The 1970s was a prolific period for the Hindi-language movie industry, in what is now often referred to as the Classic Bollywood era of Indian cinema. It was also a period of initial stagnation and subsequent change, with the industry going through a period of stagnation due to the production of so many musical romance films, and audiences craving something different.
That change came in the shape of gritty and often violent crime thrillers, action movies that kept cinema-goers both entertained and on the edge of their seats. It also propelled actor Amitabh Bachchan to Bollywood superstardom, permitting him to demonstrate a much broader range of acting talents, which had arguably been stifled in earlier roles that weren’t best suited to his capabilities.
Renowned for the “Angry Young Man” roles he often portrayed during the 70s, Bachchan went on to become one of the most influential figures of Indian cinema, an icon who earned countless national and international awards for his work. Still a huge figure in the cinema industry today, at the age of 76, we take a look at three classic movies he starred in back in the 70s, during the very peak of his fame, all of which are free to watch on YouTube.
The Great Gambler (1979)
When this movie was released, Amitabh Bachchan was essentially a guarantee of box office success, meaning that production companies were prepared to take greater risks with their budgets. The Great Gambler was shot in various international locations around the world, with scenes shot on location in Cairo, Lisbon, Venice and Rome, in this globe-trotting action thriller. Although initial box office success was less than expected, this movie has since become a cult classic that is fondly regarded by reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes.
What makes The Great Gambler so memorable, making it achieve cult status over the years, is that Bachchan plays not one but two roles. As the expert gambler Jai, he plays a character who has never been beaten at the card table, someone who always knows when to double down or split, terms that are fully explained in the Betway blackjack guide. However, such skill with the cards gets him involved with the wrong people, keen to exploit his talents for the advancement of their own nefarious aims.
After Jai bankrupts a rival at the card table, an underground don makes the most of the situation, blackmailing the loser into providing top-secret plans for a super-weapon to clear his debt. This gets Jai involved in an international conspiracy, alerting the attention of the Indian police and Inspector Vijay (also played by Bachchan), a look-alike of Jai sent to prevent the don from realizing his dastardly plans. Jai and Vijay cross paths in Rome, where they agree to work together and, eventually, the thrilling twist to the tale is revealed.
Hera Pheri (1976)
Considered to be a “superhit” at the Indian box office, Hera Pheri is one of several movies that saw Bachchan and Vinod Khanna star together, with both actors rapidly rising to the peak of their fame and practically guaranteeing success for production companies at the time. Fans of the duo filled theatres and as The Hindu Times also recollects, Khanna was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award, while Bachchan remained the headlined name of the cast.
In this story, Vijay (Bachchan) and Ajay (Khanna) are small-time crooks, modern-day Robin Hoods who target wealthy targets. Their great friendship and working partnership are soon put to the test, when Vijay discovers a tragic secret from his past surrounding the mysterious death of his father, learning that Ajay’s own father was the murderer. Mixing action, comedy and romance in true Bollywood style, how they deal with the revelation is what makes Hera Pheri a Hindi cinema classic.
It’s often quite difficult to find Hera Pheri via many of the VOD and streaming services online but, thankfully, fans of Hindi cinema can watch the full movie for free on YouTube. It’s also an opportunity to watch the great chemistry between Bachchan and Khanna in action, given they were great friends on and off the silver screen.
Still regarded as one of the greatest Bollywood action-adventure movies of all time, boasting a highly positive 8.2 reviewer rating at IMDB, this mid-70s classic is often seen as one of the keynote movies that set Bachchan well on the way to Indian superstardom. Due to such popular demand, even to this day, an updated 3D version of this classic and iconic Hindi cinema movie was released in 2014.
Sometimes referred to as a “Curry Western” by audiences in the West, Sholay is an action-thriller with an all-star cast which, in its own culturally unique way, captures the essence of what made Spaghetti Westerns and Samurai Cinema so popular internationally during the 70s. Gunfights and fistfights, action and drama, heists and chases; this movie assembled the most famous all-star cast of Hindi cinema at its prime and remains a firm favorite.
According to some estimates, Sholay remains one of the highest grossing Hindi releases of all time; mostly thanks to achieving both domestic and international success. It’s also one of the most definitive examples of “masala” cinema from the era, combining several genres in one production. Finding DVD copies of the movie online, either the original 1975 release or the 2014 updated 3D version, isn’t particularly difficult. However, even better is that the original version is also available online for free at YouTube.