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After a turbulent week, Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear starring Amitabh Bachchan, Arjun Rampal and Preity released all over India. Apart from the controversy over Jaya Bachchan and the MNS party, Rituparno's film was marred by filmmaker Muzaffar Ali's comments saying he was upset that the look of Bachchan's character had been based on him. In an interview from Kolkata, Rituparno talks about Ali, The Last Lear, working with the Big B and Jaya Bachchan.
About Ali's remarks Rituparno adds, "I deeply respect Mr Ali as a filmmaker, but in my imagination, he is best represented by the iconic image of Umraao Jaan. Ali called me up when we were having our Delhi premiere and asked for credit line and royalty, which I'm sure everyone will agree is blatantly absurd."
Apparently, it was Muzaffar's son, Shaad who informed his father about the likeness in Big B's character and him. Talking about Muzaffar Ali's statements, Rituparno says, "I know of Shaad as a warm human being, but I have no idea whether he has seen the film. And if he does, he will realise the film has absolutely nothing to do with his father. When I heard about Ali's comments; quite honestly, I was completely taken aback. Amitda's character is that of a former Shakespearean actor, who is neither a filmmaker nor a designer."
Rituparno adds, "In fact, my character Harish is contemptuous of cinema, and thinks that it is inferior to the stage. I'm told that some newspapers have carried photographs of Amitda and Ali in order to point out the similarities in appearance. Now frankly, I don't think that Amitda and Ali look alike at all and if the similarity only extends to the hair and the beard, then I'm afraid thousands of Indians can claim that I have plagiarised their looks, including M F Hussain! My immediate cultural reference is more likely to be Rabindranath Tagore than Muzaffar Ali by any stretch of imagination."
Rituparno also finds allegations that Jaya Bachchan deliberately made her remarks at the Drona press conference to stir up publicity for The Last Lear upsetting. "Allegations of this sort are never new. But honestly speaking, with the reputation of our cast and crew, we do not need publicity of this nature. On the other hand, this kind of a controversy unrelated to the content of the film only serves to prevent any intelligent discussion about the film."
Rituparno feels that Jaya's remarks were innocuous and misconstrued. "The person closest to me in that family is Jayadi and I know her very well. Knowing her, I would say that Jayadi's remarks were never driven by any intent of malice. In my opinion, a casual statement was picked up and interpreted in a provocative way. The Bachchans are very cosmopolitan and are very welcoming of various ethnicities into their family; they are not driven by narrow regional sentiments.
Also, it's worth pointing out that The Last Lear is adapted from a Bengali play, performed by actors from all over India Amitda is from UP, Preity and Arjun are Punjabi, Shefali is a Gujarati, Jisshu Sengupta and Prosenjit are Bengalis, and we have come together to make an English film. In short, it is a celebration of the plurality of our languages and cultures. That is why I find this controversy so supremely ironic."
Rituparno has worked now with all the Bachchans from Aishwarya and Abhishek to Jaya and Amitabh. Rituparno says, "Amitda was the last actor in the family to work with me. As a professional and a human being, I have learnt a lot from Amitda. At all the premieres of The Last Lear, he always insisted that his junior colleagues speak first. In today's culture of arrogance, this kind of humility coming from a person of his stature is indeed educative."