Last week, after he had launched the Indian International Film Awards (IIFA) in Colombo, an Indian journalist asked Amitabh Bachchan whether he had kept track of the war between government forces and the Tamil Tigers.
It was followed by the larger question on how artists and politics should relate?
Bachchan's answers are usually a mix of humility, occasional wry humour and mock anger seasoned with diplomacy; this time, they were diplomatic.
"Whatever has been coming out in the newspapers and media'' and "I'm apolitical and would like to remain that way'' Bachchan answered.
Probably, Bachchan — or the organising company — didn't see it coming but the reminders of the civil war that had cut up Sri Lanka for decades came to the actor's secure doorstep in Mumbai in less than a week.
"We urge him not to attend the function in Colombo as a symbol of solidarity for the Tamilian cause… Tamils have been subject to atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in that country," C Rajendran, a spokesperson for the hundreds of protesters who landed up in front of Bachchan's residence told IANS.
The protests would seem surprising to some because even at the peak of the war in 2008-09 there was hardly any demonstration against it in India outside Tamil Nadu.
The Tamil diaspora joined in too. The Canadian Tamil Congress Sunday said, "Amitabh is a great hero for us in the Tamil diaspora, but we are very disturbed and profoundly saddened by our hero's proposed visit to a regime.''
Bachchan promptly — but again with much diplomacy — wrote in his blog that the "sentiments of all must be respected and I hope that we can plan and execute that with understanding, peace and grace."
The awards are slated for the first week of June. It would be one of the biggest events in Sri Lanka's entertainment history and maybe give a required push to tourism. But where "understanding, peace and grace'' fits into the glitzy show and the raw memories of a civil war remains to be seen.