The Big B -The International Connection
Ali Peter John
There were stars who had made it to the international level, like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand and even Mithun Chakraborty to a certain extent. Raj Kapoor was and still is a very popular name in Russia and almost all the Communist countries, Dilip Kumar was considered for some of the well-known films land in Hollywood and was almost supposed to play the role Omar Sharif was to play in “Lawrence of Arabia” but couldn’t because he was more committed to the films he was to do in India, Dev Anand had gained popularity in the West after he made “Guide” which was also made in English with the best-selling writer Pearl. S. Buck as the writer and Dev was also the hero of an English film which didn’t get the proper release and Dev continued being the legend he was in India and Mithun won the hearts of the entire country, Russia with just one film, “Disco Dancer” and people are still crazy about him and books and theses are being written about him and his work by students who are in their twenties. There was a very popular comedian, writer and filmmaker called I.S Johar who had done a couple of films in Hollywood which made in popular and the last Indian star to make it big was which was Kabir Bedi who was one of the stars in the James Bond film called “Octopussy” and he also was known for one of the Italian serials called “Sandokan” in which he played the title role…..
But, if there is one Indian star who has made a place for himself in different parts of the world, it is undoubtedly Amitabh Bachchan…..
In the late eighties, he was shooting for“Khuda Gawah”with Sridevi and Dangzonpa in Afghanistan where a major part of the film was shot. Amitabh was treated like a state guest by the then President of Afghanistan, Najibullah. He was given a royal reception all through shooting of the film as he was officially known as the guest of the President.
The kind of security he was given was the kind of honour which was only done to Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals. During the shooting, he was given security both on grounds and in the air with fighter jets flying over him wherever he shot. The President who was once a young man from Bombay and had studied at the St. Xavier’s College and was also known as a friend of Nargis was a die-hard fan of Amitabh and there was not a single day when he did not arrange a special entertainment night for Amitabh. On the last day of Amitabh’s stay in Kabul, Najibullah hosted a dinner party in honour of Amitabh and when the party ended, he presented Amitabh with a revolver gift-wrapped in the skin of a newly born goat. The two men became very good friends, but it was not to be for long because the turmoil in Afghanistan had taken a dangerous turn and Najibullah was hanged by a tree in the middle of a square by the very people who were very faithful to him till some days ago…. Amitabh is a name that is still taken with all the respect in Afghanistan.
In Egypt, which was known as the land of Omar Sharif, Amitabh took his place after he was declared the number one to ten star and the superstars of Indian Cinema. He had fans of all ages and even among people in high literary and cultural circles. The only Nobel winning writer openly declared that he had not seen a better actor than Amitabh.
Earlier when he had met with that near fatal accident, there were places in South Africa, East Africa and even in countries like Japan and Singapore that he had fans who organised prayer meetings for him to get better.
In the countries of the Gulf he was a “star among stars” and his popularity was so high that even an article written about him by a well-known film journalist from Bombay fetched a voice no other articles about anyone could fetch. There are any number of Sheikhs who are his fans and used to visit Bombay regularly and lived in all the best five star hotels only to have a glimpse of him someday and even offered middlemen any amount of money to arrange a two minute meeting with him. They are still his ardent fans, but don’t visit Bombay as regularly as they used to since the times some of the five-star hotels decided to ban some of the smaller kind of Arabs from finding accommodations in their hotels….
Amitabh was at his peak all over America, some countries in Europe, Australia, South Africa and places in London when he regularly performed at music and dance programme where he was the major highlight. There is a true story about Lata Mangeshkar who used to do shows even before Amitabh. It was at one of her shows that it was found that there was no audience to have a full house. One of the organisers, the late Kirit Trivedi was told by one of his Indian friends that the show could be saved by only one man and that was Amitabh Bachchan. The other organisers sought the permission of Lata Mangeshkar who gladly gave it to them. Amitabh who had become very popular with his song and dance number, “mere angane mein tumhara kya kaam hai”was flown down and the very announcement of his name packed all the the other shows till Amitabh had to fly back. That marked the beginning is a great and highly respectable friendship between Lata Mangeshkar and Amitabh.
In the 90’s, an entire French delegation of filmmakers were in Bombay and the only person they wanted to meet personally was Rekha. This writer had the pleasure of taking them to the Film City where she was shooting for Shashi Kapoor’s “Utsav”. They were so fascinated by Rekha that they told her that she should be in Hollywood. At the end of the meeting, Rekha asked them if they had met Amitabh Bachchan and when they showed signs of not even hearing about his name, she got very upset and said, “if you don’t know Amitabh Bachchan, you have no right to know anything about Indian Cinema”. She made the delegation feel so guilty that the next time there was a delegation from France, they made it a point to start their meetings in Bombay with Amitabh and were floored by his presence and the way he came across. Amitabh is a popular name in France…
And is there are the greatest number of fans of Amitabh anywhere, it is Pakistan where some of them have arrangements to see an Amitabh starrer before it is released in India, it is Pakistan. They once had this imaginary slogan in Pakistan, “give us Dilip Kumar and take anything from us”. The slogan was then transferred to Madhuri Dixit and now it is only Amitabh Bachchan all the way. This way, that way, or any way, they all love Amitabh Bachchan anywhere…
There was a time when the young Amitabh Bachchan used to fly in supersonic jets to reach the right country at the right time. He will be seventy-seven soon and given his determination and will power he can still do the same….
What else can I say about a man who is the busiest actor in India today, what with six films signed which will keep him busy for a long time, and he had once lightly told his friend, the Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray that he would do a full-fledged Marathi film one day and believe it or not, as I write this piece Amitabh is playing the leading role in a Marathi film called “A.B and C.D” with another veteran of Marathi films, Vikram Gokhale playing the C.D.
And what can I say about a man who has lived so many lives in one life and who now has the third or fourth generations of families and relatives working still in either “Prateeksha” or “Jalsa” and the first generation was grateful to him and the latest generation is also grateful to him. That’s why I like what a little female fan of his said about him, she who was trying to jump to catch a glimpse of him and had failed still said, “go East, go West, my Amitabh Bachchan is the best”. That little fan must be nearing fifty now, but I am sure she must still be a fan of her Amitabh together with her children and grandchildren. That is the magic I have been a very lucky man to be a witness to ever since the day I saw him sign his first film for only five thousand rupees.
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