India, Nov 1: Aishwarya Rai (Miss India, Miss World 1994) turned 33 on Wednesday. And the nation went into paroxysms of delight.
People in Allahabad ushered in a new year for Ms Rai by celebrating her birthday. Unfortunately Ms Rai could not be present, and they had to make do with her photograph. They lit candles and cut a cake, with the scintillating lady's photograph in front of them at all times. Citizens were also eager to give interviews to the omnipresent and faltoo press, which had no news that day to cover except Ms Rai's birthday.
Citizens of Allahabad insisted that they were celebrating Ms Rai's birthday not only because she was their favourite actress and they loved her stellar performances in memorable movies like 'Bride and Prejudice' and 'Mistress of Spices', but because she was now their "bahu". Children of age 8 told the press (direct quote), "Ab woh hamari chachi banne jaa rahi hai... hum bahut khush hain." And we thought that any self-respecting child of age 5 or above would rather drink milk five times a day than come on national television to call an actress his/her chachi.
While the mass-adoption of Abhishek Bachchan by Allahbad as their son is very touching, the Bachchan family, which on most occasions is prepared for such situations with diplomatic statements and press releases of "Aapke pyaar ke bina toh hum kuch bhi nahi" type (which is actually truer than they realise), on this occasion, had nothing to say - either because they were "not available for comment" or because the media finally realised the futility and utter idiocy of covering "news" of this kind.
IBN-7, which is associated with CNN and is run by Rajdeep Sardesai, ran a special feature on the occasion of Ms Rai's birthday, called "Aishwarya Rai ke Affairs" at 8.30 p.m. IST. That's India for you - a land of contradictions, where Allahbadis call someone their "bahu", the media runs the story of the citizens and follows it up with a story of the respected lady's affairs, and all the while the average person watches both with equal enjoyment, and can still believe in privacy, human rights, respect for individuals and Indian culture and tradition.
J. P. Dutta, meanwhile, in Mumbai, rejoiced at home over a glass of Scotch. By remaking 'Umrao Jaan,' he had realised too late, he had bitten off more than he could chew. But the secret of Bollywood directors' psychological survival is the fact that they believe that there is no movie so pathetic that it cannot at least recover what they sunk in it. And this time, thought J. P. to himself, is something that I've never had before. Star's birthday, rumours of impending marriages, promos that look like advertisements for Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri, and a budget big enough to feed an entire African country. God bless the age of free publicity and tabloidism.