Right To Be Heard campaign: Not brand ambassador for Modi, just promoting Gujarat Tourism, says Amitabh Bachchan

(Left) Narendra Modi and Amitabh Bachchan

It was a Bachchan blockbuster at Town Hall as the towering, larger-than-life Shenshah of the 70mm screen was again tossed under the cameras to be grilled, heard and answered by a starry-eyed gathering of fans and students of Mumbai at Headlines Today’s Right To Be Heard programme.  Full Coverage: Right To Be Heard Campaign

The unfading charm, the deep baritone and his timeless appeal was all pervasive as a candid Big B answered questions ranging from his tryst with politics to his relationship with Narendra Modi and the hairpin bends on the road to stardom.

Questioned on the ideological dichotomy of the Bachchans with wife Jaya in the Samajwadi camp and Big B himself sharing space with Hindutva poster boy Narendra Modi , the superstar stoutly denied being a brand ambassador of Modi.

“The Gujarat campaign is a push for tourism. It has nothing do with the political beliefs of Modi. Gujarat is a part of India and I support tourism in that part of the country. I am promoting my country. I don’t see any wrong in that. My tourism campaign doesn’t mean I am aligning myself to Modi. In a democratic society, we follow certain democratic rules and accordingly if he’s chosen in a role which is Prime Minister, that’s the choice of the people,” he said.

Amitabh Bachchan
Amitabh Bachchan at Headlines Today’s Right To Be Heard programme

Though he covertly campaigned for the Samajwadi Party during the 2007 polls, Bachchan said, “I have never publicly expressed any political thought or ideology ever since I left politics. I have remained apolitical in my public standing. I went into politics on an emotional note only to find it’s not just about emotion, it’s more complicated. Politics is about caste, creed, colour and machinations. I was not qualified for it and I accepted it and moved out.”

Big B refused to dwell on his thorny relationship with India’s most powerful dynasty – Gandhis – calling it “something very personal”. But for the first time, he bared his soul on why he took the political plunge and his miraculous return from death after the ‘Coolie’ mishap in 1982.

“I actually died for a few minutes. And it was the prayers of millions of Indians that resurrected me. I had never known so much love and affection. I was overwhelmed by stories of sacrifice. I felt it was time to pay back by doing something constructive for the nation. This played on my mind when Rajivji asked me to contest an election.”

But is there a co-relation between raunchy item songs, the manner in which women are projected on the big screen and the growing incidence of rape ? “Cinema is a 20th century phenomenon and to say that rapes did not happen before is stupidity. Hindi cinema gives poetic justice within 3 hours. Many of us don’t get poetic justice in a lifetime. We show rape as evil and the villain is punished within 3 hours.”

But Bollywood’s biggest star did not get swift poetic justice when his name was dragged into the Bofors scandal. “Those were very turbulent times for me and my family. I was branded a traitor and people would hurl expletives on me on the streets. One day, my father called me and asked if I did anything wrong. That day, I decided to wipe out the Bofors taint. We moved court and I single-handedly fought to clear my name.”

Right To Be Heard programme
A rapt audience listens to Amitabh Bachchan muse about life, universe and everything else in between, at Headlines Today’s Right To Be Heard campaign

If Bofors threatened to demolish his stardom, Bollywood’s angry young man recounts how one evening in 1971, he suddenly walked out of the shadows of anonymity to bask in the halo of celebrity.

“I had just finished shooting for Anand with Rajesh Khanna. I would feel important when people would ask me about Rajesh Khanna. He was God then. One evening, I was returning from work and was refilling my old Fiat at a petrol pump at Kurla, when I suddenly found people flocking around me. Anand’s 3:30 show had hit the theatres in Mumbai that day. People were suddenly beginning to recognize me. That day, recognition came,” Bachchan said.

And the man with an iconic status is self-confessedly petrified of press conferences. But he prefers to talk to his fans on social media. Talking about the government’s bid to muzzle social networking sites, Big B said, “It’s a new media and it will go through these initial hiccups. It’s a trial and error process, but in the end freedom of speech must rule and that’s a tenet of democracy.”

A genius of reinvention, Bachchan says he’s not sure when he will hang his boots. “I am playing character roles and even this will disappear one day. But nobody else other than me will decide on my retirement.”

At 70 years of age, the 70mm still beckons. And the legend lives on.

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