Ten of Amitabh Bachchan's most noteworthy Bollywood roles

With a career spanning more than five decades, it is hard to distil beloved actor's many achievements. Here are some memorable ones

Bollywood star amitabh bachchan
CREDIT: Courtesy EZ Entertainment
Powered by automated translation

Last week, Indian news media reported that Amitabh Bachchan had “undergone angioplasty” due to health complications. The Bollywood actor, 81, refuted the claim the same day, calling it “fake news”.

For a brief period, fans were consumed by panic. But that tends to happen every time there is a report of Bachchan being admitted to hospital.

Like when he was filming an action sequence for 1983 film Coolie, mistimed a fall and suffered an abdominal injury that almost killed him. He was one of the biggest stars at the time and news of his accident caused a type of mass frenzy rarely seen before in India.

With a career spanning more than five decades, Bachchan remains a force to be reckoned with. While his early work in action dramas often typecast him as a stoic man with a quiet rage powerful enough to burn down evil forces, his work in more comedic and romantic roles cemented his status as an actor of versatility.

Whether he is asked to play an action star, goofball, lovelorn guy, smart-alec career criminal or even straight-up evil villain, Bachchan takes every chance to dig deep into his character.

The legacy of his work in more than 200 films – as a star in cultural juggernaut Sholay, a turn in Deewar and a short role in Australian writer-director Baz Luhrmann's historical romance The Great Gatsby – continues to inspire actors and filmmakers, and wow fans across the globe.

It is difficult to distil his career achievements into an definitive list, but here are ten – some blockbusters, some underrated – that are surely among his most noteworthy.

1. Zanjeer (Shackles), 1973

Prakash Mehra's action drama is the first of his many collaborations with Bachchan. It also catapulted the previously struggling actor's reputation to that of a movie star in his own right.

The role itself earned him the title “Angry Young Man”. This image was later synonymous with his stoicism in films such as Deewar and Sholay, both wildly successful and timelessly quotable.

A Zanjeer remake was released in 2013 to a near-universal dismissal by critics and audiences. Nothing compares to the untapped feeling of righteous anger brought out in the original by both the narrative and Bachchan's protagonist.

2. Deewaar (Wall), 1975

A story of two brothers on either side of the law, Yash Chopra's drama is one of the most influential films released in Indian Hindi cinema's mainstream spectrum.

A crime drama British filmmaker Danny Boyle claimed was “key to Indian cinema”, it reflected broadly the worldbuilding of his Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

If Zanjeer established the Angry Young Man, Deewaar set out to mould his aura into a palpable anti-establishment character furious at the world.

Bachchan's swagger was an enhancement to the cynical contempt his character Vijay held against the status quo, turning him into a memorable character.

3. Chupke Chupke (Quietly), 1975

There may be many loveable films in celebrated director Hrishikesh Mukherjee's filmography, but this is a rare classic comedy that can be watched again and again.

Bachchan is a part of the supporting cast, with Dharmendra and Sharmila Tagore headlining the show as newly-weds staging an elaborate charade to prove a point.

His flabbergasted monologue and the chemistry he shares with Jaya Bachchan (whom he married in 1973) make this an underrated slab of comedic gold.

4. Sholay (Embers), 1975

Called by BBC India the “Star Wars of Bollywood”, Ramesh Sippy's Hindi production was technically the most groundbreaking film of its time.

Bachchan, yet again, is part of a broader ensemble that includes Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini and resident bad guy Amjad Khan as the quotable villain Gabbar Singh. Bachchan doesn't only hold his own but shines in its most unexpected moments.

5. Don, 1978

Directed by Chandra Barot and written by Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, Don is an absolute blast.

It is the ultimate comfort film for people who love vintage Bollywood action. With lavish production design, it stars Bachchan in the dual role of the suave titular crime lord and his unrelated doppelganger Vijay, who have personalities as different as chalk and cheese,

The star made the most of his imposing screen presence as Don, looking stylish as hell and ending the lives of his opponents without batting an eye.

6. Silsila (A Continuation), 1981

Yash Chopra's production was, at the time, one of two prominent films in Hindi cinema – the other being Mahesh Bhatt's Arth – to get honest with its viewers.

Bachchan is phenomenal as Amit, a man stuck in an impossible situation, having to choose between the “right thing” and indulging in the one thing he wants the most – reuniting with his estranged lover.

His on-screen chemistry with Rekha and Chopra's hold over his narrative give the film old-world charm.

7. Aks (The Reflection), 2001

This is probably the wildest movie that stars Bachchan as the protagonist.

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's first film as a director features the megastar as police officer Manu Verma. You'd expect an everyday hunt-for-a-serial-killer-101 narrative, with Manu's determination to nab unhinged killer Raghavan Ghatge picking up pace.

But then the bad guy is caught way too early, and this is where it all starts to hit the fan, giving Bachchan the chance to dig into the insanity of his role.

8. Kabhi Alvida NAA Kehna (Never Say Goodbye), 2006

This was Karan Johar's first foray into what ends up being an incredibly stressful relationship drama.

While this delves more into the domino effect of dysfunctional relationships, Bachchan seems like he's having a ball playing the borderline-sleazy comic relief, bringing nuance to what could have been an endorsement of his problematic traits.

He's not the point of focus of the film's narrative here, but his stellar work makes for one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the drama's second act.

9. Paa (2009)

Probably one of the most physically transformative roles in his filmography, Auro, 12, suffers from a rare genetic mutation that has caused him to age rapidly.

While the plot of R Balki's film is a sweet take on life and mortality, Bachchan's performance as Auro is probably among his best work. It shows in his commitment to go through the prosthetics work required to make his character look believable and his ability to display theatrical precociousness grounded in realism.

10. Piku (2015)

Deepika Padukone may have stolen the show in Shoojit Sircar's comedy-drama on reverse parenting, but without Bachchan's comically frustrating point of conflict, the film wouldn't have had masterful impact in its final moments.

Bachchan is an imposing presence whose pitch-perfect comic timing is bettered only by his uncanny ability to flabbergast viewers into wondering whether to laugh or scream at the screen.

Updated: March 20, 2024, 10:31 AM