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There are actors, there are stars, and then there is Amitabh Bachchan

May 5, 2014

Popular film personality Simi Garewal couldn’t be closer to the truth when she said that. The third Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) started with a bang, with Big B present in town for the launch on 1 May 2014.

Organized by Mind Blowing Films, the much awaited and much hyped IFFM launched on 1 May in Melbourne is sure living up to its reputation. Said to be the southern hemisphere’s greatest annual celebration of Indian cinema, the IFFM launch in form of a press conference was attended by a number of Indian and Australian media representatives. The key highlight of the event was the presence of one of the greatest and most influential Indian actors of all times, the iconic and legendary Mr Amitabh Bachchan whose onscreen presence has captured millions of hearts across the decades.

The press conference

Popularly claimed to be the undisputed godfather of modern Indian cinema, Mr Bachchan’s entry into the conference hall was met with applause followed by stunned silence that was soon broken with another thunderous round of applause. It was no surprise that it took the attendees a few moments of awe to recover from the fact that they were indeed looking at the man who has been instrumental in altering the course of Indian cinema in more ways than one. His presence carried an aura of dignity, grace and style coupled with humility so unique to him that could only be felt and not adequately expressed in words.

In his address, Mr Bachchan expressed delight at Melbourne holding the IFFM and said he was honored to open the festival. He assured the audience that while this was his first trip to Melbourne it wasn’t going to be the last one. Proud and happy that he chose to be here, Mr Bachchan appreciated the hospitality and the grace with which he was warmly welcomed. His trademark humility came to fore when he said that he was least accomplished to be worthy of such recognition, in the context of receiving the award of International Screen Icon.

He also said “I have always believed that cinema has been a great binder, when we sit inside a darkened hall we never ask the person sitting next to us what colour, what caste, or creed or religion he or she is, but we enjoy the same product, we laugh at the same jokes, we sing the same songs, we enjoy the same emotions and I think that very few institutions (are) left in the world that boast of such an integration when we know that the rest of the world is fast disintegrating…” What better tribute to Indian cinema could there be?

He further lauded the Australian government for using cinema as a medium to bring our two cultures and communities together and for building a stronger bond of friendship not just in the field of commerce but in our cultures as well. His saying that he was very proud to be a small member of this fraternity that is responsible in some way in executing these wonderful values is perhaps an understatement.

Also present at the launch and addressing the media were the Honorable Louise Asher MP, Minister for Innovation, Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Minister for Employment and Trade, as well as Mitu Bhowmick-Lange, IFFM Festival Director and Director of Mind Blowing Films.

The Opening Night

The opening night was sold out in no time as people thronged for a glimpse of Mr Bachchan, popularly known as the Big B, who opened the festival with Sholay 3D, one of the most cherished Indian films of all times. Looking at the crowded venue, one couldn’t tell whether it was the 3D touch to this epic film that drew the audience or was it the presence of Mr Bachchan to open the festival. If the cheering of the crowd as he stepped in, the standing ovation, the only too familiar whistles, and messages of ‘I love you’ thrown his way ever so often are any yardsticks to go by, one would be more inclined to say it was the latter.

The Minister in her address hoped the audience enjoys the film festival and said the most important thing was that the Victorian government was deeply honored that Mr Bachchan has come to Melbourne to open the film festival, much to the audience’s delight.

Mr Bachchan participated in the traditional lamp lighting ceremony that marked the inauguration of the festival. He was met with extreme warmth by those present, and addressed the audience amidst camera lights flashing, audience calling him out, singing to him, non-stop cheering and acknowledgement as words like ‘we welcome you’ could be heard loud and clear in the air despite the noise, he reciprocated with equal ardour. The unmistakable voice has not changed, nor the charisma; almost everything he said sent the audience into a frenzy.

A little girl’s question as to what was his favorite cheese was met with a response on lines of how he did not even know how many types of cheese there are in the world and how he does not have a lot of cheese. Above all, the subsequent hug she received spoke louder than words, making her day. Another fan who was about to read a poem written by Mr Bachchan’s father in his honor was so awed standing next to him that he couldn’t find the poem. Well, a lucky few would get such an opportunity; for most of us being up and close to him would at best mean standing next to his wax statue at Madame Tussauds. Sri Ram’s plight was understandable, he was given a chance to find his poem which he eventually did and read it aloud, to be acknowledged by our esteemed guest as a beautiful poem. Mr Bachchan’s subsequent recitation of his father’s poem ‘Agnipath’ to meet with an audience request was met with applause and cheer. He then proceeded to translate the poetry for the benefit of The Hon Minister Ms Asher line by line, starting with the meaning of Agnipath being the path of fire, which was very gracious on his part.

When asked to sing (as he has sung a few of his own songs in movies), he said he was not a singer and wittily attributed his success to wonderful technology that can make the most out of tune singers (referring to himself) seem to be in tune. He instead recited some lines from the poem ‘kabhi kabhi mere dil main khayal aata hai’ (the original poem from Sahir Ludhiyanwi’s ‘Talkhiyan’ collection, on which the title song in the movie ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ was based), driving the audience into a state of euphoria.

The audience was seen reaching out to him in every possible way, waving and seeking autographs as he exited the theatre and he managed to sign a few even as he was escorted by heavy security.

The movie Sholay in 3D was screened subsequently. Even though many of us may have seen this super hit that played in a Mumbai theatre for a continuous record breaking five years, the 3D effects are certainly worth watching. As soon as Jai (the character played by Amitabh Bachchan) entered the scene, the audience gave him an instant round of applause, almost as if having just met him brought him closer to their hearts. He seemed even closer given the 3D effects.

Sholay 3D was a great choice for the premier at this festival given it was inaugurated by one of its actors Mr Bachchan, a force to reckon with in his youth as he reigned Indian cinema over decades, and one who continues to be adored even today when he is all of 72 years old. Overall a gripping, entertaining and an enjoyable film that is worth a dekko. The 3D effects have taken this film to newer heights just as the charm of the film remains exactly the same.

The IFFM and Mr Bachchan’s visit are being given noteworthy coverage by local Australian media as well. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald – a reputed Australian newspaper – Mr Bachchan referred to the movie Sholay as one that’s now becoming an iconic film. On being asked how different was it for him to return to acting after he had stepped away for periods of time (referring to the times after the accident on the sets of Coolie) , he said when he looks back it was perhaps a mistake not wanting to work thinking he needed a sabbatical to get away. He added he is happy that he is back again and is enjoying what he is doing and quipped how there are so many people that still want to risk their creativity with him.

Behind the scenes

Putting together a large scale Film Festival such as this over three years in a row is by no means a small feat. Desi Online Magazine thanks Ms Mitu Bhowmick-Lange, Festival Director, and her team for their hard work, dedication and commitment in bringing this festival to the Australian community.

The 11-day long festival showcasing over 40 films to the Australian community is a treat not to be missed.

– Lalitha Chellappan