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WHAT’S SO BIG ABOUT THIS B'

The Big B had nothing new to say on his 61st birthday. As he didn’t when he turned 60. As he hasn’t for years now. Still, the media couldn’t have enough of it and celebrated the superstar’s annual ritual not just with page 1 reports of Saturday’s glitzy party but with “exclusive interviews” that revealed nothing the superstar would want to hide.

AB Corp press releases couldn’t have done better. Here’s a sample question, one that figured most frequently: “Is the resumption of your company an important event for you'” Answer: “I must say I am doing this despite a lot of sincere advice from people to close the company, to move on. But I felt my conscience would not allow me to do that. I wanted to pay back each penny and I have…” When it comes to Amitabh Bachchan, the media is happy (and grateful) to be his faithful stenographer.

Forget uncomfortable questions, there were no comebacks, no meaningful discussion even during any of the interviews, only gushing worshipful interjections that made one cringe. Another sample: During her Rendezvous, Simi Garewal unearthed that the Bachchan family treats August 2, 1982, the day AB came back from the dead after his Coolie accident, as his second birthday. Simi simpered: “It means you are just 21.” Bachchan was at his gravelliest: “You can say that.”

True, the great man doesn’t take kindly to “impertinent” questions (remember his towering rage at Pooja Bedi’s harmless, if frivolous, question during a TV interview as to why he didn’t dye his beard'). And getting a Bachchan interview is an end in itself, whatever he says. But that is not all the reason why the entire media has become such willing publicists of the big brand. The real story is, those interviewing him are just as happy to suspend disbelief in his presence as those who watch him on the silver screen.

News without views

For once, the usually clueless Times-watchers may have got it right. The Times of India could well have got rid of its edit-page to “unshackle” the only page in a newspaper that is, by convention, off-limits to advertisers.

The edit-page lends a moral high tone to a paper, a gravitas that the absence of ads help underline. The single-mindedly bottomline-driven Times bosses can obviously do without such niceties. On Tuesday, they announced that their Calcutta edition would no longer have “an edit page in its conventional sense.” (All their other editions except Lucknow remain as before.)

The profit-motive at least has a ring of Times logic to it. What the paper has said just doesn’t add up. Why should readers (the bulk of whom, by its own admission, find the edit-page “forbidding and esoteric”) lap up the same old “views” just because they’re placed next to “news”'

Of course, the Times bosses could have gone another way. They could have made the editpage more “reader-friendly” simply by making it better, livelier, more readable. But spending money to improve editorial quality is anathema to the Times bosses. In that sense, no edit-page is certainly better than a bad edit-page.

Arnie mania

Rubina Möhring is a much-respected journalist with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation. She writes from Vienna: “You can’t imagine how crazily this little country I live in has reacted to Arnie Schwarzenegger’s election. The headline writers have gone wild: ‘Our Arnie ran the election’, ‘Arnie we love you’, ‘Arnie you are the best Austrian’. In fact, you get the impression that not Schwarzenneger but Austria itself was elected.”

So there is no shame in the Indian media beating the drums for our man in Louisiana. Given Bobby Jindal’s ultra-right-wing views, I hope we’ll echo the rest of Rubina’s e-mail: “Hopefully the USA will not change the rules of the President’s elections. And, equally hopefully, he will never think about running for the Austrian Presidency. The way he articulates his words, sentences (ideas') in German is as awful as his English. No, better he stays in the USA.”

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