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The son of a noted poet, Amitabh Bachchan arrived in Mumbai with a letter of introduction from Indira Gandhi.
The son of a noted poet, Amitabh Bachchan arrived in Mumbai with a letter of introduction from Indira Gandhi.

Tribute to a century of Bollywood: Part seven 1973-1983

On the seventh day of our illustrated tribute to 100 years of Bollywood, we look at 1973-1983.

Flares and wigs and a second golden age

This was the second golden age of Bollywood. When the filmmakers of today want to throw in a reference, when they want to remake a film, it is to this decade that they often turn. It was a glorious time, a freewheeling time. R D Burman was rocking the discos; the flares on men’s trousers went up to 40 inches; the hippies hit Goa and Bollywood where they were treated with moral outrage, and you would be hard-pressed to find one real hair on the heads of the heroines: all were lacquered wigs and bouffants. This was the time of Sholay and Amar Akbar Anthony, two films you should see to understand the Bollywood of the 1970s. Or any Bollywood.

Amitabh Bachchan

The son of a noted poet, Amitabh Bachchan arrived in Mumbai with a letter of introduction from Indira Gandhi. It didn’t even get him a job at the government-controlled All-India Radio. But when Dev Anand turned down Zanjeer — because there were no songs for the hero to sing — Bachchan grabbed it with both hands, pouring the anger he felt at rejection into the story of a cop chasing his parents’ killers. He was soon named the Angry Young Man. Since then, he’s grown larger and larger until he has now assumed the size and pomp of a patriarch.


Rekha was the daughter of the South Indian film star Gemini Ganesan and Pushpavalli. When she started out, she was overweight and the caked-on make-up couldn’t conceal her bad skin and facial hair. But nothing could conceal the joy with which she responded to the camera. And over the decade she transformed herself from a playful nymphet into the diva of lip gloss, who knew exactly how she wanted to be photographed. Rekha’s ruthless reinvention of herself continues and when she makes an appearance, it seems as if time hasn’t dared to touch her.

Yash Chopra

Last year, dengue claimed Yash Chopra, who made some of the most powerful films of the 1970s, many of them starring Amitabh Bachchan. His Deewaar was said to be based on the life of a gangster, Haji Mastan, who had by then reformed and complained that he had never been so violent. His Trishul developed the theme of the Oedipal struggle inaugurated in Devdas but it gave the victory to the son. And in the 1990s, Chopra took Bollywood international with his high-style romances starring Shah Rukh Khan.

R D Burman

The son of a legendary music composer, Sachin Dev Burman, and thus royalty from the north-eastern state of Tripura, Rahul Dev Burman was the sound of the 1970s. He defined its revolutionary tone, its devil-may-care attitude, the beginning of Bollywood’s love affair with the West. He set the aural stage for Bachchan’s Angry Young Man and for the first of the ‘westernised’ heroines: Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi. (This meant that they were at home in bikinis.) His music is finding new audiences even today, as remix after remix is created from his melodies.

Shabana Azmi

There was another show in town, the alternative cinema, and Shabana Azmi was the face of that cinema along with Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri. She too was the daughter of a poet, Kaifi Azmi, and had grown up, at least for some years, in the kind of commune where one would like to have been a fly on the wall, such was its intellectual star-power. Azmi played rural women and city girls with equal integrity and made a small foray into the big bad world of Bollywood.


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