The name ‘Amitabh Bachchan’ does more for India abroad than other known symbols of India’s soft power such as the Taj Mahal, curry or the Kama Sutra, according to Rachel Dwyer, an expert on Indian cinema and culture.
Delivering the Annual Distinguished Ford Lecture 2011, Dwyer, a professor based at the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), said that Bachchan was a "great communicator of moral sentiment" through films that had won fans far beyond India.
Bachchan, who was on a visit here on Tuesday, was the respondent to Dwyer’s lecture titled ‘Amitabh Bachchan: Emotion and the Star in Hindi Film’, delivered to a nearly 300-strong audience mainly comprising students and people of Indian origin in Oxford.
The lecture was sponsored by Alfred Ford and family, who support the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS). Alfred Ford is a great-grandson of Henry Ford, the car manufacturer and Sharmila Ford, Ford’s wife, is a member of the OCHS Board of Governors.
Dwyer noted that Bachchan was uncomfortable with the word ‘Bollywood’, but used the word several times in her lecture that dwelt on the importance of emotion and Bachchan’s contribution to Indian cinema in the genres of romance, comedy, and the angry young man.
Bachchan is known to prefer the use of ‘Indian film industry’ than ‘Bollywood’, since the latter resonates with Hollywood. He believes that Indian films have their unique identity that need not be clubbed together with Hollywood. It was for the first time that Bachchan’s famous dialogues and songs such as ‘Kabhi kabhie mere dil mein khayal ata hai’ and ‘Kajara re’ were played in the historic venue of the lecture, the Examination Schools building constructed in 1882, which is the venue of final year exams of the university students.
Dwyer used clips from films to analyse Bachchan’s career, his film-names ‘Vijay’ and ‘Amit’, and said that emotion was a key feature of not only Indian films but of Indian-ness itself.
Responding to the lecture, Bachchan said that since the 1950s and 1960s when Indian films were considered infra dig by parents, it had come a long way today.
"Every time a nation does well economically, many aspects such as clothing, music, food, culture suddenly become important. The west saw Indian cinema with cynicism, but now the very factors that were criticised earlier are seen as unique. There is a vast patronage to Indian cinema abroad," said Bachchan.
Reflecting on his 42 years in Indian cinema, Bachchan said, "It has been a marvellous journey. I am fortunate to have worked with people such as K A Abbas, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Manmohan Desai, Yash Chopra, Salim-Javed. I am proud that Indian cinema has rapidly made inroads in different parts of the world."
Bachchan said Indian cinema halls symbolised the kind of integration that was fast losing ground in other parts of the world.
"When we sit, laugh, cry and enjoy the same songs, we don’t ask who is a Hindu or Muslim or Christian. There are very few such examples in the world where cinema halls bring about such integration. This is still being patronised in the spirit of togetherness, friendliness and peace," Bachchan said.
The average age of people on film sets, he said, was now 25, and added that he would enter the 70s next year. He, however, regretted that the urban youth in India today was "perhaps drifting away from the deep-rooted principle" of looking after parents.
He said his main ambition had been to earn enough to be able to look after his parents. But now the urban youth, he said, faced alienation from parents, which is why ‘Baghbaan’, the film in which he played the main protagonist, touched emotional chords the world over.
Speaking mainly in English to an audience that comprised many Indian-origin people who were born and brought up in Britain, Bachchan also narrated extracts from his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s famous poem, Madhushala, and also translated the lines into English.(PTI)