Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Name is Amitabh Bachchan, and I am Not a Moralist

My Name is Amitabh Bachchan, and I am Not a Moralist
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Amitabh Bachchan, India’s living film icon was recently at the centre of controversy when Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who heads a Congress led government, invited the actor at an official function.

The Maharastra Chief Minister went by the criteria that the actor is the citizen of Mumbai, a national figure, and some one who fitted all the parameters for being the guest of honor. He had the least clue that the party high command may not approve his invitation to and his innocent liking for Bachchan may put him in a spot.

Ever since Bachchan accepted to be the brand ambassador of Gujarat, the state ruled by the BJP with hardliner Narandra Modi, as its Chief Minister, the Congress high command in New Delhi did not approve his conduct and would like to disassociate with the actor.

Congress anger against Bachchan stemmed from the fact, that the actor being once a Congress MP and someone who has sworn by the party’s ideals of secularism and pluralism has sold his self respect to a person who is alleged to have organized a state sponsored program that has killed more than 3000 Muslims in the state.

When the Congress showed its reservation against Bachchan, the BJP jumped in defense of the actor, saying that the Congress leaders were harassing an iconic figure of India because he chose to be brand ambassador of a BJP-ruled state and has fallen out with the first family of the ruling party.

The spat between the Congress and the BJP continued for a while, with the former showing its dislike for the actor and the later going all out in support of him, given an impression that the ex superstar was about to join the saffron brigade.

However, this did not happen and what actually happened in the process was that Mr Bachchan, lost the contract of being the brand ambassador of Indian Railways and also the state of Kerala, euphemistically called Gods own country.

There is no denying the fact that Amitabh Bachcan owns his stardom to the backing of India’s premier ruling family. The Bachcans and the Nehru’s both hailed from Allahabad, with former being a poet and later being a politician. Both families together had a shared history of participation in the freedom struggle.

It was Indira Gandhi, the democratic dictator of India, who vouched for then small B, when he was making rounds of the film studios in Bombay. The much needed push at the formative stage of the career did matter to the struggling actor then, even though Bachcan earned the superstardom by the dint of his merit.

The proximity between Congress and Amitabh Bachchan, became closer when young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came at the helm of affairs, after the brutal assassination of her mother. He gave the party ticket to the reigning superstar to contest from his hometown Allahabad.

Amitabh riding on his stardom status defeated the top political leader late Hemwati Nandan Bahugana, raising eyebrows among the political circles of the Congress methodology to use actors to silence the opposition in the country.

Amitabh after becoming an MP has to choose a career in politics or cinema. Soon he realized how easy was to become a MP but how difficult it is to become a politician. The superstar finally opted to remain in his profession and left politics for those who were best suited for it.

Since then Amitabh Bachchan and the Congress drifted in their own course. There was little meeting ground between the two. While the Congress was bamboozled by the BJP’s Ayodhya’s juggernaut that set the country on fire, Bachchan tried his hand in business setting up Amitabh Bachchan Corporation, Ltd. (A.B.C.L.). It since then he got the title Big B and that continues to stick on his persona.

His business venture turned out to be his nemesis and he lost heavily in the attempt to build a corporate empire. Once the highest paid actor in the country was on the verge of bankruptcy and looked for solace in Tirupati, the temple town in south India.

His sulking fortunes turned around when Amitabh along with Anil Ambani and the then Star TV’s CEO went to pray at Trupati for the success of the television serial, Kuan Banega Cororpati, that went to inspire Danny Boyle to make Slumdog Millionair.

Call it a blessing of Lord Venkateshwara or whatever, the TV serial Kuan Banega Cororpati rewrote the history of reality shows in the country and in the process changed the fortunes of a man who was struggling for funds.

Money from then onwards was the main motivator for Amitabh Bachchan. He was not bothered about tarring his image and started appearing in commercials that was too low for his status. India’s one time heartthrob and undisputed super star was ready to endorse any thing for a price.

In lighter vein someone commented that it won’t be a surprise, to find Amitabh endorsing ladies inner wear and shown stretching bra and panties delivering the punch line; yeh aarm ka mamala hai {its all about comfort).

Therefore, in this context one has to see Big B’s acceptance being the brand ambassador for the state of Gujarat. He chose to do so as he was motivated by crass commercial interest and got nothing to do to do with the ideology of the party ruling that state. It would also be a misnomer to view his conduct as an endorsement of Narnder Modi’s ideas.

In the lexicon of Amitabh Bachchan there was no place for words like morality and dignity. He was ready to associate with anyone who can afford to pay his fee. It is indeed sad but true that the commercial interest dominates the mindset of the ageing man and he has reduced himself to a money making machine.

The duel between the Congress and the BJP for owning and disowning Amitabh Bachchan was interesting one. While both the political parties were pushing the agenda of their conflicting ideology centering on the ex super star, where as the ageing actor and had nothing to do with the ideals of either of them and was driven by his sheer commercial interest.

However, this brings to the final point; how important are principles, values and morals, in ones life? To some these inner guiding virtues are very essential as they give a sense of containment and fulfillment in life.

To others, such concepts are a figment of imagination and they feel the fetters of morality should not come in the way of living their life king size.

Well these are philosophical and ethical thoughts and subject to individual choices. It would be quite improper to cast a judgment on Big B’s acts of omission and commission. In this public trial, he is his own advocate as well as the judge.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at;

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