By: ASJAD NAZIR
ON MARCH 3, 1972, a comedy road movie titled Bombay To Goa was released.
Although it didn’t feature in the list of that year’s most successful Bollywood releases, the impact it would make on the Indian cinematic landscape was immense.
It became a cult comedy classic and kickstarted then newcomer Amitabh Bachchan’s rise to becoming the greatest Indian movie star of all time. The film also included a game-changing moment which went unnoticed at the time, but was revealed decades later.
To mark 51 years of the iconic movie, Eastern Eye took a deep dive into the influential entertainer which still provides plenty of laughs over half a century later.
After struggling to get his big break, Bachchan finally made his acting debut in Saat Hindustani (1969), playing a character named Anwar Ali Anwar. Coincidentally, the film also starred an actor called Anwar Ali, who was the youngest brother of established star Mehmood. Both men struck up a close friendship, which became a lifelong bond.
Meanwhile, Mehmood had established himself as the leading comedian in Indian cinema and had also produced successful films like all-time classic Padosan (1968), a remake of Bengali language comedy Pasher Bari (1952).
For his home production Bombay to Goa, Mehmood decided to remake 1966 hit Tamil film Madras to Pondicherry, starring popular funny man Nagesh, whom he greatly admired. Mehmood worked on all aspects of his film, including the music, writing, picking the crew, filming and most importantly, the casting.
Bachchan had delivered an award-winning performance in emotional drama Anand (1971), but it hadn’t ignited his career. However, his friendship with Ali resulted in Bachchan meeting his older brother. After being immediately struck by the tall actor’s looks, height, and impeccable manners, Mehmood would start mentoring him.
When future politician Rajiv Gandhi and actor Jeetendra both turned down the chance to play the lead role in the film, Mehmood cast Bachchan in Bombay To Goa. Ali also recommended Shatrughan Sinha to take on the villain’s role, and was himself cast as the bus driver.
Talking about the film some years later, Bachchan recalled, “For some reason he (Mehmood) always believed in me and would address me as Danger Diabolic. Never asked him why and how he arrived at this name.”
The story of a woman (Aruna Irani) on the run who hides out on a bus as it goes from Bombay [now Mumbai] to Goa, was filled with comic actors, headed by Mehmood himself as the conductor and the biggest star in the movie.
S Raamanathan had made a name for himself in Tamil cinema and was brought into direct – he would later make Mahaan in 1983, with Bachchan starring in the only triple role of his career.
The initial plan was to shoot portions of the movie during a real journey from Bombay to Goa, but the lights inside the bus over-heated within hours, and that plan was quickly abandoned.
“We decided to do all the bus sequences on a back projection screen in a Madras [now Chennai] studio, and did most of the land sequences in Belgaum,” Bachchan said.
The biggest challenge for Bachchan was shooting a musical number with leading lady Aruna Irani, and he admitted he felt embarrassed trying to match steps with her. He recalled in a blog that the choreographer beat him with a stick so he learned the steps in the morning of the shoot:
“Dance master and choreographer PL Raj (Devraj Lewis), his son the famous musician Leslie Lewis, stick in hand, beat the hell out of me to learn the steps. Knees lacerated, bleeding, tying them up with a handkerchief to prevent further damage, and not informing the crew for fear of being thrown out of the film, carrying on and trying to deliver,” Bachchan revealed.
Ali recalled how shooting for the dance songs would give Bachchan sleepless nights. The movie’s most famous number, Dekha Na Hai Re, was shot indoors in the studio with a back projection, and saw him deliver an unforgettable solo performance. The entire cast stood by to encourage him while he performed the song and Bachchan never forgot the strength he drew from that camaraderie. He said: “Mehmood bhai urged me on to dance and give it my all.”
Despite the movie being a musical comedy, the most significant moment came during a fight scene. Zanjeer (1973) was in pre-production, with top writing duo Salim-Javed looking for a lead because the biggest actors had turned down the role, and they spotted something specific.
Bachchan recalled: “Salim-Javed saw a fight sequence in the film where I was chewing gum throughout the fight as an indicator that I would be the right choice for Zanjeer. Goodness me, thank God for chewing gum and thank God that Salim-Javed noticed it.”
The actor would be cast in Zanjeer, which would become a blockbuster success later that year and turn him into the hottest property in Bollywood.
With Raamanathan directing, and the movie being shot at a Madras studio by local technicians, Bombay To Goa helped build a bridge between Bollywood and south Indian cinema, which is still going strong today.
When Bombay To Goa came out, it became a critical and commercial success. The film was filled with fantastic funny moments, including those with a snake on the bus. It remains beloved today and was the first big step for an actor who would become a cinema giant.
Many years later, actor Chunkey Pandey wanted to remake it, with him playing Mehmood’s character and Abhishek Bachchan reprising his father’s role.
Like many, Jackie Shroff is a fan of the movie and had said: “Bombay To Goa is one of the most iconic films I have ever seen. Everything was there, including intrigue, full-on comedy, romance, deceit, and brilliant characters.”
Special thanks to Dharmesh Patel.