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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Giving & Generous

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Giving & Generous

Even as a child, Abhishek Bachchan was very special

Most people have a strange fixation with the stars – whether of the celestial type or the celluloid variety. The one common factor is that we look at both for inspiration.

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Little did I realize as a four year old in my nani’s kitchen, observing a diminutive figure with Rapunzel-like hair learning the art of making Punjabi pinnis, that I would actually cross paths with her again. I had seen glimpses of Jaya Bachchan on Doordarshan (the only channel available at the time) and could recognize her from the song my mother would hum from ‘Guddi’, but as a little girl, this famous heroine hardly mattered to me.

I was rather puzzled when my grandmother reprimanded me for laughing out real loud as Jaya failed in her initial attempts to roll out a perfectly round pinni. I had this experience because my aunt used to give Hindi tuitions to Abhishek and his sister Shwetambara (yes, that is her real name!) in south Delhi’s posh Vasant Vihar. The kids would arrive always chaperoned by security personnel and sometimes their mother would come along. At times, I would accompany my aunt to their sprawling, fortress-like bungalow.

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Abhishek was, and thankfully, has the quality of being friendly to all. Shwetambara remains, to this day I am told, distant and not easily befriending or befriended.

On being friends with ‘star’ kids, we were always encouraged to treat them as normal people, both by our parents and theirs. I am actually grateful for those days as they made me understand the value of things that we as normal kids, devoid of the trappings or restrictions of being famous, vastly underestimated.

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The senior Mr Bachchan was not just a film star, but also a sitting Member of Parliament. A simple childhood pleasure – such as standing on one’s balcony, was therefore denied to Abhishek and Shweta, for security reasons. I would burst into fits of laughter when he would be adamant about studying in the balcony at our house. I remember a whole lot of Amitabh Bachchan’s VHS tapes being delivered to our home, but the most vivid memories are those of Abhishek Bachchan being absolutely intrigued by the wheat grain that was delivered from my grandfather’s village! Naturally, I thought it very silly when he wanted to take a handful of the grain back home, because so far he only knew of it as ‘atta’ (flour).

Over time, I began to realize the privileges accorded to me viz-a-viz him, and we – my brother and few cousins –started involving him in our games and pranks that constitutes good fun in childhood. We would pluck ‘shehtoots’ (King Mulberry) from a tree in our yard for him, in exchange for Fox mints or Hersheys chocolates, which he never failed to bring us.

I distinctively remember a couple of days when I was awfully ill with fever and he wasn’t allowed to play with me, he actually got me a set of comics featuring his father to keep me entertained while recuperating. And there did exist a series of comics in which Amitabh Bachchan assumes the role of a superhero. My favourite title amongst them was ‘Kisse Amitabh Bachchan ke – Dasyu Rani ka Atmasamarpan’, about Amitabh Bachchan as a flesh and blood superhero called Supremo, who gets a famed Chambal dacoit to surrender. This series was released by Star Comics and was unfortunately short-lived.

I feel rather ashamed to reveal that I have only two of these titles left since then. Supremo wore a skin-tight beet red costume and welding glasses to hide his original identity; the initial page even carried a personal handwritten request from Mr B, requesting all his fans to keep his identity a secret! While Supremo didn’t have any so called superpowers, he had strength and conviction to overcome situations and adversaries, and in that sense, he was very real. Supremo had two helpers called Vijay and Anthony, named after Bachchan’s on-screen characters. He had a pet Dolphin called Sonali, and a falcon scout called Shaheen, inspired by the bird in ‘Coolie’. Full credit goes to the writer of the series, Gulzar saab.

Amitabh Comic Amitabh Comic 2 Amitabh Comic 3

Returning to Abhishek’s generosity, years later when I met him in my capacity as a journalist and in his new role as an actor, he was delighted to recall our childhood connection. Honestly, it was this relationship that allowed me a lot of special privileges during interviews and film events. Perhaps it was this magnanimity on Abhishek’s part that allowed me many liberties during my interviews with him. In fact, he was perplexed when I, without informing him, broke the news of his liaison with Aishwarya Rai on live TV, and then went on to grill him at length about it! Having spent a certain number of years in the company of stars – some that I have admired and some that have surprised me (not always pleasantly), I can confidently say that I consider myself lucky to have interacted with the not-so- heavenly stars, and am able to reminisce about these special moments

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