Amitabh Bachchan at his very best

Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji in Black
Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji in Black



THERE are few tasks in cinema more difficult than ranking the top 20 performances of India’s greatest cinema star Amitabh Bachchan.

That is because the legendary actor has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years and has an incredible body of work to choose from. But as he is turning a year older this week and celebrating his 78th birthday on October 11, Eastern Eye decided to take on the impossible mission by presenting a countdown of Amitabh Bachchan’s top 20 onscreen acting turns.

With lockdown not ending anytime soon, they are fabulous films to add to any watch list.

20. Kaala Patthar (1979): There were a lot of great performances Bachchan delivered that perhaps didn’t get the credit they deserved because the movie wasn’t a blockbuster, like this one or the superb Main Azaad Hoon (1989), which is better than the Hollywood film (Meet John Doe) it is inspired by. The intense Kaala Patthar role of Vijay Pal Singh sees him play a man who tries to forget a tortured past by working deep in a coalmine, and soon he gets a chance for redemption.

19. Namak Haraam (1973): Vikram Maharaj is a very early role, where Bachchan showed off his immense potential as a newcomer and held his own opposite Bollywood superstar Rajesh Khanna. The story of unions and two friends unexpectedly finding themselves on opposite sides offered the actor an early chance to show off his range as a performer. The role would result in him getting his second acting honour.

18. Khakee (2004): The Bollywood legend started a powerful new journey with Mohabbatein (2000) playing older roles and hit top gear with his commanding portrayal of fearless cop Anant Kumar Shrivastav in Khakee. The actor outshone a big cast of younger stars and showed he could still do action really well, which is multi-layered.

17. Trishul (1978): By the time this film was made, Amitabh Bachchan had played an angry young man named Vijay multiple times, but managed to add another dimension with this particular portrayal of an illegitimate son out to take revenge on his father. He adds different layers to his character Vijay Kumar and exuded a silent power in each scene.

16. Khuda Gawah (1992): The actor’s role of fearless Afghan tribal leader Badshah Khan was supposed to be a guest appearance, but the director soon realised he had magic and conjured up a longer role for the actor. He took a long acting sabbatical after this film, but made sure audiences didn’t forget his incendiary performance and dynamite dialogue delivery.

15. Kabhi Kabhie (1976): Bachchan’s portrayal of Amit Malhotra was a master class in showing less could definitely be more. The story of a poet lamenting a lost love sees him go on a transformative journey from a young man to old age. He showed there was a lot more to him than an action hero or angry young man with a performance that showed real emotion without being overly dramatic.

14. Piku (2015): The actor has gifted audiences many iconic and loveable characters, but went completely against type to portray the annoying Bhashkor Banerjee in sleeper super hit Piku. The complex act of an aging hypochondriac with digestive problems, who has an unhealthy relationship with his daughter, won him another National  Award for Best Actor.

13. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): A big secret of Bachchan’s incredible success was being able to stand out in big multi-starrers and he does exactly that with his iconic portrayal of small-time villain Anthony Gonsalves. The loveable rogue made an instant connection with audiences and set the blueprint for many of his roles in cult classics that followed like Naseeb (1981).

12. Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978): The Big B beautifully combines power and pain with his classic title character in this Bollywood blockbuster, which was loosely based on Devdas. He strikes a fine balance between a determined man who rises up against the odds to become powerful and a lovelorn alcoholic nursing a broken heart.

11. Pink (2016): The courtroom drama saw him portray fearsome lawyer Deepak Sehgall, who comes out of retirement to help a woman in trouble. The tornado-like performance sweeps across the screen, as he goes from being a dormant observer to becoming a scene-chewing hurricane in the courtroom scenes. He breathes fire into every powerful dialogue and lights up the screen.

10. Abhimaan (1973): The slow-burning performance was a superb study in deadly sin, envy. Bachchan plays famous singer Subir Kumar, who marries a sweet village girl, but then finds it hard to cope with his career faltering, and hers taking off. The complicated character goes from the light and down a decidedly dark self-destructive path that impacts those around him.

9. Don (1978): The actor played a double role multiple times on screen, but this iconic turn was perhaps his finest. He plays dreaded gangster Don and then an identical street-singer (Vijay), who must go undercover for the police and pretend to be him. The result is a multi-layered performance that has everything from singing, dancing and comedy to action. He saw potential in a role that was turned down by a number of stars and made it iconic.

8. Zanjeer (1973): Another role that was rejected by so many big stars will always rank highly in the legend of Amitabh Bachchan for multiple reasons. The game-changing performance of an angry police officer turned him into a superstar overnight and ushered in a new action-dominated era in Bollywood. It also gave rise to the angry young man and reignited the anti-hero in Hindi cinema.

7. Sarkar (2005): Classic Hollywood film The Godfather may have inspired Sarkar, but Bachchan made Subhash Nagre his own and played him with a fearsome swagger. He once again transformed himself for the volcano-like character of an underworld figure with political connections, who is equally feared and loved.

6. Sholay (1975): The brilliance of his performance in Sholay is perfectly illustrated by the fact that Bachchan managed to stand out in a legendary movie that had so many iconic characters and moments. His restrained performance in what was an explosive movie won over audiences in a big way, as he effortlessly managed to mix up action, emotion and comedy.

5. Anand (1971): The iconic film was all about lead superstar Rajesh Khanna, who played the terrific title role, but also contained a stunning supporting character from Bachchan. This film showed how good an actor the then newcomer was and earned him his first major acting award. His sympathetic performance also won over audiences and was the first major step towards a legendary acting journey.


4. Agneepath (1990): The actor won his first National Award for this portrayal of Vijay Deenanath Chauhan, a man who rises up through the underworld ranks to take revenge on a dreaded gangster and restore his family name. The intense performance, which saw him change his voice, became an unforgettable cult classic.

3. Deewar (1975): The actor had played an angry young man multiple times during his career and this Yash Chopra directed classic was arguably his finest. The superb story saw him portray a young man brought up in poverty and rising up by breaking the law. He soon clashes with his police officer brother and his honest mother. Bachchan breathes fire into dynamite dialogues and lights up the screen with his anti-hero in an explosive way.

2. Paa (2009): The actor is unrecognisable in arguably the most challenging role of his career. Bachchan was in his late sixties when he portrayed a 12-year-old boy with an extremely rare genetic disorder called progeria. He once again won every major acting award for his stunning performance and delivered the kind of character never seen before by an actor in Indian cinema, blending effortlessly into the role.

1. Black (2005): The legendary star won every major acting award for his stunning portrayal of a teacher who gives hope to a deaf/mute girl and shows her how to live an independent life. He goes from being a bright shining light for a girl living in a darkened world to losing himself in Alzheimer’s. The multi-layered role is considered one of the finest in Bollywood history and showed the incredible actor was able to take on any challenge, which has defined his remarkable career.

Special thanks to Dharmesh Patel