He has virtually become a constant at Kolkata International Film Festivals’ (KIFF) inaugurations, but what the No.1 icon of Indian film industry did at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Friday not only took many by utter surprise but also earned him more respect from across the spectrum. It was the turn of the ‘women’s rights champion’ in the ‘angry old man’ to speak his mind and he did so with elan and, yes, with facts and figures, and a conviction that was clearly visible.
“Abaar eshe gechhi (here I am again)…. and today I want to talk about the rights of women.” These were the words with which Amitabh Bachchan, the Big B, started his speech and set the tone for the opening ceremony of the 22nd edition of KIFF in the presence of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and a galaxy of stars and celebrities that included the who’s who of Bollywood and Tollywood, apart from foreign delegates, including those from China, the theme country at this year’s fest.
Praising Mamata for her government’s Kanya Shree scheme and the naming of the ‘Ma Flyover’ connecting Park Circus and the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass (the chief minister was caught blushing) at the offset, Bachchan’s 30-minute speech traced the evolution of women in Indian cinema — right from 1936 to ‘Pink’, which stars Bachchan as a lawyer and a women’s rights crusader.
“By 2020, it is estimated that the average age of Indians would be 29. If we want to reap this demographic dividend, if India is to become an economic super power by 2030, it is important to give equal opportunity at work to our women,” he said.
“The word ‘mardaani’ has been derived from the word ‘mard’, which represents male valour. But why is there no independent word for female valour,” he asked, with a clear reference to the female protagonist in the film ‘Mardaani’.
As Big B pointed out phrases like ‘acchhe ghar ki ladkiyan’ — that police women’s behavior in middle class India — he touched upon how modern Indian women are changing the society for good. “Women in India have started to understand their true potential. Today, they have started to question the rules laid down by the male dominated society… from being objectified, they now wish to be recognised as individuals with equal legal and constitutional rights,” Bachchan said.
If Big B won the hearts and minds of the audience with his stirring speech, Shah Rukh Khan, the ‘badshah’ of Bollywood, cast a spell by delivering a speech in Bengali. His opening remark — “Kolkatay ashbo kintu Bangla bolbo na ta ki kokhono hoy (I will come to Kolkata but not speak in Bangla — can it ever happen?)” was lapped up with cheers.
On her part, Mamata praised Khan for his Bengali and urged him and Bollywood actress Kajol to attend the next KIFF with their families. As for Bachchan and his wife Jaya, she said, “Amitabhji is our jamai babu. We can’t think of our film festival without you and Jayaji.”
The opening ceremony was wrapped up with the inauguration of the Phase II of Mother’s Wax Museum at Rajarhat by the chief minister via remote and the launch of a book that has put all the speeches of Big B at the KIFF within two covers.