A huge picture on his blog shows Amitabh Bachchan with his mouth open, in what looks like a roar, with a tiger in the background. This is Bachchan expressing his support for the Save the Tiger campaign, but it could be a double metaphor: his anger at his critics and his proximity to Bal Thackeray, whose party symbol is the roaring tiger.
Such a misinterpretation would confirm Bachchan’s fears that many are out to malign his good name. Recently, he has been criticized by Raj Thackeray, the Congress and the media. On Twitter, people are expressing their distaste for his support to various controversial politicians and causes. Not surprisingly, Bachchan is feeling hounded and is now hitting back on his blog.
When he went to attend a function on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai last week, the local Congress objected to Bachchan’s association with Gujarat as its tourism brand ambassador. How could a Congress chief minister sit on the same dais with a man who was ready to help the Bharatiya Janata Party, that too someone like Narendra Modi? Chief minister Ashok Chavan, always on the lookout for ways to please his Delhi bosses, tried to distance himself from Bachchan till it was pointed out that the star had been officially invited.
Local political machinations were behind this so-called controversy. Chavan is under siege from his coalition partner Nationalist Congress Party and also from local Congress party bosses. A day or two later, a recorded speech by Abhishek Bachchan on the occasion of Earth Day was pulled out hours before Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit landed at a function.
Bachchan is wondering if there is a “pattern” in all this. It would be naive to think there isn’t, given the vehemence with which Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari went after the actor on television channels. A bit rich this, considering that Bachchan became a Congress member of Parliament after the 1984 elections in the wake of the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and elsewhere.
Bachchan’s other bête noire is the media which, for him, is incompetent, arrogant, unprofessional and, most of all, against him and his family. He regularly takes digs at journalists, sometimes by name, and is at war with a large newspaper group whose tabloid paper carried a report about Aishwarya Rai Bachchan being afflicted with an illness that prevented her from getting pregnant.
So what does all of this make Bachchan? A crotchety old uncle, an angry ageing man, an arrogant star who can’t stand being criticized?
The irony is that Bachchan is one of the most accessible stars in Mumbai. His office never fails to reply to a message or a request, and he is available for all kinds of things, from interviews with rookie journalists to launching books to becoming part of public service campaigns. So what gives with this newfound aggression? The truth is that Bachchan has discovered that he can now access his fans directly. His blog is popular, and he writes it every night. That has been an empowering experience and he is encouraged by the response he gets when he hits back.
But there is also little doubt that he has become touchy at being questioned about his choice of friends—Amar Singh, Bal Thackeray, Mulayam Singh Yadav and now Narendra Modi: This is, by any token, not a guest list any man in public life would like to associate with.
By taking on the media and cohabiting with the likes of Thackeray and Modi, Bachchan has won no friends. But the pettiness and hypocrisy of the Congress has gone too far. On his part, Bachchan would do well by shrugging off adverse comments instead of choosing to react to everything. He has the right to speak out, but we expect more from our greatest movie icon.
Sidharth Bhatia is a Mumbai-based senior journalist. Comment at email@example.com