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Bollywood Megastar Visits Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
By Madhava Smullen   |  May 22, 2011

Legendary Indian film actor and producer Amitabh Bachchan visited Oxford University on May 17th, to attend the Distinguished Ford Lecture and a dinner, both hosted by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS).

The Bollywood megastar has won numerous major awards, including The Government of India awards, the Padma Shri in 1984, and the Padma Bhushan in 2001. France’s highest civilian honour, the Knight of the Legion of Honour, was conferred upon him by the French Government in 2007, for his “exceptional career in the world of cinema and beyond.” He was voted greatest star of stage and screen of the millennium in a BBC poll in 1999.

Mr Bachchan, 68, began his visit with a reception at the OCHS before visiting the Bodleian Library to view the Duke Humphrey’s Library, the Divinity School, and highlights of the collections including Shakespeare’s folios and Indian manuscripts. He then met with Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, beforing attending the OCHS Distinguished Ford Lecture.

The annual lecture is the highest honor given to guests by the OCHS, and is fast becoming a prestigious Oxford event.

Notably, it’s sponsored by Mr Alfred Ford and his wife Sharmila Ford, longtime supporters of the OCHS. Sharmila is a member of the OCHS Board of Governers, while Alfred is a disciple of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada and great-grandson of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford.

Last year’s lecture was given in February 2010 by Indian High Commissioner and Indian Ambassador to England HE Nalin Surie, on the philosophy of Indian Foreign Policy. This year, Rachel Dwyer—Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, University of London—spoke about Amitabh Bhachchan’s contribution to Bollywood, and examined several of his films.

Mr Bachchan then gave a twenty-minute response to the lecture, and answered questions from the audience. Oxford University has longstanding links with India, and Mr Bachchan also discussed these, as well as the University’s plans to strengthen its relationship with the country, and the developing field of Hindu studies at Oxford.

“As one of India’s greatest actors and producers, Amitabh Bachchan is in a unique position to offer the benefit of his experience,” Professor Andrew Hamilton commented, adding that he was delighted to discuss with Mr. Bachchan how Oxford could strengthen its understanding of India.

“The wonderful combination of Bollywood icon, Hindu Studies, and Oxford University is a sign of our times,” said Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director of the OCHS.

“This lecture and dinner is the OCHS’s way of acknowledging and honouring Mr Bachchan’s contribution to modern Indian culture.”

Meanwhile Neshma Shah, a second-year student at Merton College said, “With the news of Amitabhji’s first visit to Oxford spreading through the student population like wildfire, many were reflecting on how he is nothing short of a legend. On behalf of all the students, I extend a heartfelt thank you to the OCHS for creating this opportunity.”

Amitabh Bachchan himself said of his first official visit to Oxford: “It is a great honour to be received so warmly by this ancient and renowned University. I am particularly struck by the long-standing and profound links between India and Oxford, and how, through the OCHS, the field of Hindu Studies is flourishing here. I hope that my visit may serve to nurture this important relationship.”