Amitabh-Jaya: A golden jubilee to remember

Amborish Roychoudhury retraces the story of Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan's coupledom, on screen and off

Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri became a couple on 3 June 1973. (Photo courtesy:
Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri became a couple on 3 June 1973. (Photo courtesy:

Amborish Roychoudhury

Someone had scribbled ‘paisewaali’ on the wall beside her apartment door, the journalist noticed. This must be Jaya Bhaduri’s flat, he reckoned. He was standing on the second floor of Beach House Park, a suburban residential society at the far end of Juhu.

That day he interviewed a vivacious girl with long, flowing hair. There were other industry colleagues living in the same building, she told him. Colleagues like Rekha. They were friends. She spoke about the actors who had made a strong impression on her: Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Shashi Kapoor… the only newcomer on her list was a lanky young actor called Amitabh Bachchan. “What a voice!” she said.The year was 1971.

Even before many of her Hindi films hit the theatres, Jaya Bhaduri was the talk of tinseltown. She had debuted as a gushing teenager in Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (1963), following which she headed straight for the hallowed halls of the film institute at Pune (now known as FTII), where she was trained in the ‘method’ of Stanislavski. She graduated with a gold medal and was almost immediately recruited by Hrishikesh Mukherjee for his new film, Guddi, in which she was paired with the aforementioned lanky young man.

In a 2014 interview given to Filmfare, Tanuja narrated her experience of meeting Amitabh Bachchan for the first time: “I first met Amit at a club at the Taj. He looked handsome and was dancing with his then-girlfriend, model Sheila Jones. I asked him, ‘Why don’t you join films?’ He replied, ‘I’ve come here to join films.” Much like Jaya, Amitabh was attracting the right kind of attention, and was a familiar face within the industry even during his ‘struggling’ phase.

There are stories of him being rejected for his unconventional looks and his voice. But the fact is, even as early as 1971 he was being touted as one of the stars to watch out for. He was lending his voice to films by legends like Mrinal Sen (Bhuvan Shome, 1969), and the role of Dr. Bhaskar Bannerjee in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971) had given him a fillip.

Film magazines followed his exploits and details about his love life. He was, at the time, dating a model by the name of Sheila Jones. Reportedly, she had participated in the Miss India contest in 1972.Both Amitabh and Jaya ‘spotted’ each other before they actually met in person. When she was a student at the film institute, he had visited the campus as part of a delegation led by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, the man who gave Amitabh his first acting break. She was impressed enough to remember him.

Amitabh-Jaya: A golden jubilee to remember

Amitabh claims to have first seen her on the cover of a magazine. He was taken in by the large eyes and long tresses of this ‘Bangaalan’, and struck by her allure—the perfect balance of Indian tradition and a modern, urbane sensibility. Amitabh himself was a product of these two elements. While his mother Teji Bachchan was a convent-educated woman with a liberal, Western outlook, his father, famed Hindi litterateur Harivansh Rai Bachchan was a traditionalist. Young Amitabh could see these two worlds converging on the face of this girl, Jaya Bhaduri. 


They first met on the sets of Guddi, for which Hrishikesh Mukherjee had plucked Jaya straight from the film institute campus. Mukherjee wanted to pit this new ‘discovery’ of his opposite Amit, who had impressed him with his virtuosity in Anand.

On the very first day, they bonded over their very contrasting heights. Her 5-foot-1.5 inch frame was an antithesis to his 6 feet and 2 inches. She christened him ‘Lambu’ while he started calling her ‘Gitku’. Bachchan was eventually replaced by a Kolkata import, Samit Bhanja (Hrishikesh had wanted a fresh-face Amitabh, who by then had become something of a mini celebrity with the success of Anand).

Nevertheless, Jaya and Amitabh were cast opposite each other in two films that released close on the heels of one another: Bansi Birju and Ek Nazar (both in 1972). Before the year was out, they were smitten.Ever since he rejigged the cast of Guddi, Hrishikesh Mukherjee was waiting for an opportunity to cast Amit and Jaya together again. This came with Raag Ragini, a script he had written way back in 1955, based on the life of a couple he knew, both singers, who allowed professional jealousy to eclipse their love for each other.

Hrishi-da had been trying to make it for a while, but it was only now that the time seemed right. An interview of Amitabh Bachchan in a Filmfare issue from December 1972 states that he ‘sat talking outside the Raag Ragini set. In the last couple of hours, he had given shots, bantered with director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, had a bit of shut-eye to make up for yesterday night’s late shooting, lunched with co-star Jaya Bhaduri and writer-director Gulzar and listened to Inspector Eagle on the radio.’

The interview also mentions that Hrishi-da ‘is currently directing him in Raag Ragini and in another film with Rajesh Khanna’. This other film may have been Namak Haraam (1973). 


At some point during the making of Raag Ragini, Amit and Jaya, both of whom had started regarding Hrishikesh Mukherjee as their mentor, decided to produce the film. By now, the film had been re-titled Abhimaan. They formed a company exclusively for the purpose of backing that film, and called it ‘Amiya Productions’. The title was famously derived from their own names. If that isn’t a mark of love blooming, what is? But love, as they say, is a many-splendoured thing.

Chupke Chupke

Around the same time, a popular film magazine chose to speak to Amitabh about his love life, and produced this bizarre piece: ‘Amitabh admits that Jaya is his “number one girl”. But he wouldn’t like to call her his “steady girl”. For the simple reason he still dates other girls (usually when Jaya is outstation shooting). Sheila Jones included! Jaya, on the other hand, never goes out with anybody other than her Lambuji… To which Amitabh says, “She is free to go out with whoever she likes… I have never asked her not to see anyone else”.’

Then, Zanjeer (1973) happens. It rewrites all the record books. In one fell swoop, the film flings Amitabh Bachchan to the top of the heap. The whole nation loses its marbles. He is suddenly the cynosure of all eyes. So far, it was Jaya Bhaduri, the film institute graduate and Ray protege, who was the bigger star of the two by a long shot.

She was much sought-after, and the darling of the middle class. It was as if the whole ‘girl next door’ image was invented by her. But Zanjeer, in which she also starred, altered the dynamic. It was Amitabh with the crown on his head. People were eating out of his hands. Jaya and he had decided to go on a trip to London if the film worked out well. Now that it had, it was time to execute the plan.

But Amit’s parents put their foot down. He could go off to London with Jaya, but only after they were married.Marriage was anyway in the offing, they just had to bring it forward. ‘Amiya’ tied the knot on 3 June 1973. On 27 July 1973, Abhimaan was released and almost overnight dubbed a superhit.  When the film began, Jaya and Amitabh were two actors who chose to produce their mentor’s film. By the time the last shot was canned, they were married.

Jaya, now a Bachchan, became picky about her roles. She had two films coming up, Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Phagun and Raghunath Jhalani’s Anamika, which was to feature one of the most recognisable songs of her career: “Bahon mein chale aao”. Amitabh had Namak Haraam to look forward to—his second outing with Rajesh Khanna and Hrishikesh Mukherjee after Anand. The year looked promising for the young couple. 

In 1974, one year after their wedding, the same journalist we began this story with, met Jaya once more. As he stood filling the visitors’ slip, scribbling, ‘To meet Mrs. J. Bachchan. Business: Prying’, Jaya summoned him inside. He caught her in the middle of household minutiae, instructing Amitabh’s secretary to call the electrician so he could fix a wire. Amitabh had turned vegetarian, she said. He was to go to Kashmir for Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie, and Jaya planned to tag along. As they spoke, Shweta toddled in, and began spouting her babytalk. Life had changed. A whole new journey beckoned.

The year 1975 saw the power couple starring in three well-beloved movies, Mili, Chupke Chupke and Sholay. They would star together again only in Silsila (1981). Slowly but surely, Jaya Bachchan got busy with the kids. Amitabh Bachchan charted his own course.

Years later, in March 1989, Jaya’s illustrious father, veteran journalist Taroon Coomar Bhaduri wrote in The Illustrated Weekly of India about being introduced to his future son-in-law for the first time: ‘I met Amit one night in early 1972 when he was courting Jaya. Tall, lanky, dressed in a silk kurta and lungi—his then customary casual wear—he stood near his slick Pontiac (or was it some other car?), parked a few feet away from Jaya’s flat on Juhu beach.

I was coming back from a party and, as I got down from my car, the tall man (Lambuji as he was called by Jaya) suddenly emerged from the darkness and touched my feet. I looked up to see the white figure silhouetted against the darkness. “Are you the author of—?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “It is beautiful,” he said. That was all. But the resonant voice I heard that night still haunts me.’

'Gitku' and 'Lambu' have been walking together for 50 years now.
'Gitku' and 'Lambu' have been walking together for 50 years now.

In 1983, while shooting an action scene for Manmohan Desai’s Coolie, a young actor named Puneet Issar flung a punch at Amitabh, who swung and hit his belly on a table. The family got the news that Amit had been wounded on the sets. Jaya’s father later wrote: ‘We flew to Bombay from Lucknow. All over the country, people were praying for Amitabh’s recovery.

This was something unheard of—the whole country praying for one man. But there it was.’ When Jaya took her father to Breach Candy Hospital where Amitabh lay in the ICU with a cornucopia of tubes stuffed in him, all he could muster was, “Baba, I can’t sleep.”

On the 24th of September, exactly two months after the accident, and a long, hard recovery, Amitabh was back on his feet, thanking not only his doctors and his family but also his fans for their prayers, “be it in a temple, be it in a mosque, be it in a church”.

Over the years that followed, the Bachchan household has been witness to many trials and tribulations, but ‘Amiya’ has sailed through. Back in the day, films used to celebrate a golden jubilee if they ran for 50 weeks. Lambu and Gitku have been walking together for 50 years now—the best golden jubilee they have ever been part of.   

(AMBORISH ROYCHOUDHURY is a National Film Award-winning writer, biographer and film historian)

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