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By TT Bureau
  • Published 11.03.06

In the age of sequels, a remake of Abhimaan may not be out of place. The original story ? talented singer-husband gets jealous of more talented singer-wife ? has to be tweaked, of course. The 2006 version of the 1973 film could well be the tale of two would-be Parliamentarians. The husband has the first go, but fails to make a mark in politics. Exactly 20 years later, the wife makes her political debut. And, once again, she is a natural.

Like the original, the new film could star Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. And like Abhimaan, which the Bachchans insist has nothing to do with the fact that Jaya, often described by critics as the more gifted of the two, gave up her cinematic career soon after marrying Amitabh, the sequel could loosely be based on the lives of the real-life actor couple.

That Jaya was a better politician was visible way back in the Eighties when Amitabh was elected to Parliament from Allahabad on a Congress ticket. One of their associates recalls how it was Jaya, and not Amitabh, who remembered the names of party workers and their roles. “She knew their foibles and their strengths. Those days we used to joke and say that she would have made a better Parliamentarian than her husband,” says the associate.

Earlier this week, 58-year-old Jaya’s political mien was more visible than ever when the Election Commission (EC) sought to disqualify her from Rajya Sabha, of which she is a member, for heading the Uttar Pradesh Film Development Board. The EC argued that she was holding what it believed was an office of profit. Jaya Bachchan reacted like a true politician: she spoke of political conspiracies, attacked her rivals and pointed out that the government had honoured her with a Padma Shri and her husband and late father-in-law, with a Padma Bhushan. Observers thought it was all good politics.

But that’s not surprising, really, for Jaya Bachchan ? nee Bhaduri ? grew up in a political milieu. Her father, Taroon Kumar Bhaduri, was a journalist based in Bhopal, known for his writings on the dacoits of Chambal. Young Jaya ? a student of St Joseph’s Convent ? grew up watching her father interact with the Madhya Pradesh political class. And, clearly, she learnt a few lessons because one of the first things that she did on becoming a member of Rajya Sabha in 2004 was to touch the feet of Madhya Pradesh strongman Arjun Singh, despite the fact that his Congress party has often been at loggerheads with her Samajwadi Party (SP).

Most political observers believe that Jaya is not like other film stars in Parliament ? a group that includes such luminaries as Hema Malini and Govinda. She sits through all sessions, dons her stern-looking reading glasses and takes copious notes. “She is extremely hard-working,” says fellow SP Rajya Sabha member Shahid Siddiqui. “She insists on sitting through long sessions ? however boring they may be.”

There is something about her appearance, too, that seems to mark her out as a serious politician. Hema Malini comes in her floral chiffons and Jaya Prada in her designer dark glasses. Jaya Bachchan, on the other hand, is mostly to be seen in simple salwar kameezes or nondescript sarees. There is a trace of the old Guddi in her ? the role of a simple girl that she essayed in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s eponymous film of 1972.

In fact, though Jaya started her acting career with a role in Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar in 1963, and did some 35 films after Guddi ? including Sholay and Mili in 1975 ? she is yet to lose the Guddi tag. But political watchers believe that Jaya is not quite as simple minded as Guddi, who mixed up reel life with real life. “She is a smart person who knows what life is all about,” says a Parliament watcher.

If you are a friend of Amar Singh ? as Jaya Bachchan is ? you can’t but know your onions. Yet, despite being a member of the SP ? led by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and ably supported by Amar Singh ? Jaya has her own set of political friends. In Parliament, she mostly spent her time with Marxist MP Chandrakala Pandey, who has now retired. And just the other day, she was seen all in a huddle with fellow actors and Congress supporters Dilip Kumar and Saira Banu ? an image that Congress minister Jairam Ramesh promptly captured on his camera phone.

Yet Mulayam Singh Yadav is clearly Jaya’s political mentor. Their ties started to strengthen soon after he became chief minister in 1993. Mulayam later told reporters that the Bachchans went to his home town, Etawah ? where Amitabh even sang and danced at a public rally ? but refused to stay in a hotel. They put up, instead, in Mulayam’s house, and the CM recalled organising rabris and malpuas for them.

Political sources believe that Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh are grooming Jaya for a bigger political role. There is some talk that she may fight a Lok Sabha election from Jaunpur. Last week, she was in neighbouring Pratapgarh to pay a visit to Babu Patti ? father-in-law Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s village ? to inaugurate a library named after the late poet.

The Bachchans, clearly, have a symbiotic link with Jaunpur. Six years ago, Amitabh had described himself as a farmer from Jaunpur when he bought 20 acres of agricultural land near Pune. Under the laws of Maharashtra, he had to be a farmer to buy farm land.

The Lok Sabha election may take a while to happen, but Jaya Bachchan is not going to be out of Parliament for long, if at all. For Jaya, who has raised issues such as the state of blood banks, the problems of music piracy and the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in Parliament, is not bowing out of politics.

After all, the actress has found her true calling ? and a field where she is clearly miles ahead of her husband. But to know how the story develops, you’ll have to wait for the sequel.