When a young, lanky man, accompanied by a friend, walked into the office of K.A. Abbas to ask for a film role, the director liked what he saw. He was tall and there was something in his eyes, he wrote. 'They were beautiful.'

Abbas offered him a role right there, told him the conditions - just Rs5,000 for the whole film, and everyone slept on the floor in a guest house. The boy agreed. But when Abbas found out his name, or rather surname, he said he would have to seek the permission of his father, 'my friend Dr Bachchan.'

The permission duly came and Amitabh Bachchan joined the film as one of the Saat Hindustani. Around the same time, he also got signed up as a deaf mute in Sunil Dutt's film Reshma and Shera. Less known is the fact that he was also a pall bearer in one scene in a film, which, when Shashi Kapoor got to know, he got it cut out.

With that not particularly glorious or high-profile start, Bachchan came to dominate the Hindi film industry, and as he turns 80 years old, he is still at it - acting, modelling and doing quiz shows on television. In between, he has been a businessman and also sung in music videos. It has been a continuous run of almost 60 years, which is unprecedented not just in India but anywhere.

Amitabh Bachchan turned 80 on October 11. His skill at reinventing himself has kept him relevant to successive generations over a period unprecedented not just in India but anywhere

During this span, he has battled with a life-threatening disease, a business that spectacularly failed and brought him to bankruptcy, accusations of secret accounts abroad and, of course, the many flops that went along with the hits. His career stalled when his kind of films began to fail and newer, younger stars emerged on the scene.

But he bounced back from all these setbacks and came back spectacularly as the host of the quiz-show, Kaun Banega Crorepati, bringing his baritone and presence to the small screen and seemingly rising above its limitations. Television was looked down upon by the other stars, who saw themselves as too big; once Bachchan did it, the others rushed in, but not one could replicate his success.

Bachchan brought an engaging and warm persona to the show, talking to the participants as a friend, with no starry airs whatsoever. The star was very much present of course, as the sheer awe on the faces of the contestants showed, but he was not being superior or smart-alecky; that seeming lack of fake self-awareness (though he is...

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