| Keith Vaz, the MP from Leicester East, and Bachchan on the House of Commons terrace. Telegraph picture
London, July 22: Rich Indian businessmen with their wives dolled up came to see Amitabh Bachchan last night at a House of Commons dinner which raised a paltry '26,000 for the victims of the Mumbai train massacre.
They were shamed by Pakistani businessman Sir Anwar Pervez, whose cheque for '5,000 was the highest individual donation.
But no one should have been surprised ' Indian fat cats in the UK are notoriously mean except when donating to charities which add to their personal glory. This is perhaps one of those occasions when the entire guest list should be published.
The idea of using the dinner to raise funds for the Mumbai victims was that of Bachchan’s himself.
But he was courtesy itself when he told the assembled representatives of well-known business houses and Indian banks: “It is the most memorable day of my life. I am extremely happy for all of your presence for a noble cause. While there can’t be a value for human life, whatever little we can do to express sympathy to the bereaved families of the Mumbai bomb blasts will go a long way.”
Bachchan was presented with a sketch, depicting the Houses of Parliament in 1839, by Lord Goldsmith, QC, the attorney-general.
It had been signed by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister.
Over the last few days, Blair appears to have been one of the few senior politicians who did not find time to meet Bachchan, who was given appointments, at their request, by Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary and now leader of the House of Commons, and Alan Johnson, the education secretary.
He also dropped in at the foreign and Commonwealth office to see Margaret Beckett, the first woman to be foreign secretary.
Bachchan’s visit, which was primarily to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts from De Montfort University, Leicester, on Wednesday, has resembled more that of a Prime Minister than an actor.
When Bachchan came to see Straw at the Commons on Thursday, the 63-year-old actor was spotted by the Daily Mail’s parliamentary sketch writer, Quentin Letts, whose job is to report proceedings as though they are theatre.
It is worth quoting his piece, headlined “Even to touch his coat-tails might win votes”, for it is the view of someone who had never previously heard of the Big B.
It went: “Two flashing tiger eyes, a long face, a grey-flecked beard. We had a striking visitor yesterday: the Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan. He is, I am told, the Charlton Heston, Kevin Costner and the Harrison Ford of Indian cinema rolled into one.
“Tall Mr Bachchan cut a magnificent dash in the VIP gallery. He arrived with a long-thighed stride and took his seat with a spine that could have been stiffened with stair rods. He stared down on the Chamber of the House of Commons and inhaled a cavern of imperious breath through his nostrils.
“The great Amitabh! East of Srinagar they quiver at his mere name. Large parts of Leicestershire are pretty keen on him, too. No wonder Keith Vaz (Lab, Leicester East) had an early day motion down praising him. Even to touch his coat-tails might win votes.”
Letts added: “Plot conventions of Bollywood include dramatic reversals of fortune, courtesans with ‘hearts of gold’, corrupt politicians (whatever they might be), starry-eyed innocents and love triangles. It doesn’t sound so very different from Westminster, really.”
It is a miracle that Bachchan did not drown in treacle after reading the early day Commons motion which said: “This House congratulates Amitabh Bachchan on being awarded an honorary degree from De Montfort University, Leicester; notes his towering contribution to Indian cinema, having received 10 Filmfare awards and being named BBC Star of the Millennium; recognises his work as a goodwill ambassador for Unicef and as former member of the Lok Sabha, lower House of the Indian Parliament and hopes the award will continue to strengthen ties between the UK and India.”
Just when it seemed he would escape without being asked the most important question of all ' no, not his views on terrorism or Lebanon but what’s going on between his son, Abhishek, and Aishwarya Rai ' he was tossed a doosra at his news conference in Committee Room 10 in the Commons.
He was asked by a brave woman representing Movie Magazine: “Mr Bachchan, I hope you don’t mind if I asked a slightly personal question and I ask your forgiveness for it. My mother would like to know when is Abhishek going to bring a bride home'”
Sadly, Bachchan spotted the doosra from the moment it was bowled and replied with the utmost gravity: “Yeah, ah. As soon as I get to know, I will tell her.”
He could have left it at that but then, very, very curiously, added: “Even I am not aware of what is happening.”