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Amitabh Bachchan: Much ado about nothing

Soutik Biswas | 14:15 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Amitabh Bachchan

India's biggest superstar Amitabh Bachchan has set off a curious kerfuffle with his recent comments on the upcoming metro railway in Mumbai, where he lives. He has written in his popular blog that the elevated railway line would run close to his house in the upmarket neighbourhood of Juhu where he lives. This, he believes, would mean the end of his privacy.

A number of people appear to have taken umbrage to Mr Bachchan's seemingly innocuous comments. A senior minister said the government had to think in the public interest in matters related to the development of the city. Another politician and a former friend of Mr Bachchan echoed these sentiments. Some respondents have been downright trenchant. "I have a solution for you sir," tweeted a fan. "Throw away your cars and try to travel in local trains."

It all appears to be much ado about nothing. Here is what Mr Bachchan actually wrote in his blog:

There is general happiness from the commuters, for, the misery of crowded locals and the uncertainties of the three wheeler or the yellow black cab shall hopefully be greatly reduced. But here is the killer ..its going to roll over Prateeksha [the actor's house]!! Yesterday the authorities came over to check externally the structural condition of all houses that would get affected by the rail car moving in its proximity and they came into Prateeksha. So bye bye privacy and hello fellow traveller.

Nowhere does he really rant against the railway. And doesn't he have the right to express his concern about his privacy in a movie-mad country where he is revered by millions of fans?

Many would say that Mr Bachchan may have inadvertently raised a key issue: Indians are almost never consulted on the building of infrastructure with a direct bearing on their lives. There is also the impression that the state tries to short-change its citizens - by buying land cheaply from farmers to build expressways and special economic zones or sell it to real estate developers.

At the same time, there is little evidence to show that Indian authorities have bent infrastructure building policy in cities to cater to the whims of celebrities. Many years ago, India's best known singer, Lata Mangeshkar, publicly protested against plans to build a flyover near her Mumbai home. I am told that her objections were overruled, but construction has been delayed due to some design tweaks.


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