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How Bollywood Superstar Amitabh Bachchan Resumed Filming Coolie after 'Cheating Death'

Matinee Men: A Journey through Bollywood

Matinee Men: A Journey through Bollywood

Peppered with interesting, trivia, anecdotes, interviews, B-town lore, and behind-the-scenes stories, 'Matinee Men: A Journey through Bollywood' recounts the journey of iconic leading men of Bollywood.

Did you know that anxiety-riddled young Yusuf Khan learnt that his screen name had been changed to Dilip Kumar only during the promotions of his first movie or the fact that filmmaker Aditya Chopra tricked Shah Rukh Khan to sit for the narration of 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' by telling him that it was an action film?

The matinee men of Bollywood live hundreds of lives onscreen. But, in a new book, titled Matinee Men: A Journey through Bollywood written by author and journalist Roshmila Bhattacharya, readers get a rare glimpse of who these men really are, not as screen idols, but as mere mortals.

Peppered with interesting, trivia, anecdotes, interviews, B-town lore, and behind-the-scenes stories this book recounts the journey of iconic leading men of Bollywood from Ashok Kumar, Shammi Kapoor, Dharmendra, Farooq Shaikh to Mithun Chakraborty, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Irrfan Khan. However, the most exciting chapter of the book is on Big B. The book recounts how Amitabh Bachchan has an impeccable work ethic and the capacity to reinvent himself.

In the book, Bhattacharya recounts how Bachchan, who has never had any dearth of work in Bollywood, had once gone out of his way to ask for a role. The author writes:

"... filmmaker Suneel Darshan admitted he had also been taken by surprise when one day, as he was driving home, his cell phone rang and a familiar voice boomed across the wire, ‘Amitabh Bachchan bol raha hoon [This is Amitabh Bachchan].’ He quickly pulled his car to the side of the road and focused his attention on the legendary actor who baffled him further by expressing his desire to be a part of Ek Rishtaa: The Bond of Love (2001), which Suneel was producing and directing, based on a story he himself had written.

"Only a man who is tall, not just in height but in stature too, could have made that call," the filmmaker asserts. Suneel wrapped up the film in just four months, despite a star-studded cast of Akshay Kumar, Juhi Chawla, Karisma Kapoor and Rakhee, and a special thanks to a cooperative Mr Bachchan who was simultaneously filming Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001) at the time. ‘He would shoot for Karan [Johar] from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., then, report for Ek Rishtaa, working from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day.

Only once did he turn up late, arriving an hour and a half late for a 9 a.m. shoot with Akshay at Hiranandani Gardens. No one was unduly perturbed by the delay, but as soon as he drove up, Mr Bachchan called me and apologized, informing me that his parents [Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Teji Bachchan] were very old and terribly unwell. He had been up all night with the doctor tending to them. My respect for him increased even more after hearing this,’ Suneel shares.

... He (Bachchan) is also one of those rare actors who is always punctual.... He also is one of the few B-townies who always respond to a text."

The author writes that everyone who has ever worked with Bachchan swears by his sincerity, dedication and commitment. In the book, she writes:

"...Shoojit (Sircar) recalls how the day before he was to shoot the climax of his courtroom drama Pink (2016), he was jolted awake by a phone call at two in the morning. It was Mr Bachchan, who is usually up half the night writing his blog, answering mails or simply prepping for the next day’s shoot, wanting the director to hear the ‘No means no’ speech that he had been practising for hours. He had prepared two different pitches and Shoojit quickly told him which he wanted, and they said ‘goodnight’. The next day, the scene was canned in one take.

Singer-composer Bappi Lahiri while talking about his duet with Kishore Kumar, ‘Jahan char yaar mil jaye’, the Sharaabi (1984) chartbuster, recalled how Mr Bachchan had conscientiously turned up at his bungalow twice to rehearse his rap portions. ‘On the day of the recording, the call time was 9.30 a.m. I arrived at ten to find Amit ji already there and rehearsing with the musicians,’ Bappi da raved, adding that because of all the prep he had done, they were finished in two hours."

One of the greatest examples of Bachchan's professionalism and his dedication towards his craft was when the actor landed in the hospital after a stunt for his film, Coolie (1983) went horribly wrong. The author writes:

"The headline-grabbing incident happened on 26 July 1982. It was first-day-first-shot for first-time villain Puneet Issar. Mr Bachchan was to dodge Puneet’s punch, fall on a table and roll to the floor. He mistimed his jump and banged into the table instead. Its sharp edge caught him in the middle and left him with a ruptured intestine and massive internal bleeding.

He was rushed to then Bombay where he underwent an emergency splenectomy at Breach Candy Hospital. He survived that surgery and the many others that followed, but every day was tense.

The whole country prayed for him, but no one prayed harder than a guilt-stricken Puneet. Reading newspaper reports of Mr Bachchan’s deteriorating condition, he had rushed to Breach Candy Hospital with his wife where his ‘hero’ assured him that he was not to blame.

Mr Bachchan recounted how while shooting for a Prakash Mehra film, the glass he had flung at Vinod Khanna had caught the actor on the chin and resulted in a deep cut, which needed four stitches. ‘I can only repeat Vinod’s words to me. Relax, it was an accident,’ he told Puneet who was flooded with hate mail after the incident, even death threats, and dropped from several projects.

Six months after the accident, on 7 January 1983, Mr Bachchan returned to Bombay’s Chandivali Studio to pick up from where he had left off. This time the shot went off without a hitch. Coolie was released on 14 November 1983. It was a blockbuster. The punch that had taken down Big B was frozen at the point of impact with the words ‘This is the shot in which AMITABH BACHCHAN was seriously injured’ superimposed in English, Hindi and Urdu.

In the original script, Kader Khan’s antagonist, Zafar Khan, was supposed to kill Iqbal. But director Manmohan Desai rewrote the climax and like in real life, on-screen too, Mr Bachchan’s Coolie No. 786 ended up cheating death."

The following excerpts have been published with permission from Rupa Publishers.