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Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan’s words of advice to his two granddaughters has sparked a rigorous online debate over the status of women in Indian society.
In an open letter penned for Navya Naveli and Aaradhya that Bachchan also narrated via a Facebook video, the 73-year-old actor stressed that they and “all of India’s granddaughters” should become strong and independent women, stating, “Never ever worry about what people will say. Don’t let other people make your decisions for you.”
Bachchan, whose four-decade-long career has delivered some of Indian filmdom’s biggest hits such as 1975’s influential Sholay, also made his Hollywood debut in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Beyond films, he has been the long-running host of the Indian version of Who Wants to be A Millionaire.
He is also very active on social media with over 22.2 million followers on Twitter, making him the second-most-popular Indian personality on the platform after Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Bachchan’s video went viral after he posted it Monday, Teacher’s Day, and since then it has garnered 4.7 million views. The majority of the feedback has been positive. A typical comment said that the granddaughters were “very fortunate to be blessed with such a caring grandpa who thinks of their future so much in advance”. But Bachchan was also criticized for using the video to promote his upcoming release Pink, which opens Sept. 16. In the film, Bachchan plays a lawyer who fights a case on behalf of three young Delhi-based women who are sexually assaulted.
India has long been grappling with issues related to women’s safety, especially in light of the brutal and fatal gang-rape of a young Delhi woman in 2012, which sparked massive nationwide protests.
“This may be a difficult, difficult world in which to be a woman,” Bachchan states in the letter, adding, “But I believe that it is women like you that will change that. It may not be easy, setting your own boundaries, making your own choices, rising above people’s judgment. But you can set an example for women everywhere.”
But the actor was also criticized for being patriarchal given that in the letter he tells his granddaughters that they both “carry the valuable legacy of their great grandfathers.” As the daughter of Amitabh’s daughter Shweta, Navya Naveli’s great-grandfather was the late business tycoon H. P. Nanda.
Aaradhya’s great-grandfather was Amitabh’s father, the late poet and writer Harivanshrai Bachchan. Aaradhya is the daughter of Amitabh’s son, actor Abhishek and his actress wife Aishwarya Rai.
“His granddaughters only carrying legacy of their paternal great grandfathers. Feminism lessons by @SrBachchan on #TeachersDay”, posted Twitter user Neha Gupta.
One of Bachchan’s strongest critics was Aditi Mittal, a popular stand-up comedienne, who posted a series of tweets slamming the actor. “And of course, every old man turns into [a] feminist when he has a daughter or *record scratch* a granddaughter and a film to promote,” she tweeted.
“JUST like they have sold women body part by body part, for ages, Bollywood continues to sell empowerment one brain dead letter at [a] time now,” said another tweet.
On Thursday, Bachchan finally responded to the divided opinion generated by his letter in an interview with The Quint. “What has been expressed in that letter has been within me from a long time,” he said.
Responding to accusations that he used the letter to promote Pink, Bachchan said, “I have not spoken a single dialog in Pink that does not have my belief in it. If I were not to be working in the film, I would still have had no hesitation in publicly saying what I have said in the film. So, yes it was an emotional experience and moved by such, I felt like putting those words out [in the letter].”
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