Delhi had given him Bachchan's picture and when he passed it on to Abbas, the writer-director asked the newcomer to come to Mumbai at his own expense. He said, "I was the one who took him to Abbas saheb's office. In the evening, I was given the dirty job of offering Amitabh Rs5,000 for the entire film, whether it took one year or five to make. Amitabh reluctantly agreed as he was desperate to act."

But Tinnu Anand dropped out of the film to work with and assist Satyajit Ray on a film, and Bachchan stepped into his place.

Shahnaz with her brother Jalal in Saat Hindustani

Anand’s wife, Shahnaz, was encouraged by him and her brother Jalal to do the role of Maria. She said, “I was not very willing to do it. My father [the actor-comedian Agha] was a little taken aback. I was a little tomboy. But he said it’s okay and Jalal is there. It’s Abbas uncle’s production. It’s a safe thing for my daughter to be in.”

Agha’s daughter Shahnaz Anand remembers the comedian

After the film she received many offers to act but turned them down to pursue a career as hairdresser. She has fond memories of the time spent on her debut film even though she thought it was “a very boring profession” and took “hours for a shot”.

“I was the only girl in the unit. But they never treated me as a lady or a girl. They treated me like one of them,” she recalled.

She felt Bachchan was not very nervous on his first film. “I think he was okay because all the boys over there pulled his leg all the time," she said. "We were literally laughing through the film whenever we were not on the sets. We were joking. My brother was there, he was a joker. Then there was Anwar Ali, another joker, and there was Utpal Dutt. So there was a riot of laughter all the time.

"Amitabh Bachchan didn’t have any time to feel shy on the sets. They used to call him ‘lambu’ and I don’t know what else. But he was very shy and the quiet type. By the end of the film, he was like everybody else.”