Bollywood fans are suckers for a good tear-jerker.
Earlier this week, Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan penned an open letter to his granddaughters, Navya Naveli, 18, and Aaradhya Bachchan, 4.
He wrote to them about the struggles of womanhood, about being your own person in a world that believes it has the right to tell girls and women what they ought to do.
Social media lapped up his letter with relish. People on Twitter called it "beautiful", "heartwarming", "a must-read". Soon, publications followed with high praise. Indian Express wrote, "With gender issues getting so much play in India and yet crimes against women being at all-time high, the letter assumes significance." Huffington Post India was even more flattering: "Progressive, empowering, and deeply heartfelt, the letter is bound to resonate with young women all over the country, especially at a time when gender inequality, violence against women, and a culture of patriarchy are still widely prevalent in our country."
Yet, I can't help but feel something about the letter was off. Mr Bachchan timed this letter with the release of his upcoming film Pink, which should have even the least discriminating film enthusiast scream 'PR stunt!'. But that's not all. The letter itself contradicts Mr Bachchan's intent of upholding women's rights in a few vital ways. It makes one doubt the sincerity of his words to Navya and Aaradhya.
Given his sway over millions of Bollywood fans over the world, I felt it necessary to raise my concerns with the man himself. Here is what I have to say to you, Mr Bachchan.
Dear Mr Amitabh Bachchan,
I, Shehar Bano, a granddaughter, daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, mother and childhood fan of yours, found your letter to your granddaughters very moving. It's clear that you want the best for both of them. One would wish more grandfathers stood up in support of their granddaughters' choices in life.
But I have a few concerns. There are a few portions of your letter, where your words actually go against the ideals of gender equality you say you support. Let me explain.
You begin your letter by saying your granddaughters carry the legacy of their great-grandfathers: "You both carry a very valuable legacy on your tender shoulders — Aaradhya, the legacy of your great grandfather, Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Navya, the legacy of your great grandfather, Shri H P Nanda."
I wonder why you chose to only talk about their paternal grandfathers, and not their grandfathers from their maternal side.
Are you suggesting a mother has no legacy to pass on to her children? Is the woman, who carries her children for nine months in her body, gives birth to them, raises them along with their father, merely an incubator, and not a person who instills values and inspires ambition or indeed 'pass on the good genes' from her side of the family? In your letter, you have (perhaps inadvertently) said that it is who your father is that matters the most.
My family history is not as illustrious as yours, but I am a proud granddaughter of:
My Dada, a forest officer and a philanthropist at heart, who passed on his love and passion for animals and humans alike;
My Dadi, an epitome of patience and an amazing mother to her nine children;
My Nana, an educationist, a man of discipline and a writer/poet;
My Nani, a woman known for her kindness and legendary culinary skills.
I carry with me the legacy of all these people, not just of my father, and his father and grandfather, not only the so-called superior sex's legacy.
Secondly, you tell them to marry when they wish to, implying that they shouldn't cave to societal pressures to wed early.
"Don't get married for any other reason other than you want to get married.
People will talk. They shall say some terrible things. But that doesn't mean you have to listen to everyone. Never ever worry about log kya kahenge!
At the end of the day, you are the only one who will face the consequences of your actions, so don't let other people make your decisions for you."
This is good, sound advice, Mr Bachchan. But can you say you led by example? Did you allow the women in your family to do the same?
Your wife Jaya Bachchan and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, whose daughter Aaradhya you address, appear to have followed the dictates of your principles, ever since their lives entwined with yours.
I say this, because rumours suggest that you wield an unnatural control over their professional lives.
Did you not have Aishwarya marry a tree first to save your son from the ill-effects of her astrological sign? Your daughter-in-law bore the ridicule and legal consequences of being betrothed to a banana plant, simply because your priest said her star sign could shorten her husband's life. This hardly sounds as progressive as the papers purport you to be.
There are rumours that you watch over her career moves as well, often expressing displeasure of a scene too steamy. Take the latest from the grapevine about Aishwarya's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. It is said you've asked for the scenes that offended you to be edited from the film.
It is very likely that that is all gossip that sells well, but what of your wife Jaya?
Word has it she gave up her career to look after the children — a choice she insists was hers. But you thanked her for her sacrifice with scandals of your affair with another famous heroine. What choices did you give her then? Compromise again, for the sake of kids and family? Covering up for her husband’s 'infidelity'?
Mr Bachchan, I believe you just advised your granddaughters on how to live their lives before their marriage. Perhaps, you should also pen your thoughts about their lives afterwards too? Or was it not relevant to Pink?
With all due respect, Mr Bachchan, may I ask why you chose to write the letter now? Don’t you think it’s too obvious a marketing gimmick for your upcoming women's rights-centric film, Pink? You used your star power to get your audience emotional, right before the movie's release. Coincidence? A very timely one, indeed.
Your letter is incomplete, contradictory and hypocritical in my humble opinion. You have a huge name, a huge legacy, a huge fan following. Your word is valued by millions. You have power and with power comes huge responsibility, sir. I'm not sure you used it well…
It would have been much better had this letter been written by Jaya ji, ending with her classic line from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, 'Keh diya na... bas keh diya!'
Shehar Bano Rizvi, a granddaughter who takes pride in the legacy of my Nana-Nani and Dada-Dadi, equally!