It’s a muggy day in May, and we have just wrapped up a Brunch cover shoot in Lower Parel, an area in Mumbai characterised by both, 25 storey-tall five-star buildings and leftover chawls and mills.
As we descend the chipped stairs of the industrial complex where the studio is located, Shweta Bachchan-Nanda wants to turn around and head back up. Has she forgotten something? Should I send someone to get it?
No. Shweta’s going back for something we can’t imagine. She’s looking for Raju, the junior-most help, who is busy at the back, packing away equipment.
“Thank you, Raju,” she tells him. “I just remembered I had forgotten to tell you bye!”
The ‘low-key’ Bachchan
Meet the heartwarming face of Bollywood royalty. Anyone who knows her by name will agree that the daughter of Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan grew up in privilege. After marriage, she became a part of one of India’s topmost business families. Yet, at the shoot that day, Shweta Bachchan-Nanda was hardly the star. During lunch, she insisted that the entire crew of 10 squeeze into her tiny make-up room, which was originally meant for three. Her hamper of food from home was offered to everyone while she chomped on…believe it or not, pizza!
Of her immediate birth family of four, Shweta must be the most low-key of them all. “I don’t garner that kind of interest or attention from the world at large, so yes, I’m low-key,” she says. “I like it that way.” Did she ever think of working in the movies? “I don’t believe I have the looks, talent or mental and emotional make up to be an actress,” she says. “I was an extremely shy and awkward young girl; I wouldn’t have stood a chance in this kind of environment. You have to be extremely strong to live and work in films.”
“I don’t believe I have the looks, talent or mental and emotional make up to be an actress. i was an extremely shy and awkward young girl; I wouldn’t have stood a chance in this kind of environment.”
Yet, a couple of years ago, as her children reached their teens and Shweta was in her late 30s, she launched a column in a newspaper, offering her readers a peek into her life. She wrote about the joys and challenges of being a mother, wife, daughter and sister, she spoke of her changing equation with her growing children, and allowed the world into a personal space that had, thus far, been extremely private. What snapped? When did private Shweta Bachchan-Nanda become ready for public consumption?
Shweta laughs the hearty laugh no other Bachchan has. “Firstly, you’re wrong,” she chides me. “You’re a decade behind, because I really discovered myself in my 40s! I have always written, but only for myself. I kept a diary for years, but I never had the confidence or desire to make any of my work public. Public scrutiny makes me very uncomfortable.”
Her column came about when her children left for boarding school and Shweta found herself at a loss. “What do I do with this much free time, I asked myself. A dear friend kept goading me to start writing, and my mother always wanted me to write. I sent a sample piece, they loved it, and I was in,” she says.
- Parenting is instinctual! Every mother inherently knows what is best for her child. I was a mother at 23! There are moments when you are overwhelmed but it all comes together magically.
- You can only actively parent your child till the age of 14-15. After that you have to let them be! It is imperative for their growth that you take a back seat.
- Let them make mistakes! You only learn and grow by your mistakes. Let them fail a test and experience how that feels. Only then will they have the desire to work harder. Let them date the wrong person and get their hearts broken; they’ll learn to make better choices next time. This is their life. You can give them the tools to navigate it, but it’s unfair and unhealthy to try and tell them how to lead it.
- Always be on hand. Whether they have a cold and they need some pampering or a work crisis and they need to vent. Be on hand. Your child should know even if you are not physically present you are always there for them. And finally. do not have one set of rules for your sons and another for your daughters. Both should have equal opportunities.
Stories with a filter
But isn’t writing also about baring one’s soul? For being an intensely private person like herself, didn’t revealing details of her life bring with it a measure of insecurity? “I wouldn’t say insecurity, but yes, I was reticent,” she admits. “I still feel I hold back a lot. I suppose you have to be responsible, especially if so many people in your family are public figures.”
Then how did she deal with the voyeurism of people who’d obviously use her to gain a window into the goings on of her loved ones? How does one share one’s life through one’s columns, yet keep away from feeding unhealthy appetites?
“Writing can give away too much, and I am very conscious about that,” Shweta says. “It would, for example, be terrible if I espouse an opinion and someone from my family has to bear the brunt of it. I would not be comfortable with that at all. But where unhealthy appetites are concerned, pretty much everyone on any kind of social media today is laid bare and up for public consumption. Privacy is a fading institution, and it’s not just someone who comes from my kind of background who has to handle it; everyone is going to get their 15 minutes of fame, and – at some point – each of them will have to navigate this.”
Where, then, does she draw the line? “Well, I am extremely cautious by nature, but if there is ever a doubt, I usually reach out to my parents and ask them what I should do. In fact, my mother is my harshest critic, and in my writing, it is often her appreciation that I seek the most. When I manage to meet her standards, nothing feels better than that!”
Wasn’t there a column a few months ago where Shweta appealed to people to leave her daughter out of their comments? ‘I appeal to all to let my daughter have her private life back!’ Shweta had written. We know we’re treading on thin ice, but Shweta has an answer: “The people who have given my father love and respect have always been very kind to us. Having said that, I also feel that children, till they choose public life, should get their privacy or be shielded as much as is possible or realistic…. But then again, that may just be the overprotective mother in me saying this!”
- “If you want something and you don’t get it, trust that you didn’t get it because something better awaits you”
- Wherever you go, always find a seat for yourself at the back. If they have to move you, they can only move you forward!
The modern mom
This statement, finally, brings us to the heart of this story. In addition to being the responsible Bachchan-Nanda she is, Shweta represents the modern Indian mother: One who may have spent years bringing up her children, but, as they reach their teens and ready themselves for the world outside, rediscovers a life for herself.
“No, I am not their friend. I am their mother! I have a communicative and realistic equation with my children. When they were little, they came to me with bruised knees. Today, they come to me with bruised hearts.”
What is Shweta like as a mom? Is she now emotionally a mother who is turning friend? “No, I am not their friend,” Shweta says definitely. “I am their mother! I have a communicative and realistic equation with my children. When they were little, they came to me with bruised knees. Today, they come to me with bruised hearts. They ask my opinion, but they don’t have to obey it. I’m not strict about the teenage rites of passage stuff. I am strict about behaviour, that is very important to me.”
And, does a mother finding her own interests make her a modern mom? “I actually oscillate between traditional and modern. I like some of our Indian traditions. I like, for example, the respect we give our parents and elders here. It feels good, so I follow these traditions.”
Finally, does being a mother who has her own life mean distancing yourself from your kids’? “I do not expect that I will know everything that is going on in my children’s lives, but I am always in on the important stuff. For me, that is enough. I do not want to live through them. I do not want them to live the life I plan for them. I want them to chart their own path; if they fail, there is no shame, and I will be there to pick them up.”
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From HT Brunch, May 14, 2017
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