Deepa Gahlot: Bollywood Badshah’s on-off affair with media… When he said he would like to be a journalist in his next life

11 Oct,2012

By Deepa Gahlot


When Amitabh Bachchan was just emerging from the Bofors controversy, he was quoted to have said that in his next life, he would like to be a journalist – such was the power of the media.


Today, Amitabh Bachchan is the darling of the media. They hang on to his every word; they not just retweet his tweets, they make entire stories out of them; they gather around the Bachchan family trying to get a picture of the grandchild. The entire country seemed to participate in the naming of the child of Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The family is photographed at work, at play, at airports, at temples and hospitals.


But there was a time when Amitabh had decided to ban the ‘yellow’ press and the press, in a rare show of unity, decided to ban him right back. There was a ‘katti’ period, when Amitabh would not speak to the film media and they did not carry any news about him.


What apparently happened was that Stardust had organised a charity show at which several top stars had agreed to participate. But then some of them, reportedly at the behest of Dilip Kumar, decided that they should not endorse the gossip press and decided to boycott the event. They also decided to boycott all gossip magazines.


This was a time when Bollywood was not covered by the mainstream media. Stars liked to be featured in the magazines because that was the only way of reaching the film-going public. A boycott of the film media was bound to fail. But during the Emergency in 1975, Stardust had a rough time with the censors and this was reportedly on the orders of Amitabh who was close to the Gandhi family. The cold war went on for years till the unfortunate Coolie accident in 1982 when Amitabh was seriously injured during the shooting of the Manmohan Desai film.


The whole country prayed for his recovery and even the media must have found it churlish to carry on with the ban. There was a thaw on both sides. In any case, the so-called boycott has not affected the star’s career in the least. He could also afford to be generous.


Then, in 1989, the Bofors scandal hit, and dragged Amitabh’s name into it. His films started flopping. He only had the medium of the press to get his side of the story to the public. This time the media decided to be gracious and fair and helped Amitabh clear his name. That was when the star admitted to the power of the media and made that quip about wanting to be reborn as a journalist.


Since then, he has been through problems – the failed comeback with a flop Mrityudaata, the Miss World fiasco that hit him financially – but the media has chosen never to hit out at the star when he was down. They even forgave the public relations disaster of the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding, when the media was ignored and mistreated.


On his part, Amitabh is not just an interviewer’s delight, he is always charming, gracious and professional. His office promptly returns calls, forwards messages; he writes personal notes of appreciation if an article or review praising him appears, he also sends miffed letters of clarification if something offends him.


Times have changed; today the media is full of Bollywood trivia. Stars are worshipped, their homes staked out, their faults papered over, their achievements exaggerated. At a time when stars have more power than politicians and industrialists, the media needs the stars more than the stars need the media. Unlike many of his juniors who snap their fingers when they need the media, but shun the press between releases, Amitabh has maintained a relationship of cordiality with the media, even though he now has social media platforms to have his say (even ranting against a bad review). It could be because of past experience, it could because he is well bred, or maybe because you can’t really push away the guy who has prostrated himself at your gate to try and get an exclusive shot from the gap between the gate and the ground. If asked today, Amitabh would probably say he wants to be a superstar in his next life too… such is the power of Bollywood. He hates this term for Mumbai cinema, but here’s wishing the Badshah of Bollywood a happy 70th birthday.


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