Amitabh Bachchan. Photo Courtesy: Screengrab from YouTube video
Amitabh Bachchan. Photo Courtesy: Screengrab from YouTube video

Born October 11, 1942, Amitabh Bachchan has ruled Bollywood like none other. His fans have spread over strata across political, economic, religious, and social strata. Whether it was the Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man BBC named Superstar of the Millennium.

It is difficult for the current generation to understand the impact Amitabh Bachchan had on India in the 1970s. Inflation, poverty, and unemployment left the country pass through a low she had seldom known since Independence. The common man, frustrated by the apparent futility of the lives cost for Independence, looked for a messiah.

There was no messiah, but there arrived two icons, in different avatars, in different fields, but both to instil hope in people: one, with the bat, who converted India from a team of individual brilliances to a unit; Kapil Dev may be the greatest all-rounder India has produced and Sachin Tendulkar the only one to compete for a place in an all-time World XI, but it had all started with Sunil Gavaskar. He had taught India to hope.

On the silver screen appeared the Angry Young Man who took the mantle of the Superstar from Rajesh Khanna. The nation wanted a reflection of their rage being satiated on screen: the tall man, with his rich baritone, reflected their anger on screen. They had found an icon, albeit imaginary, who actually inspired them. It was not a coincidence that the nation prayed for him following his near-fatal injury in the sets of Coolie.

Bachchan was more than an actor: he helped move a nation; he gave them something to look forward to in a state of hopelessness. The nation waited for a Gavaskar hundred the way she waited for the new Bachchan blockbuster to hit the theatres. It would be wrong to perceive them critically: there have been greater cricketers and actors, but few have moved an entire nation to the extent they have.

Here, then, is a list of cricket connections of the legend, who was himself an avid cricketer, took part in several matches involving actors, and remains a keen cricket follower:

[Note: I am deliberately leaving out the fact that he commentated during the India vs Pakistan match in ICC World Cup 2015.]

1. A Sunny award

Filmfare started giving out Raj Kapoor Award for Lifetime Achievement (later the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award) in 1990; Bachchan was named the first recipient of the award (ahead of Lata Mangeshkar). No prizes for guessing who handed the award over to him: Gavaskar. As Bollywood historian Diptakirti Chaudhuri mentioned, The Little Master, always one for jokes, tried to tiptoe to equal the recipient’s frame…

2. Of Vijays and Wasims

A monologue from Namak Halaal (1982). No explanation required, barring the facts that:

a) Neither Vijay Merchant (then 18) nor Vijay Hazare (then 14) came anywhere close to playing cricket in Melbourne in 1929.

b) Both Wasim Raja and Wasim Bari played at Wankhede in 1979-80, but there was not a single run out in the Test.

“In the year 1929 when India was playing Australia at the Melbourne stadium Vijay Hazare and Vijay Merchant were at the crease. Vijay Merchant told Vijay Hazare: ‘Look, Vijay Hazare Sir, this is a very prestigious match and we must consider it very prestigiously. We must take this into consideration, the consideration that this is an important match and ultimately this consideration must end in a run.’ In the year 1979 when Pakistan was playing against India at the Wankhede stadium Wasim Raja and Wasim Bari were at the crease and they took the same consideration. Wasim Raja told Wasim Bari: ‘Look, Wasim Bari, we must consider this consideration and considering that this is an important match we must put this consideration into action and ultimately score a run.’ And both of them considered the consideration and ran and both of them got out.”

3. Andy Roberts!

Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) was yet another Manmohan Desai blockbuster that is usually scoffed at by critics (but loved by us: what would they understand of three long-lost brothers donating blood simultaneously to the mother they do not recognise?). The movie involved a rendezvous between Inspector Amar Khanna (Vinod Khanna) and Anthony Gonzalves (Bachchan) when the former came in pursuit of the gang-lord Robert (Jeevan) at the Anthony’s den. The following conversation ensued:

Amar: Robert kahaan hai? (Where is Robert?)

Anthony: Robert? Kaun Robert? Oh, woh fast bowler Andy Roberts? Are saab, match khatam hua, West Indies chala gaya, apun se saala milke bhi nahin gaya. (Robert? Which Robert? Oh, the fast bowler Andy Roberts? Sir, he returned to West Indies as soon as the match got over: he did not even bother to meet me before leaving).

[Note: Roberts never played in India after January 1974-75, though he played them at home in March 1976.]

4. Hrithik takes centrestage

Though the great man is not seen playing, or even mentioning the sport in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, it perhaps has the most cricket references. The movie (almost) opens with a scene depicting Rohan Raichand (Hrithik Roshan) hitting a six off the last ball of the match to pull off a sensational victory, albeit to an extremely defensive field placement. Cricket keeps coming back in the movie with Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) and Rohan listening to audio commentary of an India-England encounter. Anjali Sharma (Kajol) is also seen celebrating an India victory.

5. At the Academy Awards

Lagaan (2001), the third Indian movie to make it to the Academy Awards shortlist (after Mother India and Salaam Bombay!), was based on a cricket match between Champaran Cantonment and the villagers of Champaran. Who else but Amitabh Bachchan as a background narrator for a magnum opus of that order?

6. Shaan se…

Once again, a Diptakirti find: when Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) tries to woo Asha (Katie Mirza) in Shaan in the absence of Sunita (Parveen Babi) he promises a married life with a son and a daughter. While the daughter was supposed to be a doctor, the son was expected to be a cricketer “like Sunil Gavaskar”…

[Check from 11.00]

7. At Miss World’s

This may be a far-fetched connection. Miss World 1994, held at Sun City, featured the usual elite panel of judges. Along with Amitabh Bachchan was a certain Fanie de Villiers, who, as per The Center Fresh Book of Cricket Lists, became a fan of the Indian legend after they got to know each other.

[Trivia: Aishwarya Rai, crowned Miss World that year, went on to become Bachchan’s daughter-in-law 13 years after the award.]

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)