Since 1969, Amitabh Bachchan has acted in over 150 Hindi films. Sholay, in 1975, was his 32nd film, believe it or not. He had already been around and back by then, and continues to be, at age 73, one of the most prolific Indian lead actors on the scene. As a 90s kid growing up in a smallish town, the Amitabh Bachchan I became familiar with wasn’t the superstar and ‘angry young man‘ from the 70s. It was a confused, ageing film actor who didn’t quite know whether to stick to the Bollywood tradition of "being young forever" or acknowledge and begin to act his own age. He wasn’t ready to play the father in movies, but he could play an authoritative figure, signs of which began to surface with his "old" roles in Major Saab and Sooryavansham. But the 90s, for him, brought a damning realization that Indian superstars, like Rajesh Khanna before him, don’t age well, and are almost always abandoned by an industry that built a kingdom around their youth and verve. The difference being, Bachchan was more of an artist, an actor, compared to a Khanna or Dharmendra. He wanted more, but couldn’t quite find the filmmakers to help him.
Things only turned around in 2000, when he not only landed the now-famous gig of turning TV host with Kaun Banega Crorepati. The film resurrection began with Yash Chopra offering him the role of a love-hating college principal in Aditya Chopra‘s Mohabbatein opposite Shah Rukh Khan, the star who had taken the baton and reached stratospheric heights. This is when the real actor began to take shape for teenagers like me who had just begun to let cinema shape their lives.
Here are his five finest post-2000 “senior” performances:
5. KHAKEE (2004)
As DCP Anant Kumar Shrivastava, Bachchan had just followed up his superbly manipulative award-nominated performance in Baghban with this gritty, desperate role in Rajkumar Santoshi‘s last truly good film. As an honest upright veteran cop in charge of a team of officers to carry off a dangerous transfer mission, Bachchan stood out in a cast full of contemporary younger actors like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. The scene, where it is revealed that he and his officers were betrayed by one of his own, will be remembered for his angry, torn expressions, and the way he internalizes the need to perform one last heroic act.
4. AANKHEN (2002)
In this severely underrated Hindi film directed by Vipul Shah based on his own Gujarati play, Bachchan captivates with his role as a disillusioned bank manager looking to exact vengeance on his own bank by orchestrating a daring heist involving three blind men, played by Akshay Kumar, Arjun Rampal and Paresh Rawal. This movie was innovative, but also driven by Bachchan’s deluded madness as a puppeteer to what was frankly an outrageous plot even 15 years ago.
3. PIKU (2015)
Reprising his namesake from ‘Anand‘, as Bhashkor Banerjee, the exasperating hypochondriac father who is keeping his working daughter (Deepika Padukone) from truly living her life, this film solely depends on Bachchan’s slightly heightened interpretation of a well-meaning, eccentric Bong patriarch. One of the best films of 2015, this won him the National Award for Best Actor once again.
2. THE LAST LEAR (2007)
In Rituparno Ghosh‘s searing, fantastic Kolkata-based drama, Bachchan excels in a cast full of superb performances as a retired Shakespearean stage actor at odds with the concept of film acting, after accepting a role in a young idealistic auteur’s (Arjun Rampal) challenging new film. Bachchan’s passionate recitals of Shakespearean literature and sonnets make you believe that he is an actual stage veteran, completely senile and closed out to the modern world of evolution. An old-fashioned typewriter struggling to come to terms with computers, he gives arguably his career-best performance in a film that long stayed with you after you left the hall.
1. BLACK (2005)
Debraj Sahai, a name that echoes across Simla streets even today, after Bachchan’s mesmerizing performance as a Alzheimer’s-afflicted teacher to his deaf-and-mute young student and only friend in life, Michelle McNally (Rani Mukerjee). Bachchan broke the glass ceiling with this one, winning every possible award, and giving us one of Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s most enduring and empathetic film characters. Who can forget one of the most memorable scenes in recent Hindi cinema, the moment Michelle learns how to speak, after Sahai’s burst of rage and frustration in the gardens of their mansion?
SPECIAL MENTIONS: Agneepath (1990), Viruddh (2005), Sarkar (2005), Bunty Aur Babli (2005), Paa (2009), Shamitabh (2015), Eklavya (2007)