When Ramesh Sippy pulled off the biggest casting coup in Hindi film history, bringing together Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, it was dubbed “The Biggest Casting Coup in Hindi Film History.”

Ramesh Sippy pulled off the biggest casting coup in Hindi film history
Ramesh Sippy pulled off the biggest casting coup in Hindi film history

The film industry adores a good casting coup. The larger the names on a film’s poster, the greater the audience’s interest, even before they know anything else about it. We are a little too obsessed with the stars at the movies, and with the right names on the billboard, a filmmaker has us hooked. So when Sholay director Ramesh Sippy announced Shakti, a film starring Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, it was regarded as the biggest casting coup of the time.

Amitabh Bachchan rose to prominence during the era of multi-hero films, so he was used to sharing screen time with other big names. However, Dilip Kumar, India’s first superstar, was the one who defined stardom on this side of the globe. Dilip Kumar had moved on to the next phase of his career by the time Shakti was announced, taking on projects like Kranti and Vidhata. Bachchan, too, had grown out of his ‘angry young man’ phase and was on his way to becoming an all-around star. He could do comedy, romance the ladies, and shake a leg when the situation called for it. With films like Lawaaris, Namak Halaal, Satte Pe Satta, and Yaarana, he had evolved into a more refined version of the angry young man he had first portrayed with Zanjeer and Deewar. Of course, they were the two biggest stars of their respective eras, so when they got together, there was bound to be fireworks.

Sippy was well aware of the coup he had successfully executed. “At the time, Amitabh Bachchan, who was at the top, and Mr Dilip Kumar, who was the best up to that point, we’re eager and interested in doing something different, and the timing was perfect.” “They both heard the script and both gave it their full approval without asking any questions,” he told The Hindu in 2013.

The film was directed by Ramesh Sippy, the filmmaker best known for Sholay, and despite the fact that he was still recovering from the not-so-successful Shaan, there was no doubt that Sippy knew how to put together a good film. Salim-Javed, the defining voices behind the films of the 1970s, had written the film, so in terms of names on a billboard, Shakti had everything going for it.

Shakti is the storey of a father and son for the uninitiated. A father (Kumar) who cannot see beyond his duty as a cop, and a son (Bachchan) who demands to see his father. As the son grows older, the two take diverging paths, and they soon find themselves on opposing sides of the law. The father is still devoted to his uniform, and his son is constantly pushing the envelope. Despite their underlying love for each other, their troubled relationship prevents them from being on the same page until tragedy strikes.

Shakti is nearly three hours long, but the essence of the father-son storey is contained in one scene, and watching that scene helps you understand the film’s core. This is where you can see Bachchan and Yusuf Saab at their best. After his mother (Rakhee) is killed, the son goes to his father’s house. He approaches her body in the middle of the room. Unable to hold back his tears, he casts a glance at his father, who is huddled on the floor, crying like he’s never cried before. He sits beside him, places his hand on his father’s arm, and the father and son become one at that moment. They know they are inseparable even without exchanging words, and they are there for each other in their darkest hour. Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan rip your heart out with their performance here, and you realise what all the fuss was about.

After working with Amitabh in Shakti, Dilip Kumar was in awe of him. In a 2013 interview with Filmfare, he said he was impressed “by the way Amitabh held the scenes where he had little or no dialogue and the camera was focused on him.” “I remember telling Ramesh that here is an actor who has figured out how to act for the camera,” he said.

Shakti was the only time Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan shared screen time, and Ramesh Sippy was the one who brought them together. Shakti is still remembered in the pages of cinema history, and for good reason.