Back in the 70s and 80s, Amitabh Bachchan was by far the numero uno superstar of Bollywood. Such was Bachchan mania (as it was commonly known back then), that people used to sleep outside theatres to get tickets to the early morning show for films like Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Trishul, Don, Laawaris and Namak Halaal, before setting off to their daily jobs. Big B's contemporaries and superstars in their own right like Dharmendra and Rishi Kapoor have attested to how it would be difficult to shoot due to insane crowds gathering for a glimpse of Bachchan.
Neither did Rajesh Khanna from the late 60s to the early 70s, nor Dharmedra for a short while prior to 1975 (when Amitabh's craze had begun) or the three Khans have managed to sour the kind of hysteria that the Shahenshah of Bollywood did (Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi are the only two other actors who've inspired the kid of deification among masses albeit in Kollywood and Tolylwood). However, there was a short period during the 80s when Jeetendra came mighty close to dethroning Amitabh Bachchan as the no. 1 box office star when the latter was still at his peak.
Hard to believe? Well... then today being Jeetendra's birthday, it's as good a time as any to take a stroll down memory lane and see how the birthday boy had consistently challenged the iconic Amitabh Bachchan at the box office for 4-5 years during the 80s...
The seeds for the potential dethronement were sown back in 1980 when, out of nowhere, Jeetendra's Aasha was declared a blockbuster and finished the year higher than three of Amitabh's releases, Ram Balram, Dostana and Shaan. To make matters worse, only Dostana had emerged a clean hit while Ram Balram was a semi-hit and Shaan had lost money in many territories due to extremely high distribution costs (the movie has gained cult status since then), where two other movies of Jeetuji, Jyoti Bane Jwala and Maang Bharo Sajana, were also declared hits in the same year. For the first time since 1976, an Amitabh Bachchan film has not grabbed the top spot (although Feroz Khan and Vinod Khanna's Qurbani finished that year s the no. 1 film) at the box office.
The cracks widened in subsequent years when in 1981 Jeetuji's Meri Aawaz Suno had beaten Big B's Laawaris, Kaalia and Yaarana (the first was still a clean hit though) and the following year Farz Aur Kanoon had beaten Satte Pe Satta and Shakti. However, Big B was still edging ahead with films like Naseeb, Namak Halaal and Khud-Daar overtaking Jeetu's top grossers of these years. The same thing happened in 1984, when the latter had four big hits — Himmatwala, Mawaali, Justice Chaudhury and Jaani Dost — all grossing more than the former's Nastik, but one film, Collie still allowed Bachchan to nudge ahead by the barest of margins.
The real challenge came in 1984 though when two of Jeetendra's films, Tohfa and Maqsad, grabbed the top two spots at the box office that year while Amitabh's Sharaabi, though a hit, finished after them. Moreover, it was his only hit that year while Jeetu gave another hit the same year with Akalmand. Jeetendra was also doing a lot of South remakes during this time, which were turning out to be big hits in the Hindi market, and may of these were being scripted by ace writer Kader Khan, who had previously been a part of Bachchan's camp.
The numero uno spot was ripe for the picking, especially with Bachchan not shooting for any new films post his near-fatal accident on the sets of Coolie, and his older films, which were pending in post-production, being released. As fate would have it though, two of these films, Mard and Aakhree Raasta clicked in consecutive years (1985 and 1986), when Bachchan had no other releases. On the other hand, Jeetendra witnessed a lackluster year in 85 while two of his releases in 86, Dharm Adhikai and Swarg Se Sunder, turned out to be not more than semi-hits.
Jeetendra did see two hits in 1997 courtesy Khudgarz and Aulad, but not a single Bachchan film had released that year, and by the time his next new release, Shahenshah, had rolled in the following year, the wave of public sentiment was strongly with the superstar as he was returning after a hiatus and a life-threatening mishap on set. In another three to four years, both Jeetendra and Amitabh Bachchan would be past their prime with fresh blood like Anil Kapoor, jackie Shroff ,Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, and more in waiting like Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan ready to woo both the audience and filmakers with their youthful appeal.
Nevertheless, no actor had ever come as close as Jeetendra had to dethroning Amitabh Bachchan at his peak, and it's important the Bollywood movie-buffs remember this fact before it's lost through the sands of time. It's also worth noticing the star-power and durability of Bachchan at the box office that he managed to weather the storm, even during his absence, and come back stronger to reclaim his pole position. It's was to the audience's good fortune that Hindi cinema got to see two superstars healthily compete neck-and-neck for a sustainable period, and in due course give moviegoers plenty of reason to celebrate. Happy birthday, Jeetendra saab, and thank you for entertaining us over all those years.
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