The tamasha surrounding the marriage of Abhishek with Aishwarya Rai over the weekend appears to lend credence to the speculation that the Bachchans are dying to become the first family of India. The hype about the “most public private wedding” became overkill and showed the bankruptcy of the media as well as the control that marketing gurus have apparently managed to have over every single dimension of the media. The show put out for fans underlined the fact that Bachchans behaved as if they were shooting yet another film. The sanctity one would have normally attached with the actual wedding ceremony was put in the background.
It is a known fact that the Bachchans, who always lived in the shadow of the Nehru-Gandhis, are keen to break away and establish themselves as the new icons of India. There is nothing wrong in aspiring to be Family No. 1, except that the road to the top has to be through the service of the nation and not by lending one’s name to each and every brand that comes in the way. Amitabh’s name has figured prominently in the speculation over who could be the country’s next President, something that has been firmly denied by him and his close associates. Perhaps, he realises that to get anywhere near the august office, he will have to get support from many major parties other than the Samajwadi Party.
Bachchan has come a long way since he carried two letters written by Indira Gandhi, on persistent requests from family friend Teji Bachchan, to Nargis Dutt and Khawaja Ahmed Abbas urging them to give him a break in films. Abbas cast him in Saat Hindustani and Nargis asked her husband Sunil Dutt to help him out. Recalling his first meeting, Dutt told me some years ago that when Amitabh met him, he asked what his greatest asset was. “My voice,” the young man had answered, at which point Dutt told him that he would cast him in the role of a ‘goonga’ in his film, Reshma Aur Shera. Bachchan was, however, first noticed in Anand and subsequently starred in many films which turned out to be flops. Blitz columnist Krishna used to repeatedly refer to Amitabh as the “Sarkari-made hero”. But with Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer, there was no looking back for the ‘Angry Young Man’.
But there is another sphere in which Bachchan does not exactly shine: politics. Old timers in the Congress recall that before her death, Indira Gandhi had advised Rajiv that he should never allow “Teji’s son to enter politics”. Indira Gandhi’s advice was probably based on her experience. But Rajiv, who grew up playing with Amitabh, gave him the Congress nomination from Allahabad against H.N. Bahuguna after his mother’s assassination.
Amitabh won the seat convincingly and soon became a power centre within the Congress. But he appeared to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. V.P. Singh, for instance, constantly complained against him to Rajiv. Matters came to a head and a reluctant Bachchan resigned after a long meeting with Rajiv. Subsequently, his name (and that of his brother) was also dragged in the Bofors controversy. But nothing could be proved against him or Rajiv. Amitabh swore he would never be in politics again.
But the promise appears to have been shortlived now that he has got drawn into the glamour of politics once again through his close association with Mulayam Singh Yadav, an opponent of the Gandhi family. At one stage, wife Jaya made uncharitable remarks against Sonia Gandhi that a worried Amitabh tried to play down. After legendary poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan died, Rahul Gandhi represented his family at the funeral. But now the break seems to be complete with the Gandhis excluded from the wedding guest list.
Big B has become the Bad B for the Congress, campaigning as he is on TV for his friend Mulayam. Jaya is already an MP on the Samajwadi ticket. It is a matter of time till even Amitabh could be on the political centre stage in some form or the other. It is evident that he may come on the Congress radar very soon and the political rivalry may commence from where political friendship ended many years ago.
Coming back to the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding, not one known literary figure was invited to the marriage of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s grandson. The disaffection was pronounced as the Bachchans owe their identity to the Hindi language and the recognition the literary world accorded to the family. It is being pointed out that the wedding had a guest list that, among others, included fixers and the like, while it ignored members of the literary circle. There is also criticism that the Bachchans, synonymous with class at one stage, have allowed their thirst for undue publicity to get the better of them. “The wedding should have been a sombre affair. Look at the dignified way with which Mukesh Ambani celebrated his birthday,” a once close friend remarked.
The show must go on and even an offering to Tirupati was made a public event. But despite the media, the Bachchans will have to do a lot more if they want to become the first family of India.