Article Hindi

Comment: The importance of being Amitabh

The one-time superstar's reluctance to speak up on issues plaguing the film industry is galling.

At the Thugs Of Hindostan trailer launch event. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Rajeev Pai

There are many qualities to be imbibed from Amitabh Bachchan, and not just by an aspiring artiste: a sense of professionalism, dedication, punctuality, bearing, articulation, diction, hard work, the list can go on. But a marked reluctance to take leadership is not one of them.

Bachchan is undeniably one of the icons of the Hindi film industry (like the one-time superstar, we at also abhor the wannabe term ‘Bollywood’), with a career spanning almost 50 years (he started out in 1969), nearly 20 of them as the country’s pre-eminent box-office champion.

Yet, whenever substantive issues concerning the film industry arise, the man everyone looks to for guidance ducks for cover. As happened barely a fortnight before his 76th birthday, when Bachchan and Thugs Of Hindostan co-star Aamir Khan were asked their opinion about Tanushree Dutta’s serious charge of misbehaviour against another senior, much-loved actor, Nana Patekar.

While Aamir Khan gave a diplomatic reply, which was fine as no one’s guilt has been proved yet, Bachchan retorted: “Na toh mera naam Tanushree hai, aur na hi mera naam Nana hai. Kaise uttar doon [Neither am I Tanushree, nor am I Nana. How can I answer this]?"

While the assembled crowd of journalists, public-relations executives and hangers-on (and it can get hard at times to tell one from the other) guffawed dutifully, the reply was deeply disappointing, as it suggested that the matter was something to be resolved by the aggressor and the victim alone, hardly the sign of a civilized society.

Unfortunately, Bachchan is not alone in the film industry in displaying such reticence. With the exception of Aamir Khan and Farhan Akhtar, no male star has yet come out in the open against the exploitation of his female colleagues and co-workers. Much the same situation rules in other film industries in India.

This reluctance is a blot not so much on the individuals concerned as on the collective. It is a stark reminder, if one were needed, that the desi film industries continue to be closed, near-feudal set-ups where connections count for more than integrity and speaking against the Establishment is fraught with risks, no matter how popular or powerful one may be. Or, as some critics suggest, everyone is naked in this bath.

But the way female stars, including some leading ones, have stood up for their colleagues suggests that change is nigh. After all, even in the movies, it sometimes falls to the heroine to slay the wrongdoer.

Meanwhile, we wish Amitabh Bachchan many more years of entertaining and educating us and hope that now and then he will stand up for what is right in real life, too.

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