Jaya Bachchan


Of all the actress' of Bollywood's bouffant 70s era Jaya Bachchan (Bhaduri) would be the one voted; "Most Likely to be the Girl you Take Home to Meet Mom and Dad". She has that genuine and sincere quality that the parent's love to see.

There is a fortitude and level-headedness in her gaze and demeanor. She displays a silent refined non-plussed intelligence. The plot my be throwing Jaya for a loop through seemingly insurmountable odds but the quiet gaze of her often downcast eyes presents us with a mind actively (internally) searching for solutions as opposed to a spirit victimized and submissive. One could misinterpret her demeanor as submissive and victimized but there is decorum in her manner that transcends such stereotypes and elevates it to a silent dignity backed by integity of spirit.

When Jaya entered films with Guddi in the early 1970s, chic but torturously coiffed and elaborately made-up heroines (Sharmila, Mumtaz et al) ruled the roost. Jaya, with her unpretentious looks but palpable talent, was a gale of fresh air and proved immensely popular. Despite an abbreviated-by-marriage career span initially, Jaya became a major star, acted in a string of hits. She hacked a path for deglamourised heroines like the contemperaneous Archana (in Jaya's mentor Hrishikesh Mukherji's Buddha Mil Gaya) followed by Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Deepti Naval.

The often briskly outspoken actress was born to noted author-journalist Taroon Kumar. Acting opportunites came Jaya's way early. She was still in her teens when she acted in Satyajit Ray's Kolkata classic Mahanagar [1963]. Another Bengali film, Dhanni Meye, fetched her a share of the spotlight. After a stint at the Film and Television Insitute of India, Pune, Jaya was offered several Hindi movies.

Hrishikesh Mukherji came down to Pune to meet Jaya at her pricipal's recommendation and signed her on for the titular role in Guddi [1971]. Jaya was a huge success as the filmstar-crazy teen tornado who reluctantly gives up her obsession for matinee idol Dharmendra as she finds herself drawn to the man next door. Jaya's art held little artifice and she could project wide-eyed innocence without a false note. Guddi's giggly, girlish character became closely identified with Jaya. Though it sometimes constricted the range of roles she was offered, it made her a star.

Though Jaya did her share of commercial films subsequently (eminently successful ones like the 1972 frothy musical Jawani Diwani), she seemed more at home with middle of-the-road cinema of Hrishikesh Mukherji and Gulzar. Playing a peripheral role as Dharmendra's dolled-up girlfriend in the hit Samadhi was not her forte.

In Gulzar's Parichay [1972], she could have been satisfied with portraying yet another extension of her popular Guddi persona, but Jaya worked hard on deciding the mannersims of an obstinate but insecure motherless girl. She struck a great working relationship with Gulzar, whom she called Bhai [brother]. He gifted her with an extremely challenging role in his next Koshish [1973], as part of a deaf and mute couple (opposite Sanjeev Kumar), bravely trying to overcome their disadvantage.

Jaya's initial films with Amitabh (Ek Nazar and Bansi Birju), made few ripples at the box-office. But May 11, 1973 saw the release of Zanjeer, whose immense success would change their lives forever. Jaya had a largely unremarkable 'girlfriend' role in the film, but playing the angry young man of Zanjeer transformed Amitabh into a mega star.

Jaya won another Best Actress Award for her performance in the marital strife drama, Kora Kagaz [1974]. That year, she also gave birth to daughter Shweta and her priorities changed. She wrapped up her last few assignments, like Mukherji's Mili and Chupke Chupke and the Ramesh Sippy blockbuster Sholay [all released in 1975]. Son Abhishek was born soon after and Jaya concentrated on bringing up her children.

Jaya did make a comeback with Yash Chopra's relationship saga, Silsila [1981], giving rise to much speculation. But the film did not make too many waves. Jaya was next seen onscreen only when her children were grown up. Noted avante garde filmmaker Govind Nihalani gave her an author-backed role in Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa [1998], and Jaya adeptly picked up the threads of her acting career once again.

Since then, Jaya has won awards for her stylised but finely-tuned performances in Fiza [2000] and Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham [2001]. Both on and off screen, the one-time guddi (doll) is now a graceful grandmother.

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