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40 years later, Amar Akbar Anthony’s larger than life symbolism still fascinates

Manmohan Desai's film has always been under the scanner for being unrealistic, but there is a larger message involved. 

Keyur Seta

If we make a list of mainstream Hindi filmmakers whose only motto has been to entertain the audience, the name of Manmohan Desai would gain the top slot. He was someone who used the mixture of action, comedy, romance and melodrama in a smart way in one film. 

Of all his films, the most celebrated one remains Amar Akbar Anthony. It starred Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor and Nirupa Roy. This film is the biggest reason why Desai is known as the pioneer of lost-and-found sagas. It’s the story of three brothers who get separated as children. Each is brought up in a different religious faith - Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Fate brings the three of them together when they grow up. 

The youth of today would identify with success of Salman Khan's action-drama Wanted (2009) as the beginning of wholesome entertainers that defied logic. These films are meant to take you on an entertaining ride while keeping realism and reasoning aside. Many of those who have grown up in the 1990s have also been exposed to lots of mindless entertainment. 

But the germ of these wholesome entertainers began way back in the 1970s, and Desai had a lion’s share in it. Labels such as mindless,’ ‘sensible,’ ‘off-beat,’ etc didn't really exist back then. There were only good films and bad films. 

In today’s time, Amar Akbar Anthony is criticised for being ‘mindless’ and rightly so. Among its various scenes, the one that comes under the scanner the most is the one where Nirupa Roy gains her eye sight due to a miracle by Sai Baba during the song 'Shirdi Wale Sai Baba.' During an interaction at a Marathi film festival, veteran actor Ramesh Deo bashed the scene for being illogical. He said, “People in the cinema hall started clapping when it happened. I felt as if their claps are hitting my cheek (getting slapped).” 

There is another instance where Amar (Khanna), Akbar (Kapoor) and Anthony (Bachchan) donate blood to Roy’s character. They aren’t aware that she is their mother. The blood is transferred directly from their bodies to the mother’s. This sequence is criticised the most by doctors and those well-versed with the procedure of hospitals because blood cannot be transfered directly from one person to another. 

But in both these sequences one can find hidden symbolism. Sai Baba curing a blind lady is a visual reminder that miracles do happen if you have faith in God. It worked because people were more willing to suspend belief back then and hope for miracles.

The blood transfusion scene gives a hidden message of secularism. The three sons represent different faiths while their mother symbolises Bharat Mata (Mother India). In other words, people of all faiths are needed to keep the nation alive. Desai himself had explained this once in an interview. Needless to say, this was also the motto behind the film. 

And why not? A larger-than-life film does lend itself to larger symbolism after all. Today, even after 40 years, Amar Akbar Anthony remains one of the most iconic examples of symbolism in Hindi cinema. We can just hope that nobody mocks it by making a remake.