On Amitabh Bachchan’s 78th birthday, looking at his reel chemistry with real-life partner Jaya Bachchan

Farhana Farook
·Contributor
·5-min read

Jaya Bhaduri first saw Amitabh at the FTII, where he had come along with Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, the director of his debut film, Saat Hindustani (1969). Poet Harivanshrai Bachchan’s son left a lingering impression on her mind.

Later, he was to play the lead opposite her in her debut Guddi (1971), a narrative of a fangirl. But director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who was also directing Amitabh in Anand (1971) then, felt that the actor would soon become a recognised face. He wanted an unknown face opposite his schoolgirl heroine. Hence, Samit Bhanja was roped in. However, Amitabh had a fleeting guest appearance in the film.

Again in Hrishida’s Bawarchi (1972), top-lined by Rajesh Khanna and Jaya Bhaduri, Amitabh featured in a singular way. As the narrator, he introduced the cast in the film, which did away with the conventional credits. The duo came together on the screen for the first time in Prakash Verma’s Bansi Birju and B.R. Ishaara’s Ek Nazar, both in 1972.

Ek Nazar is cherished till date for its lilting numbers – Patta patta boota boota being a favourite on retro channels. It was 1973, which rewrote Amitabh’s trajectory and also that of Hindi cinema. It’s also the year that sealed their romance into an abiding tale – the two took the vows in an impromptu wedding at the behest of Harivanshrai Bachchan.

Let us take a look at their romance on screen...

Zanjeer (1973)

Amitabh and Jaya in Zanjeer
Amitabh and Jaya in Zanjeer

This was a game-changer of a film. Prakash Mehra’s actioner made the ‘angry young man’ the new hero of a restless nation. Story goes that a super successful Jaya Bhaduri, though not charmed by the length of the role, agreed to do the film to be around her paramour, Amitabh, and also give a fillip to his career.

Though the film revolved around an angst-ridden cop Vijay (Amitabh), it had its tender moments with regards to his relationship with chakku chooriwali Maya (Jaya). First at loggerheads with her for standing in the way of truth, he begins to thaw to her innocence. Maya, though unobtrusively, is the turning point of his life.

At first she discourages him from taking on the mafia. Then it’s she who urges him to bust the cartel and also find closure to the nightmare that has haunted him since childhood. There are several sweet moments in the film – particularly the one where she visits him in jail, his love and her support expressed without the need of words. Incidentally, Zanjeer released in May and the couple tied the knot in June ’73 at the best of father Harivanshrai, before they left for London – their first foreign trip.

Abhimaan (1973)

This remains the couple’s crowning glory. The film traced the complete graph of a relationship – romance, the first flush of marriage, pride and prejudice and a tearful reunion. It’s music that brings them together in the film and also music that tears them apart.

Pop singer Subir (Amitabh) is drawn towards Uma’s (Jaya) earthy charm and her musical talent. They get married and pledge to sing together until Uma’s flair begins to overshadow his popularity. The Majrooh Sultanpuri-SD Burman confluence created songs like Nadiya kinare, Teri bindiya re, Loote koi mann, Ab toh hai tumse, Piya bina and Tere mere milan..., which captured the changing shades of their love.

Released immediately after their marriage in June, the popularity of the couple zoomed to its zenith with Abhimaan. Still a superhit on satellite TV, it has the power to turn an entire generation nostalgic.

Sholay (1975)

Sholay
Sholay

Theirs is a small track in Ramesh Sippy’s 75 mm canvas but a memorable one. The silent love between lawbreaker Jai (Amitabh) and widow Radha (Jaya) tugged at the heartstrings. He lends colour to her bare life with his subtle shenanigans - Jai riding a buffalo brings a smile to Radha’s forlorn face, she putting off the lamps at night while he plays the mouthorgan at a distance, alighting love in her, she shedding convention to sob overwhelmingly at his death… the Jaya-Amitabh chemistry in Sholay merits a film by itself.

Mili (1975)

Mili
Mili

This was a Hrishida Mukherjee family entertainer with a tragic tilt. Mili (Jaya) and Shekhar (Amitabh), as neighbours, get into an altercation. He can’t endure her boisterousness and she can’t bear his standoffish demeanour. But when her father (Ashok Kumar) and she rush to help an injured Shekhar after he’s had a drink too many, things begin to change between them.

Memorable scenes are when Mili chastises a drunken Shekhar for his tantrums, when Shekhar bares the trauma of his mother being killed by his father to Mili, when the two watch stars at night and start seeing their destiny in them… The watershed moment of their relationship is, when Shekhar though shattered on learning about her terminal illness, marries her in a bid to infuse life in her numbered days.

Lyricist Yogesh and composer SD Burman created an album that defined the narrative. Maine kaha phoolon se was about her vivacity, Badi sooni sooni hai and Aaye tum yaad mujhe spelt out the melancholia that was intrinsic to Shekhar.

Silsila (1981)

Silsila
Silsila

This was a casting coup aiming perhaps to cash in on the alleged real-life love triangle. For director Yash Chopra, it held a promise of maximum footfalls. For Amitabh, perhaps, it meant a boost to a career hitting a plateau. For Rekha, the opportunity to celebrate the ‘other woman’. And for Jaya, the validation that commitment trumps passion. Though her marriage to Amit (Amitabh) in the film is an arrangement, Sudha (Jaya) grows to love him. Their ambivalent onscreen relationship betrayed a therav in contrast to his volatile chemistry with Chandni (Rekha).

While he justifies his waywardness with the lines, “Waqt ke saath har rishta apni taaseer kho deta hai,” his dialogue at the climax, “Sudha main aagaya hoon… Tum meri patni hoon… yahi sach hai baaki sab jhooth!” was a homecoming for the audience and them.

FOOTNOTE: Decades later, Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) was a revelation of their evolving relationship. Though Amitabh plays the patriarch in the film, Jaya’s character eventually having the last word, ‘Jo kehdiya so kehdiya,” sums up the beautiful equilibrium the couple now enjoy.