Years ago, when I was a cub reporter, I’d dropped by Amitabh Bachchan’s bungalow with a printout of an article I was filing the next day for my film magazine. The issue being discussed had sparked off controversial headlines and Mr Bachchan had requested a preview before the piece went into print to reassure himself that he hadn’t been misinterpreted.
I pushed my way through the crowd of Big B worshippers who had gathered outside Prateeksha for
and told the security manning the gates that I’d like to meet Mr Bachchan. “
Sahab nahin hain
(sir is not in),” he replied brusquely. I enquired after the manager, inadvertently taking a few steps forward, and was answered with a hard shove and a shout, “
Andar aane ki koshish mat karna
(don’t try to force your way in), no one is going to meet you.”
Had it been just words, I might have kept my cool. But the guard using his hand to swat me like an irritating fan made me see red. Throwing the sheets of paper at him, I informed him that I was a reporter and didn’t want to see anyone, it was his ‘sahab’ who wanted to see what was in these papers. And if he didn’t get them, we’d know whom to blame. Saying that, I stepped into an autorickshaw and whooshed off.
That evening, while we were watching TV, the phone rang. My mom answered it and after a brief conversation, handed it to me with a whispered, “I think it’s Amitabh Bachchan.” It was! Introducing himself, he assured me that the piece was fine and I could go ahead with it.
The incident came back to me last Thursday when I was watching Shah Rukh Khan’s press conference on the office TV. There are mixed reactions to his war of words with MCA officials on Wednesday night after a Kolkata Knight Riders vs Mumbai Indians match ended with a hurrah for the former. SRK, the co- owner of KKR, had come to pick up his children and their friends. A security guard, in an effort to hurry the kids off the grounds after the floodlights had been dimmed, pushed one of Suhana’s teenage friends and the star, like me, saw red.
What followed led to him being banned from Wankhede for five years, but Shah Rukh is unrepentant and unapologetic, asserting that manhandling a child is unpardonable. I can empathise with him on this point. If a security guard, a stranger from nowhere, pushed your child, would you stand and stare? If you were abused for reacting, would you stay silent? If you knew you would be reprimanded publicly, would you say sorry? So why blame SRK? He was just being a parent!
I know there’s a section that believes this was another publicity stunt by SRK, like cycling with his daughter down Bandra’s Bandstand before Don 2. And I remember when I had questioned him on the ride, he’d reacted with a wounded, “Even you ask this?” He’d explained that he had a shoot at Mehboob Studio that’s just down the road from Mannat, and had decided to cycle rather than drive down. “I had no idea cycling with Suhana would become news. I’m feeling bad and sad that I did it. The next time, I’ll do it in London or Dubai where a father-daughter bonding will not lend itself to something devious.”
He’s always been fiercely protective of his kids, trying to bring them up as normally as is possible for a superstar. Aryan was always the extrovert… I remember him running circles around us as we did an interview during Asoka. Suhana, always the introvert, would wander silently around Film City looking for stones and twigs while papa explained the tragedy of Devdas to me.
Some time ago, she’d come to our office for an interview for the HT scholarship programme she’d qualified for. Mama Gauri had dropped her off and Suhana had sat quietly for hours in the visiting area, immersed in a book. No one even realised when Shah Rukh’s daughter had come… And gone.
These days Suhana’s often seen with SRK in the stands, cheering for the knights. The cameras always go click, click and the 11-year-old invariably turns away from the glare of the spotlights. And my heart goes out to the shy little girl. Her daddy may be the Badshah of Bollywood, but she doesn’t have to become a media scapegoat. Let’s leave her be, doing all that is normal for other children her age without trying to find a reason for it.