Instant connect with Big B
Bharathi S. Pradhan
First-rate promos of the new season of Kaun Banega Crorepati are on air right now. One features a young girl from the Northeast being asked by Amitabh Bachchan, "To which country does Kohima belong?" When the audience poll she opts for unanimously comes up with "India" as the answer, "Yeh toh sabhi jaante hain," Bachchan gently chides her with a smile.
"Jaante sabhi, lekin maante kitne?" she softly volleys back. It touches an important cord.
The second in the series has a Hindu contestant from a communally uneasy area asking in a phone-a-friend query, "Chacha, 'assalamu alaikum' ka matlab kya hai?" "Khuda tujhe salamat rakkhe, beta," answers his Muslim neighbour, and barriers come crumbling. It makes an instant connect.
It's a huge relief that benign-dignified Amitabh Bachchan finally has a series of warm, issue-based ads that go handsomely with his all-inclusive image because a few of his choices in the recent past have alarmed me greatly. One was an ad for the last season of KBC where a contestant went all tongue-tied and dumb while AB kept asking him in different ways if he was at a loss for words because he couldn't believe that he was sharing the same space as Amitabh Bachchan. Did we hear that right? Why was the normally self-effacing AB putting himself so unabashedly on a pedestal where lesser mortals lose their voice before him? It wasn't Shah Rukh Khan singing the I'm-the-best refrain, this was Amitabh Bachchan, the man who consistently played humble about his success.
Around the same time, he did that commercial for a biscuit (unfortunately still being aired) where he asks his employee, "Aap sochte bhi hain?" The line is symptomatic of a boorish employer sarcastically doubting his employee's ability to think for himself. I know it's a commonly used line but I've never found humour in that belittling line. And Amitabh mouthing it? I squirmed on his behalf.
It bothered me even more when he threw open the gates of his bungalow, Prateeksha — for the first time ever — to filmmaker Anurag Kashyap for an unbelievably sycophantic short film. It was one of the four films made under Bombay Talkies. Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar had also made one each under the title. But Anurag's was easily the worst of the four as it packaged idol worship of a film star to the extent that a son travels all the way from Allahabad to get Amitabh Bachchan to bite into a piece of murabba for his star-struck father. The abject worship may be true but for Amitabh to actually fan it, to allow himself to be thus elevated? And I'm not even going into the premise of desperately desiring the jhoota of a star.
Amitabh featuring in such a blatantly self-flattering piece of cinema disappointed me immensely because that's not the man I have known from even before Zanjeer. Which is why his spanking new, heart-connect series for KBC gives me so much pleasure.
By the way, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted this week about a man on a mobile phone walking on the opposite side of the road and remarked, dangerous! It sure is. But didn't Bachchan's cub do an ad where he advocated walking and talking on the phone as a great idea? I know that my own Nepali driver crossed the road with the mobile stuck to his ear and was mowed down by a speeding taxi. He died leaving behind a tender young wife and two infants. I truly wish big- time celebrities would be cerebral when they okay a storyboard for a commercial. No ullu banaoing, please.
Finally, how do you feel about the many remixes of our national anthem that are played in cinema halls today? There's a beautiful one with the army jawans in Siachen — splendid. Another features Maharashtrian actors, one has leading singers, A.R. Rahman has one of his own. All of which are acceptable.
But how do you feel about the national anthem being reprised as a promotional tool for a film? There's a whisper that Rani Mukerji has recorded Rabindranath Tagore's anthem featuring herself prominently along with real-life female cops. Hmm, everybody knows that Rani plays a policewoman in her new film Mardaani which is due for release. Would you call it a wonderfully innovative marketing idea? Or ask for a halt when it comes to using the national anthem for promotion? Take your pick.