The Dadasaheb Phalke award has come a tad too late for Amitabh Bachchan. Should he get the Bharat Ratna instead?
There are no two ways about the iconic value of Amitabh Bachchan. He is just not Indian cinema’s megastar but a Leviathanic embodiment of our national consciousness and character. For his journey embodies the idea of India, from the unsure beginner struggling at the fringes to the angry young man who took on the establishment and rewrote destiny with his own ideals, and now the ripe old man of 76, who has the grandfatherly ability, familiarity and maturity to be at one with the commoner. Yet he can carry a film on silver wisps of his hair to the 100-crore club. So a Dadasaheb Phalke award, that undoubtedly is the highest honour for outstanding achievement in films, is not enough to circumscribe the aura of a man who has transcended cinema and has become an emotion in himself. Yes many film personalities have been recipients of this prestigious award ever since it was instituted in 1969. But Bachchan was kept out of the scroll for a considerably longer time while names like Jeetendra were considered though Manoj Kumar was preferred and his peers like Vinod Khanna were moved up, albeit posthumously. In fact, the Phalke awards have the dubious distinction of acknowledging stellar contributions all too late in the day, both Raj and Shashi Kapoor receiving it in their last days. Fifteen Filmfare trophies later and with each of his current roles more challenging than the other, Big B certainly doesn’t need a certificate on being the best in the business.
Considering Bachchan already has three national awards — he was conferred the Padma Shri in 1984, the Padma Bhushan in 2001 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015 — he could even qualify for the Bharat Ratna, a suggestion once made by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee but countered by Bachchan himself. But that is typical of a man who had created the mystique of stardom and once the world changed, realised that he would deconstruct it bit by bit, be it as an everyday game show host or sharing his life’s moments and musings through social media. Be that as it may, he needs to be celebrated for his originality of purpose and shaping public discourse around him. To that end, many ignore the humanitarian profile he has developed through the years, lending his heft to causes and social issues that have justifiably caught the nation’s imagination. Be it the UN pulse polio crusade, which actually registered a spike ever since his endorsement, or tuberculosis, he has devoted himself towards altruistic campaigns without even charging a penny. He dedicated himself to awareness drives and is a perennial anchor of the Clean India movement, committing himself fervently without fail and not bothering about his physical frailties. The Bharat Ratna, in recent years, has been much politicised, and in a bid to be of contemporary relevance, has been found to be worthy enough to be conferred on the likes of Sachin Tendulkar. Nobody wants to belittle the cricketer’s legacy but there were others before and will be after him. And unlike his no-shows in Parliament as a nominated notable, Bachchan has never sought political office, bowing out of politics as it was a “cesspool” that he could not wade through. Bharat Ratna is given to people “in recognition of exceptional service/performance of the highest order” in “any field of human endeavour.” Bachchan surely scores high on all these counts. Certainly no lesser than those who own that title.
Thursday, 26 September 2019 | Pioneer
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