Jabbar Patel's 'Ambedkar' ready for box-office

TOI, 21 November 2000

MUMBAI: Marathi paediatrician-turned-filmmaker Jabbar Patel, who has made highly acclaimed films like Subah, Jait Re Jait, Sinhasan and Saamna, is ready to commercially release his dream project Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Based on the life of B.R. Ambedkar, the legendary leader of India's dalits, Patel's film fetched Malayalam superstar Mammooty last year's best actor award for his portrayal of the protagonist.

Patel was forced to postpone the release of his film for want of distribution and exhibition outlets. But now the multilingual period film, spanning the distinguished leader's life from youth to death, is ready for worldwide release on December 1.

Patel, who is known as one of the most committed and serious filmmakers in Maharashtra, said that he made the film under the most trying circumstances. "The budget was a great constraint for me. The Maharashtra government, which co-financed the film, wanted Ambedkar's life story to be at par with Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. To make a period film with the kind of budget at our disposal seemed impossible. There wasn't a single spot in Mumbai where my cinematographer Ashok Mehta could place the camera to get the authentic period flavour," he said.

Braving all financial and political odds Patel completed Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in nine years. Patel started researching for the film immediately after he made a documentary on Ambedkar in 1989. Actual filming began in 1991. "I've been with Ambedkar's life for so many years that when the film was finally completed last year I felt bereft," Patel laughs.

The multi-award-winning-director, who runs a hospital with his wife near Pune, said that comparisons with Attenborough's Gandhi were odious. "That film was made at a cost of Rs 140 million in 1980. In 1991 we were sanctioned Rs 90 million by the Maharashtra and Central governments," he said.

But those who have seen Patel's film feel he has surpassed Gandhi. The whole film has been shot in sepia-brown colours at great expense. Despite the shoestring budget, Patel has shot huge crowd scenes. For a sequence showing a massive rally in Nagpur, which took place in 1956, Patel collected 1.1 million people.

Nearly 500 actors of Asian and British origin were auditioned for the title role. After scouting in Britain, Canada and the US for a suitable actor to play Ambedkar from the age of 25 to his death at 66, Patel zeroed in on Mammooty when he saw his picture in a film magazine.

The Malayali superstar not only agreed to do the role at much less than his market price, he also allotted 10 days every month until the film's completion. "Mammooty is miracle," exclaims Patel, adding "even Ambedkar devotees are bowled over by his transformation into the character."

In a nation spoon-fed on infantile fantasies of young love, does a period film on a serious political figure stand a chance? Jabbar Patel seems to think so.

"Ambedkar is a phenomenon. Forty per cent of the Indian population adores the great national leader. We got favours and concessions from everywhere. The makers of the Hollywood film Rainman had to pay a huge amount to shoot at Colombia University. But since Ambedkar was a student there we were allowed to shoot at there for a nominal fee," he said.(IANS)

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