When Amitabh Bachchan Walked Into Dilip Kumar’s Film

In 2003, one of the most unexpected box-office successes was BR Films’ Baghban. Unexpected because nobody thought the love story of a retired married couple powered by Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini would catch the fancy of the audience.

Moreover, what emanated from pre-release reports was that Baghban was just another version of the Rajesh Khanna-Shabana Azmi film, Avtaar which was released in 1983. Or an even older 1976 film called Zindagi with Sanjeev Kumar and Mala Sinha All these films had revolved around aging parents who’re shabbily treated by their greedy, unfeeling grown-up children.

Did anybody really want to watch Amitabh and Hema in a story they’d seen before? But few know that BR Chopra had written the entire film 20 years before Ravi Chopra actually directed Baghban. The much-respected BR Chopra had put his heart and soul into the script and he was keen to make Baghban with Dilip Kumar and Raakhee.

So, sometime in the early 80s, Mr. Chopra went over to meet Dilip Kumar to give him a full narration of it. Like the committed actor he was, the thespian was all ears as he heard the entire story, scene by scene. Sitting with him was his wife Saira Banu who was also engrossed in the narration of the script. Dilip Kumar signed on and was ready to do the film with his old friend BR Chopra with whom he’d made iconic films like Naya Daur in 1957.

But for some reason, Raakhee didn’t sign on. BR Chopra’s wife also asked him, ‘Why are you making another version of Avtaar and Zindagi?’ Discouraged, the veteran filmmaker put his script away. When his son Ravi Chopra who had directed the magnificent Mahabharat on his father’s behalf, wanted to direct a film after a long gap of 12 years, BR Chopra gave him the script of Baghban which had been lying with him ready for filming for the last 20 years.

The script was still sparkling with the chemistry of the senior couple but since it could no longer be made with Dilip Kumar and Raakhee, Ravi decided to approach Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini who came on board immediately. Before Baghban started, wife Renu Chopra was very keen to have Dilip Kumar’s blessings for her husband Ravi and for the film.

It was amusing and emotional for Dilip Kumar because he had known Ravi since he was a kid. During the shooting of Naya Daur in Budhani near Bhopal, Dilip Kumar had even bathed Ravi one day. So he happily came to a cosy function at BR Theatre, blessed Ravi and his new film. What has never been told was how Saira Banu had reacted to Baghban. When she heard that Ravi was making the film, she remembered it scene by scene especially all the romantic scenes that her husband Dilip Kumar was to have done with Raakhee.

Recall the scene where all the sons and daughters-in-law have come home for a celebration and Amitabh and Hema play perfect hosts to them? At the end of the day, with no pillow or bed for themselves, Amitabh sleeps on the floor and puts out his left arm and Hema cuddles up and sleeps in the crook of his arm. Another scene where Hema and Amitabh who have been poignantly separated by their unfeeling children, sneak away and meet at the railway station, from where he tells her, we don’t need them, let’s run away from them.

After the pain of their separation, when Amitabh meets Hema at the station, he pulls out a rose that he’s hidden in his pocket for her. Even 20 years later, Saira could recall all those heart-tugging romantic scenes. She told Ravi that they were so beautiful, they’d stayed embedded in her memory. Saira was right.

Because it was these intensely romantic scenes that worked for the audience who found the romance in Baghban as unforgettable as Saira did.

This is Bharathi Pradhan with ‘Stories Never Told Before’. Another one, coming up soon.