B Not big Enough

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Sunday March 11, 04:03 AM

While Amitabh Bachchan mania reigns in the city, the counter opinion is not willing to be sold on the image Thousands have queued up to catch an elusive glimpse, hundreds have hung on to whatever little he had to say, areas have been cordoned off for him, media attention has been showered on him and genuflection has been rampant - theatre personality Usha Ganguly is worried.

Amitabh Bachchan, or his ongoing visit to Kolkata, does not impress the matriarch of Rangakarmee enough. The star system followed in India, where anybody emerging from tinsel town is bestowed divine status, feels Ganguly, is to be blamed. "Moreover I think as an actor Aamir Khan is far more versatile than Bachchan.

What makes the hype worse is that the visit of many talented personalities like painters go unnoticed," she adds. The deification of Bachchan, for many, begins right from watching the first-day-first-show of his films, collecting Bachchan memorabilia, and like it happened on Friday in Kolkata, waiting for hours to sneak a peek at the man himself.

Notwithstanding the rush, the appeal of Bachchan and mindless star worshipping is waning, especially among the younger generation, feels Ganguly. Like for instance Moon Chakraborty: a 25-year-old homemaker, wife of an engineer employed at ITC's Guntur factory and somebody not willing to sell her mind and soul to Bachchan mania. It is the actor's public image, and not the image the public or the media creates of him, that bothers her.

"As a popular figure among the masses he should be a little careful about his beliefs and the kind of message that he is sending across. And we can certainly do without the delirium that follows him wherever he goes," she reasons. Though Bachchan has been approached for his opinion on many issues concerning the country like India's chances at the cricket World Cup, it is equally true that he has not refrained - possibly on grounds of politeness or political correctness - from offering his opinion.

When it comes to the Big B, sadly, nothing much has remained personal. But the personal issue that Chakraborty alludes to, and Bula Bhadra, head of sociology department of Calcutta University underlines, concerns the ritual the Bachchan family made their proposed daughter-in-law, Aishwarya Rai, go through to rid her of the status of 'Manglik'. It is reported that Rai had to undergo a mock wedding to a tree to break free of a negative astrological condition.

"If someone of the status of Bachchan relies on such archaic rituals, it can only inspire other people to try the same," says Bhadra. "While we are talking about progress being made in India, these actions are taking the country backward to an antique age," feels Ganguly. But where both the media and the actor are working in tandem is in creating the sense of over-exposure.

Other than featuring in a plethora of films, in both lead and bit roles, his endorsement list includes detergent powder, suiting range, pens, hair oils, chocolates, Chywanprash, among others. It is this over-exposure, which feels DP Ghosh, visiting faculty at XLRI, Jamshedpur, and IIM-Calcutta, which has diluted his exclusivity. "When you endorse a brand you need to see whether you will be able to do justice to the product and whether it goes with your personality.

Right now he is laughing all the way to the bank of course, but it will hardly do him much good in the long run." It is a thought that is reiterated by Ujjal Sinha, CEO of Genesis Advertising agency. "Bachchan is not known to refuse any endorsement offers that along and he is over-killing himself. I don't see a lot of his advertisements anymore, and it is sad but true that this over-exposure might result in gradual cancellation of endorsements for him."

Nevertheless, in a city always on the lookout for the next hero to worship, Brand Bachchan continues to stop traffic. But what goes up, we know, comes down. Hopefully, it's not high enough yet for the Big B of Indian consciousness to come down with a thud.

Posted 13 Mar 2007

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