Bachchan crowns Modi shahenshah

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  • Published 8.01.10

Mumbai/Ahmedabad, Jan. 7: If Anil Ambani considered him fit to be the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi now has the honorific of shahenshah bestowed on him. By Amitabh Bachchan, friend of the junior Ambani and who was thus far the shahenshah of all he surveyed.

“I do not agree with anyone who calls me shahenshah. This title is more apt for Modi; I am nowhere close,” Bachchan said of the Gujarat chief minister after a special screening of his production Paa at Gandhinagar yesterday.

Modi responded today by waiving the entertainment tax on the film, starring the Big B and son Abhishek and produced by the superstar’s AB Corp.

The bonhomie between Bachchan, an icon of secularism, and Modi, under whose chief ministership hundreds of Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots of 2002, has raised eyebrows in political and social circles.

The actor, who, through his films spoke up for the downtrodden fighting discrimination and oppression, was once a part of the Congress before becoming close to the Samajwadi Party, which has taken up the cause of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. His role as Iqbal in the 1983 blockbuster Coolie represented the rise and integration of the common Muslim with the working masses rebelling for a change.

“He was always in the secular camp, even after he quit his brief association with the Congress. Now he has come to meet Modi. It is shocking,” said Gujarat minority leader Hanif Lakdawala.

In the film Dev based on the Gujarat riots, Bachchan had played the role of an honest police officer who protects Muslims.

Bachchan, who has offered to become tourism ambassador of Gujarat, has been gushing in his praise of the BJP chief minister.

“He (Modi) lives simply and with mere basic needs and most unlike the head of a state. He speaks with affection on development and progress. He is welcoming to fresh ideas and ideals.… He does and acts as he speaks. He talks of raising the level of awareness for his state through tourism and I volunteer to participate in any activity that would help promote that,” the actor wrote in his blog today.

Bollywood old-timers, though, are not too surprised at the sudden bonhomie and attributed it to the “compulsion of the times”.

“Amitji is saddled between a rock and a hard place. He is truly secular and he will have a hard time trying to reconcile himself to his newfound love for Narendra Modi. But as they say, in life – mohabattein aur bhi hain. He is a practical man and I am not surprised by his decision. He has financial concerns which will no longer be met in Uttar Pradesh because the Samajwadi Party has lost ground there and his friend Amar Singh is no longer with the SP. So he is following his other friend, Anil Ambani, to Gujarat,” said a Bollywood writer.

Bachchan’s praise for Modi yesterday came on a day Amar sent his resignation as Samajwadi general secretary, parliamentary board member and spokesperson to Mulayam.

The junior Ambani brother, also close to Amar, has been seen to be growing close to Modi since la st January when he endorsed him as a future Prime Minister, saying a person like him (Modi) should be the next leader of the country”.

Bollywood decided to stay mum on the issue, largely because, as a former star said, “nobody wants to comment adversely about Modi and get their films banned and theatres burnt in Gujarat. He heads an army of goons”.

Brand experts feel the closeness with Modi could affect Bachchan’s image. “If the media play it up in a big way, this bonhomie with Modi will affect his brand image. I think Amitabh should take a look at Modi’s record and his role in the Gujarat riots and the ensuing massacre of minorities. Mr Modi though always seems super-confident in whatever he does,” said Alyque Padamsee, theatre director and brand guru.