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A Conversation That Should Have Gone On and On

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Jomo Kenyatta, freedom fighter and first President of Kenya, was famous for his wit and repartee. During a Non-Aligned Movement Summit the subject of debate was the global tension caused by the Cold War between the United States and the now defunct Soviet Union. A member helpfully pointed out that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. "But", said Kenyatta, "When they make love it is even worse".

However, when two superstars of the global film industry met recently in Mumbai the grass appeared to have turned greener. You could smell the jasmine as Amitabh Bachchan engaged Steven Spielberg in a lively conversation. The 30-minute conversation anchored by Big B saw Steven Spielberg at his charming best. He is a genius behind the camera and an extraordinarily humble and witty conversationalist in front of it. It was an engaging and endearing conversation - one which could have gone on and on. When we thought that two icons had warmed up the conversation ended - rather abruptly as far as the audience was concerned.

Had it been a ticketed performance the touts would have made a neat killing. Unhappily for the countless fans of the two towering personalities of the tinsel world it was a private party hosted by Anil Ambani and Tina Ambani for Steven, his wife and their son. His wife chose to fly directly to Delhi with their son for a bit of shopping. So Spielberg hogged all the limelight.

To be fair Amitabh Bachchan, in spite of the global recognition, is essentially a sub-continental superstar. Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, is somewhat of a cult figure in America and is counted among the greatest film-makers in the history of global cinema. He is right up there with Satyajit Ray, Akira Kurosawa and a host of other legendary film-makers. It was, therefore natural that even Amitabh seemed to be in awe of the legend while putting questions to him. Amitabh later discussed the event in his blog and described Spielberg as an institution.

Spielberg was in India to celebrate the success of Lincoln which was jointly made by his production house DreamWorks Pictures and industrialist Anil Ambani's Reliance Entertainment. Most in the Indian film fraternity were not aware that the American film-maker had visited India over 30 years ago. He was an unknown figure then and that helped him interact with the hoi poloi in India. This time he came as a celebrity and was surrounded by Mumbai-based celebrities, mostly from the film industry, during the Anil Ambani hosted events.

His first visit was connected with the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released in 1977. He came back again in 1983 to shoot parts of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
During the conversation the footprint of Bollywood in the US or rather lack of it saw Amitabh blame the India film industry for not doing enough to promote their work abroad. India leads the rest of the world in making full length feature films. Its global revenue share does not match its status as the number one film producer. It is way behind America in terms of box office collection. However, Spielberg disagreed with Amitabh and blamed American television networks for lack of interest in showing Indian movies.

However, to put the issue in perspective let us examine the body of work of the two human "super powers" (they are certainly way above being just superstars) of the global film industry. Spielberg's is remembered best for Jurassic Park, ET, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and now Lincoln. Each film is different from the other in content and treatment. Schindler's List was shot in black and white to highlight the Nazi era atrocities against the Jews. In contrast most of Big B's movies revolve around the good guy v bad guy theme. Abhiman was a rare exception. So were some other ordinary films, which flopped at the box office.

Amir Khan is closer to Spielberg than anyone else in Bollywood as far as diversity of theme of their movies is concerned. Lagaan, Dil Chahat Hai, Tarey Zameen Par, Pipli Live and 3 Idiots have nothing in common except Amir Khan. Some of them could have made it to the Oscars with a bit of luck and loads of lobbying. Spielberg mentioned having seen and liked 3 Idiots.

Several film-makers have tried to tackle the issues that bedevil relations between India and Pakistan. But the two most notable films on the subject were made by Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) and Pamela Rooks (Train to Pakistan). The only worthwhile movie on the Indo-Pak theme made by an Indian was Garam Hawa by M S Sathyu. The film was released in 1973 and the government came close to banning it instead of helping it earn global recognition! The movie should find a place of respect in the history of world cinema.

Spielberg now intends to make a movie on India and Pakistan. He has finalised a script for the movie that will be co-produced by DreamWork and Reliance Entertainment. Part of the film will be shot on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir. He will shortly finalise the cast, the other locations and the person who will direct it.

With a bit of luck Anushka Sharma should find herself a role in the yet untitled movie. She was understandably very excited about meeting "Mr Spielberg" who may let her share screen space with Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper and Richard Gere. Washington and Cooper were nominated for this year's Oscar for Best Actor.