Amitabh Bachchan has a close connection with Karnataka and Kannada cinema. Bombay to Goa (1972), one of his earlier movies, was produced by a Kannadiga, S Ramanathan. Ramesh Sippy’s cult classic Sholay (1975), was shot for the most part in the rocky terrain of Ramanagara, a small town near Bengaluru. Producer GP Sippy built a road from Bengaluru to Ramanagara to facilitate the shooting which took place over two years. The art director built an entire township on site for the film.
Manmohan Desai’s Coolie (1983) was shot at Bengaluru Railway Station, Cubbon Park, and Bengaluru University campus. Coolie is also famous for Amitabh being critically injured during a fight sequence with Puneet Issar in the film. He was injured on July 21, 1982, and was initially treated at St. Philomena’s Hospital in Bengaluru, before being shifted to Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai. Following his recovery, he resumed shooting in January 1983.
Annavru and Big B
- Close associates recall Dr Rajkumar and three of his friends went to the Nanjangud temple and performed urulu seve (rolling on the ground around the temple) for Amitabh’s speedy recovery.
- S Shivaram played an important role in sorting out the misunderstanding over theatre availability when Amitabh and Dr Rajkumar’s films, Namak Halal and Halu Jenu were released simultaneously. A report that appeared in a trade guide magazine enraged the fans of Dr Rajkumar at the time. Finally, Amitabh came down to Bengaluru, met Rajkumar and cleared the air. “Following my brother’s advice, I took Amitabh Bachchan to meet Dr Rajkumar. The meeting was cordial and the bonhomie between the two stars continued for long,” he says.
- While Dr Rajkumar was shooting for Bhakta Prahlada at AVM Studios, Amitabh who was shooting at another set visited and garlanded the actor, who had donned the costume of Hiranyakashipu.
- Film maker and photographer Praveen Naik, who was close to Dr Rajkumar said Amitabh often praised the legend’s strong conviction and principles. “Rajkumar did not compromise on the values he believed for the sake of friendship. Apart from refusing a cameo in Coolie, he also rejected the offer to participate in a programme organised by the ABCL in Bengaluru as the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha and various women groups strongly opposed the event,” he says.
According to close associates of legendary Kannada actor Dr Rajkumar, Amitabh had requested the icon to play a cameo in Coolie. Amitabh who plays the role of a porter, would carry his luggage and refuse money, because of the respect he had for Dr Rajkumar. However, the actor who had decided not to act in other language films asked Amitabh to excuse him. Both the actors shared a lifelong mutual admiration of each other’s work ethic.
Better late than never seems to be the unanimous response within the Kannada film fraternity about Amitabh being honoured with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award.
“He should have got the award long ago,” said Kannada filmmaker KV Raju, who directed Big B in the 1991 revenge drama Indrajeet. “Finally, Indian cinema has recognised the contributions of Amitabh Bachchan.”
“Amitabh is a director’s actor. He follows the director’s commands without question and delivers more than expected,” recalls Raju, adding, “I had planned to make another film with Amitabh and he accepted the protagonist’s role, but that did not materialise.”
Ramanathan also made Mahaan (a remake of Shankar Guru starring Rajkumar in a triple role) and Zamaanat with Amitabh. “Zamaanat could not be released. We are planning to release the film now to mark him receiving the Phalke award,” says S Shivaram, who floated the home banner Rashi Brothers with his brother Ramanathan.
Filmmaker and photographer Praveen Naik speaks of the time he was shooting a scene with Upendra for Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) in Bengaluru. “It started raining and the chairs started getting wet. Amitabh immediately rolled up his sleeves and began folding the chairs. Shamed by his example, everyone pitched in,” he says.
Puneet Rajkumar, an ardent Amitabh fan since childhood, was photographed with him when Amitabh visited his home. Puneet was just five years old then. Before hosting Kannadada Kotyadhipathi, he visited Amitabh on the sets of Kaun Banega Crorepati. “He introduced me to the audience, saying he had been watching me rise from childhood and announced that I was hosting a similar show in Kannada,” says Puneet.
On hearing the news that he would be presented the Phalke award, Shivarajkumar who worked with Amitabh on an advertisement, says he felt the same kind of joy when his father received the award in 1995. “Amitabh was very concerned when Rajkumar was kidnapped by Veerappan and would regularly call Shivarajkumar and Raghavendra Rajkumar for updates,” say close associates of Dr Rajkumar.
In 2005, Amitabh essayed a guest role in Amruthadhare directed by Nagatihalli Chandrashekar.