“Don ko pakadnaa Mushkil hi nahi Namumkin hai”
“Rishte me to hum tumhaare baap lagte hain, naam hai Shahanshaah”
“Tum log mujhe wahan dhoondh rahe the, aur main tumhaara yahan intezaar kar raha tha”
These aren’t just dialogues; these are the iconic moments that define the melodious cacophony that Bollywood is. And there is deep baritone voice which is common to these timeless dialogues. And that voice is of the legend Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh Bachchan defied the traditional hero in India cinema. He was taller than average Indian male. Lanky, unconventional and a voice that was once rejected by All India Radio for being too ‘harsh’. Yet Amitabh Bachchan went on to the become the biggest cinematic icon of Indian Cinema and a true brand ambassador of it.
Amitabh Bachchan is admired across the globe for his remarkable acting career and is all set to receive the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award. However he stunned his fan with a rather startling, and disappointing statement. For an actor and an influential public figure Amitabh Bachchan’ dissociation from his cultural heritage came as a shock to many.
During a conversation with sociologist Bindeshwar Pathak, Amitabh Bachchan reportedly said that his surname ‘Bachchan’ does not belong to any religion as his father was against it. He also revealed that when Census officials enquire about his religion, he always answers that he belongs to no religion but rather identifies himself as an Indian. Although Amitabh Bachchan and his family follow all Hindu customs and traditions, and also observe religious festivities, why should he then shy away from proudly proclaiming that he is a Hindu? This syndrome of hiding one’s religious inclinations is particularly high among influential Hindus, who somehow are hesitant to reveal their religious beliefs, lest they be termed ‘communal’ or ‘sanghi’ by a particularly jobless and clueless group of people. In contrast, individuals following other faiths, like Muslims, Christians or Sikhs, would not shy away from proclaiming their religious beliefs, and even propagating them to an extent through the content they produce and take part in.
Neutrality has been a hallmark of Amitabh Bachchan’s post-Congress years. Amitabh Bachchan was a close friend of former PM, Rajiv Gandhi. Being a friend of his, Amitabh Bachchan’s name came up in the Bofors scam, allegedly for receiving kickbacks. Although proven innocent, this event probably had a lasting impact on Big B’s life. Not only was his career on the line, but also his reputation as a whole. Ever since, Amitabh Bachchan has widely remained apolitical. Classic ‘Doodh se jala, chhach bhi Phoonk phoonk kar peeta hai”!
Bollywood is infamously and unabashedly liberal. When anti-India slogans were raised in JNU, there were a number of Bollywood liberals who supported JNU’s ‘freedom of speech’, Amitabh Bachchan remained painfully silent. When writers and artists went up in arms against the government right before the Bihar assembly elections, Amitabh Bachchan remained painfully silent. When midnight hearing was called for Mumbai bomb blast accused Yakub Memon and Bollywood liberals wholeheartedly supported it, Amitabh remained painfully silent. When Bollywood came up anti-Hindu movies, he chose to remain silent. When Bollywood came up with horrific distortion of Indian history, he chose to remain silent.
SP ideologue Azam Khan remarked about Jayaprada’s undergarments. Jaya Prada and Amitabh Bachchan have done 10 movies together. And Amitabh’s wife Jaya Bachchan is a RS MP from the same party. But Amitabh Bachchan remained silent.
Of course, it was none of his business in most of the cases but as someone who represents Indian Cinema for Millions of Indians, he could have spoken.
But the moment someone inquired about his religion, Amitabh Bachchan immediately declated that he is ‘not a Hindu’
This newfound love for a sole ‘Indian’ identity is amusing. It exemplifies how Big B wants to play safe and not be on the line of fire of all the Hindu-haters. Of course, we are all ‘Indians’ first. Its common-sense, to say the least. By claiming to have no identity other than that of an Indian, Bachchan has surely impressed next to nobody. ‘Indian’ remains our foremost identity, however, who are we trying to fool if we proclaim that being Indian is our sole identity? The fact is, that being Indian is in itself a conglomeration of multiple identities. And among these, most importantly, is a religious identity, which Bachchan has simply refused to be identified with. It is deeply disappointing to see a man of his stature hesitating to accept his Hindu identity with pride.
The game of neutrality is often a dangerous one, especially in the digital age. Neutrality keeps one on the safe side, prevents one from being disliked by some people and also creates a farcical image of an individual. Come to think of it, can anyone even barely qualify as ‘neutral’ in this highly opinionated age? People have an opinion on every issue. It is about whether one chooses to share this opinion with everyone. Amitabh Bachchan has a right to his choices, and he may have made a conscious decision to try and portray himself as neutral, but we maybe expected much more from him. Saying that one does not have a religion, while being completely associated with it, is a complete injustice to one’s faith, and is demeaning for other proud followers of the faith.
Being Hindu is not a crime. As Swami Vivekanand had said: “Garv Se Kaho, Hum Hindu Hai!”.