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Mere paas mike hai

Dear Big B, How many more times will I find out why you?re called this. I?m a hack, and cynicism is a professional hazard, the badge of all my tribe. We tend to be blase about those whom the aam janata worships.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2002 02:51 IST

Dear Big B, How many more times will I find out why you’re called this. I’m a hack, and cynicism is a professional hazard, the badge of all my tribe. We tend to be blasé about those whom the aam janata worships.

We see you guys up close and temperamental, and, in our arrogance believe we have the power to raise or lower the pedestal. Like a cow to a crow, you tolerate our pesky behaviour; we may prick but we can also help rid you of your ticks.
Films are not my domain, so I don’t interact with you on any regular basis. But each one-on-one encounter that I’ve had tells me why you don’t need a 70mm screen, the reverb on the mike, your amazing thespian skills, or even your six-foot-plus frame, to know that you are, in fact, larger than your screen persona.

I met you first in Bangalore. Like that other B, Bofors, it was your come-uppance, or go-downance. I was living there at the time you foisted the Miss World pageant on an unwilling city, and triggered a death wish in every one of its do-gooders. They threatened self-immolation to stop you in your perceived demolition of our 5,000-year civilisation, our female honour, and our civic infrastructure not necessarily in that order. If their fears were absurd, your response was appalling. Or non-existent. You were either too big, or too small to face a hostile crowd.

I wrote as I had to. Then, word came that you would finally put forward your position. We met and spoke late into the night. I knew then where you came from and what you were all about. I wrote again from this changed perspective. Perhaps our acquaintance has remained in a state of preservation because it sprang from a scenario that was an aberration from your routine, neither films or even politics. And since I deal in neither, there have been no opportunities to alter the basis of that meeting six years ago.

Still, it can only be because of what you are that, whenever I have subsequently asked of your time, you have responded without any of the usual fuss that trails our stars with the inevitability of scandal. Two years ago, the single fact of your presence elevated a Mid Day anniversary party in Mumbai into an occasion. Last week, you hoisted our media group’s Independence-Day offering as high as a flag as your voice reverberated across the midnight hour on Go 92.5 FM, reciting Tagore’s poem, ‘Where the mind is without fear’. On both occasions, you’ve reiterated the difference between greatness and celebrity.

Yet, if I’ve been moved to write this. it is less because of what you did for us on August 15, but the grace with which you did it. Ever the pro, you said you would make the time needed to record beforehand rather than risk an on-air ‘fumble’. We scoffed, ‘Can the eloquent Amitabh Bachchan fumble?’ You insisted. Then, pushing our luck, we pointed out that merely playing a recording would not be the same as your electric physical presence in the studio at midnight. On your own and at once, you said that you’d do both, record at 6 on an earlier morning, and haul yourself across Mumbai from Juhu to our studio in Tardeo late at night. If you have always known that there are no short cuts to perfection, I learnt, once again, that there are none either to a reputation such as yours.

At Subhash Ghai’s studio, you emptied the room so that you could be alone to emote with Tagore’s stirring lines. Like a general at the command HQ, you called out instructions to the recording engineer manipulating the battalion of switches. You repeated your recitation till it was inflexion perfect, till you’d got just the mix you wanted of quiet passion.

When we picked you up again at 10 pm, you’d obviously had a long day and there were still meetings impatiently circling you like predators. But you were still gamely enthusiastic as your Lexus 4-wheel drive devoured the miles to Tardeo. You walked into our studio, and the very spikes on the consoles leapt. You came on live with our host, Anish Trivedi; you responded, not merely replied, to the callers-in jamming our lines; each ‘spontaneous’ opinion had been long hours in the making.

Then, in the tangible emptiness of a commercial building at night, in the cocoon of a studio perched high above a silent city, the historic moment turned magical as your unmistakable voice held the air waves, our collective breaths — and our captivated listeners. As your last line, “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake” segued into MS Subbulakshmi’s outpouring of Jana Gana Mana, we realised what it means to be moved into immobility.

Thank you, Mr Bachchan.

Yours as always,

the small b.

*****

Alec Smart said, “Subcontinental colours: saffron, green and bled white.”

First Published: Aug 18, 2002 02:49 IST