<b>ScreenSavour:</b> All in the game
When it comes to politics, the actors have learnt to err on the side of caution, no point in hurting the career. Ask Amitabh Bachchan
Recently Priyanka Chopra faced a lot of flak from lumpen nationalists for meeting the Indian PM in Germany, dressed in a skirt. A lot of people, including film personalities, expressed contrary views, calling out the hypocrisy of such comments by pointing out at the western suit that the fastidious PM was attired in. When Amitabh Bachchan was asked for his opinion on the matter, he refused to be drawn into the controversy by stating that he is neither the PM nor Priyanka Chopra.
Celebrities have always been soft targets, and more so in recent years. We have seen the likes of Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan trolled and silenced for their comments which were deemed critical of the government; and so it is quite natural that any celebrity would be wary of viewing his personal opinions in public forums. But as far as Bachchan goes, he has been maintaining a safe distance from any such controversy for a long time despite flirting with politics over the decades.
Bachchan burnt his fingers way back in the ’80s when he was drawn into Bofors scandal because of his close proximity with Rajiv Gandhi and his family during that time. He was a Congress member of the Parliament — on the personal request of Rajiv Gandhi — and soon realised that politics was not his cup of tea. The Bofors scandal saw him severing all connections with the media that hounded him because — guilty or not, he made for good copy.
When his fortunes took a dip in the ’90s with his ABCL declaring bankruptcy after several failed projects, he was bailed out by Amar Singh who brought him in touch with Samajwadi Party and its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Subrata Roy of Sahara. Amar Singh — the quintessential fixer — charmed his way into the heart of Bachchan who affectionately called him his brother. The two were inseparable and social media had a field day making fun of Singh’s proximity with the star which many found ingratiating; but it was a relationship of mutual benefit: Bachchan provided the necessary glamour to a regional party like SP while benefiting from the association that reportedly shored up his finances.
But somewhere down the line, things went wrong. Threatened with a no-confidence motion by its ally CPM, in case the government went ahead with the Indo-US Nuclear deal in 2008, the UPA-II desperately needed numbers to stay in power. Known for his networking and wheeling-dealing ways, Amar Singh was got in touch with by a top aide of the then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh. What transpired in the meeting is still not known but some BJP MPs were eventually bribed to vote in favour of the government and the UPA-II sailed through.
The scam came out in the open, CBI investigations were initiated and three years later, in 2011, Amar Singh was arrested for his role in horse trading involving Rs 25 crore —though he never figured in the sting operation by CNN-IBN in which the money was seen exchanging hands. Singh claimed that he was made a scapegoat and blamed P Chidamba-ram for his incarceration at the infamous Tihar Jail. Though he was imprisoned for exactly four days — he managed to get a medical reprieve and spent months in a jail hospital for treatment of his kidney ailment, he was a changed and a bitter man and singled out Bachchan for betraying him during his worst days — for not having come to jail to meet him. He felt hurt.
Singh claims in journalist Sunetra Chowdhury’s book Behind Bars that after he was released, Bachchan did come to meet him, but Singh never reciprocated the gesture and acted cold with him. The relationship since then hit rock bottom.
What does it say of the two players? That a cold-blooded fixer like Amar Singh is capable of emotions while a much-loved mega-star could sacrifice emotion for the sake of survival and avoid bad press.
Flirting with politics is fine as long as it does not hurt your career; you must know which side of the fence you lean towards. Look at Paresh Rawal, Anupam Kher, Abhijeet and others who have joined the bandwagon.
(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai- based filmmaker, instructor and writer)
Ranjan Das