In 1990, when his name was cleared in the Bofors scam by a London court, Amitabh Bachchan proudly claimed the "Bachchans do not manage contradictions, they expose them."
Bachchan has come a long way since the 80s. From the man who, according to former Prime Minister VP Singh, almost ran the Rajiv Gandhi government and got wrongly reviled as Bofors ka Dalal to becoming a favourite of the current BJP dispensation and emerging as the frontrunner for India's brand ambassador, he has, ironically, managed the contradictions in his life quite well.
Bachchan is a perfect example of how fortunes of artists wax and wane with politicians. His purported anointment as brand ambassador of Incredible India underlines a simple fact: artists get cast as heroes and villains on the preferences and biases of India's political masters. To rephrase what Rajesh Khanna famously said in Anand, they are all puppets on the rangmanch (stage) of politics.
In this context, the tourism ministry's refusal to renew its contract with the advertising agency that cast Aamir Khan as brand ambassador of Incredible India is just another example of a political party playing favourites, rewarding the loyal and booting out those who are not aligned to its ideology.
Khan, of course, did not help his own cause. Even without his remarks on growing intolerance in India, it is difficult to assume that the custodians of culture within the Sangh Parivar would have been gung-ho about letting him continue represent Incredible India. Just look at the surnames of all the people the government has chosen to head cultural institutions and academic bodies and you would know what the BJP prefers.
Soon after Khan said his wife wanted to reconsider her family's future in India, the troll brigade of the Parivar had run a shrill campaign for boycott of all the products the actor was endorsing. It would have been truly incredible tolerance if the BJP government had renewed Khan's contract. What would its fan base have said? Tourists don't come to India. Indians, let's sell Pakistan tourism in protest?
Bachchan, on the other hand, has been incredibly non-political over the past few years. In June, when he was asked by Times Now about the beef ban controversy, he replied with unbelievable naiveté, “I’m a vegetarian, don’t know about beef ban.”
As Firstpost had pointed out earlier, since the Bofors controversy, he has been excellent as polite-to-the-point-of-being-timid, a diplomatic man who feigns ignorance of controversies bursting around him, balks at the idea of discussing politics and politicians, refuses to take a tough stand on social issues and comes up with amusing excuses for avoiding debates — exhibit one, his poke-faced response to the beef question.
In a scathing critique of Bachchan’s inability to stand up and be counted, the Telegraph had argued that this is typical Bachchan. “Among old-timers in Delhi's political circles, though, the actor's answers evoked no surprise. While Bachchan was perhaps looking to avoid antagonising any section of his fans and followers, people who have watched his career since the 1970s say he has a history of preferring discretion to valour in public and political affairs,” the newspaper said.
Politicians, obviously, see merits in such meekness of demeanor. It is the reason why actors like Bachchan get rewarded with contracts--most recently he was chosen as ambassador of Narendra Modi government's Kissan Channel for a fee he later denied--and get accepted across the political divide--the love for Big B is perhaps the only thing common between the BJP and the SP — and artists like Khan don't.
And then there is the draw of luck. In his interview with Times Now, Bachchan had candidly said: “I feel vulnerable, I am scared of consequences, I think about my own life and that of my own children.”
Guess who would have agreed with him.