From childhood stardom as “Egypt’s Shirley Temple” to her present position as a living legend of the silver screen, actress and producer Faten Hamama has eloquently represented and advanced the standing of woman in Egyptian society, over the course of a long and accomplished career. In doing so, she has become an international icon, a symbol of pride, strength and artistic virtuosity.
Exactly seventy years ago, Hamama made her big-screen debut, playing a chirpy young girl in the movie ‘Yawm Said’ (‘Happy Day’). Her natural charm and vivacity not only endeared her to a swiftly-besotted public, but to the Cairo film industry, on the verge of its own Golden Age. As her characters blossomed into adulthood, producers and directors quickly realized that in Hamama, they had found an actress possessed of profound emotional power and presence. As she progressed into more dynamic roles, Hamama’s reputation as a principled actress of rare talent grew. When she kissed Omar Sharif on screen in 1954’s ‘Sira’ Fi Al-Wadi’ (1954) her popularity soared to unprecedented heights – especially when she married her leading man the following year. (The couple divorced 20 years later).
Films such as ‘Dua’e Al-Karawan’ and ‘Imbratoriyat Meem’ charted Hamama’s ever-increasing influence and appeal. However, it was the landmark ‘Oridu Hallan’ in 1974 which really shook the establishment up, through a story line dealing with a wronged wife seeking redress against her abusive husband. Such was the strength of public sentiment following its release, Egyptian policymakers swiftly acted to repeal anachronistic legislation and finally granted wives the right to initiate divorce. It’s this masterpiece, along with the equally groundbreaking ‘Mouths And Rabbits’ with which we honour her at DIFF 2009. A actress of true distinction, Hamama’s pioneering work remains an inspiration to successive generations of cineastes, actors and audiences in the Middle East and beyond.
Trying to summarise the adventures, achievements, accolades and activities of the distinguished Mr Amitabh Harivansh Bachchan would take us most of the day, much of tomorrow and most likely, much of the weekend as well. And that would be just the films. For everything else… well, how long do you have?
For, the life and career of this ebullient 67-year old has been a roller coaster ride of global fame, artistic achievement, political activity, social advancement, all illuminated by ever-increasing degrees of global fame and renown. Today, forty years since his first film, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’s ‘Saat Hindustani’, Bachchan’s shadow looms large across contemporary Indian culture. Yet, despite the global acclaim, the man himself remains a humble, down-to-earth kind of living legend, a mellow star of the old school, whose innate elegance and poise continue to inspire and delight his legion admirers around the world.
For Bachchan is, quite simply, the biggest cinema star on the planet. In terms of star power, no-one alive can hold a candle to him. When the BBC conducted a global poll, in 1999, to find their international audience’s ‘Greatest Star of the Millennium’, the ‘Big B’ was number one with a bullet. Indian film awards Filmfare have awarded him their always hotly-contested ‘Best Actor’ award 28 times. (That’s a record). He’s also picked up Best Supporting Actor nine times (that is, too). Showered with prestigious honours and accolades from countries around the world, now in his late 60s, he is showing no sign of slowing down and taking it easy. On the contrary – Bachchan is still as productive as ever – following a recent revival in his cinematic fortunes, a spell as TV presenter for the Indian version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ has elevated him to even greater heights of fame and popularity.
Bachchan, in forty years film-making, today has the world at his feet. And thanks to a hectic schedule, and any number of activities on different fronts, he continues to delight fans and critics around the world. This year, we honour Amitabh with screenings of two of his finest performances – 2004’s ‘Black’ and the heartbreaking ‘Silsila’ from 1981. Two films, one powerhouse presence and an adoring world - with our Lifetime Achievement Award, we honour a true legend of global cinema.