iconimg Thursday, September 03, 2015

Subhash K. Jha (Indo-Asian News Service), PTI
Mumbai, April 12, 2005
It's time we learnt to revere our icons. India is abysmally short of archival material, literature and data on its cinematic icons. Any effort to create a lingering star-repertoire in any form or content is almost immediately stymied by doubters and cynics who see attempts to renew an icon's reputation as a threat to the status quo.

A decade ago Sanjay Leela Bhansali lost the chance to win National Awards for his first Hindi film "Khamoshi: The Musical" simply because the producers refused to enter the product. More recently, Sandeep Kulkarni's amazingly poignant Marathi film "Shwaas" lost a chance at the Oscars due to inadequate publicity abroad.

When will we learn to value the work of the icons? This isn't the first time that it's happening. And if nothing is done to prevent the outrageous desecration of modern art, it won't be the last time either.

I'm now talking about the Amitabh Bachchan retrospective being organised by the Lincoln Centre Film Society from April 8 to 19 in New York.

The shocking omission of three Bachchan classics, "Deewaar", "Sholay" and "Amar Akbar Anthony", from the Lincoln package raises several questions about the superstar's vast repertoire and how it needs to be harnessed for retrospective purposes.

Jaya Bachchan, who went all out to get the best films into this posh retrospective, is very upset by the way doors were shut on the face of a festival that's important and prestigious for the entire film industry.

"We managed to get 'Anand', 'Saudgar', 'Zanjeer', 'Abhimaan', 'Satte Pe Satta', 'Namak Halaal', 'Agneepath', 'Aks', 'Aankhen', 'Dev', 'Khakee' and, of course, 'Black'. But we couldn't get three of the most important films."

Apparently, the distributor of "Amar Akbar Anthony", Rajiv Rai, who holds the world rights of "Deewaar", and Ramesh Sippy's nephew Sasha Sippy, who owns the rights of "Sholay", proved impediments in making the festival complete.

Sighs Jaya: "It's been a Herculean task to collect the films for the festival. Most producers have been very kind and generous. Unfortunately, some of them haven't seen the importance of the retrospective. I had major problems with 'Amar Akbar Anthony', 'Deewaar' and 'Sholay'. It's such a pity... but these are landmark films of Amitabh Bachchan. They won't be shown at the festival in New York. These are three classics that are an integral part of Amitji's repertoire.

"I offered to pay for the print, subtitling, everything. That's what I did with many of the films, including 'Anand', 'Abhimaan', 'Saudagar', 'Zanjeer'... I've promised to preserve them and not use them for commercial purposes and every time I take them out of the country I'll inform the producers.

I was willing to follow the protocol. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough for some. What can we do? It's a problem we'll face whenever there's a festival of Amitabh Bachchan's films."

The prestigious package handpicked by the biggest connoisseur of Bachchan flicks, Jaya Bachchan, contains 12 of the actor's vintage neo-classics from "Anand" (1970) to "Black" (2005).

In between these two brilliant brackets are such favourites of Jaya as the little-known "Saudagar" directed by celebrated art director Sudhendu Roy, today's hot shot art director Sharmista Roy's father, and the late Mukul Anand's "Agneepath" for which Amitabh Bachchan won a National award.

Said Bachchan: "It's imperative that we learn to value our cinema as historic signposts rather than passing whims and fancies. Until and unless we take ourselves seriously how do we expect other countries to look at us with any amount of seriousness?"