Did you hear that? Did Aishwarya Rai call Rekha 'Maa' at the Sansui Stardust awards or not is hot and trending on social media. #Shocking, #Rekha and #Aishwarya are the top keywords doing the rounds after the awards function was telecast by Colors on 10 January.
Rekha presented Aishwarya Rai with the Power Packed Performer Award for her impressive comeback in Sanjay Gupta's Jazbaa. Giving away the award, Rekha hugged Aishwarya and said "I hope I can give it to you for many more years," as the cameras zoomed in on Amitabh Bachchan's reaction. He sat in the audience, his face betraying no emotion except the ordinary.
In her acceptance speech, Aishwarya thanks a number of people and then looks at Rekha and says 'Thankyou, Maa' before continuing. At least, that's what is quite clear in the audio.
Although most stories around this are trending with "shocking" as a top keyword in the headline, it's about time for some context here. What's interesting is that despite the use of "shocking" in many headlines, measurable data on social media 'sentiment' is mostly neutral or positive with only 1 per cent negative, which probably points to a textured understanding of content. Although Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rekha both live in Mumbai and are part of Bollywood, they both trace their roots to the south of India. Rekha is Tamilian and Aishwarya was born into a Tulu speaking Bunt family in Mangalore. In both these cultures, adding 'Ma' or 'Maa' at the end of a person's name as a call-out is not uncommon, much like the equivalent of 'Ji' in many Indian sub-cultures. Just as Ji is supposed to convey respect but may well not, so is the case with 'ma' and its many uses.
Rai made her acting debut in 1997 with Mani Ratnam's Tamil film Iruvar, a semi-biographical political drama, featuring Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Tabu and Revathi. Just as Jayalalithaa is called Amma and that shortens to Jaya-mma which makes her nobody's and everybody's mother figure, South Indians routinely use a person's name plus a 'ma' as generic suffix, Rekha-ma could well be 'maa-ch' ado about nothing, shall we say.