Dear Amitabh Bachchan, Your Open Letter Is Just Disappointing

Indian women (and to be honest, Amitabh Bachchan) can do better than a well-timed, promotional stunt for a film.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Amitabh Bachchan writes down his thoughts for his grandkids, and we have some thoughts on this. (Photo: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

When childhood heroes falter, it hurts.

Which is why when I read Amitabh Bachchan’s letter to his granddaughters, I was just frankly disappointed. Because Bachchan is not only the actor who gave us Zanjeer, he has been a vociferous supporter of women’s rights all along, being a hero to not just me, but so many Indian women. (Remember Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao?)

But that’s the thing. Sometimes even childhood heroes need to be called out.

Why Baap-Dada ki Legacy is No Longer Cool

The letter starts by reminding Bachchan’s granddaughters of the legacy of their great-grandfathers, Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan and HP Nanda. But why is a legacy only something that fathers and grandfathers bestow?

Why doesn’t the letter talk about brilliant woman role models in the Bachchan and Nanda family, who have an equally intimidating legacy, but are somehow never seen as worthy contenders?

Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Shweta Bachchan Nanda, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Agastya Nanda and Navya Naveli Nanda. 
Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Shweta Bachchan Nanda, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Agastya Nanda and Navya Naveli Nanda. 
Jaya Bachchan is a Padma Shri, a successful politician, has won eight Filmfare awards and was a trailblazing actress with her roles in Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa, Abhimaan and Koshish. But is she mentioned in the letter? Nope.
Jaya Bahchan in <i>Abhimaan, </i>one of the films for which she won a Filmfare award. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/SrBachchan/media">AmitabhBachchan</a>)
Jaya Bahchan in Abhimaan, one of the films for which she won a Filmfare award. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/AmitabhBachchan)

Maybe, legacy is decided based on age. Only great-grandfathers can claim it.

But then, what about Taroon Kumar Bhaduri? Jaya Bachchan’s father was a renowned journalist and author of books like Obhishopto Chambal, Maruprantar and Road to Kashmir. Why isn’t he held up as someone whose values and ideas need to be followed?

Or does patriarchy work only according to surnames?

Who Says ‘Log Kya Kahenge’ Anyway? Your Family

Why should any girl in a family be mindful of her family’s legacy while making important life choices? Being respectful and loving your family (read: Baghban) is essential. But, for a woman, the struggle to challenge those ideas and chart one’s own path is the hardest within the family. Why shouldn’t a woman’s relationship with her family be based on respect and mutual understanding?

In 2014, Madhu and Nikita, two young girls in Rohtak committed suicide after they were stalked by boys in their area. What did they write in their suicide note? They didn’t want to bring disrepute to their family and feared that people would talk. Bam! ‘Log kya kahenge’ in its purest form.  

The first people to fling the ‘what will people say’ in a woman’s face whenever she decides to do something unconventional (personally or professionally) is her family, extended family and neighbours.

Maybe, the advice that Bachchan could have given to his granddaughters was to learn to challenge accepted wisdom and knowledge, even if it means asking uncomfortable questions in the khandaan.

No, the Length of My Skirt Doesn’t Define Me. My Ambitions Do

In probably the most quoted part of Bachchan’s letter, he tells his granddaughters that the length of their skirt doesn’t define their character.

Of course, the length of my skirt is not a measure of my character. And so isn’t the length of my kurta. And so aren’t clothes.

Breaking stereotypes and cracking the glass ceiling, while wearing a sari. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) women scientists after India’s Mars orbiter successfully entered the red planet’s orbit.  (Photo: Reuters)
Breaking stereotypes and cracking the glass ceiling, while wearing a sari. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) women scientists after India’s Mars orbiter successfully entered the red planet’s orbit. (Photo: Reuters)

Talking about empowering girls is always centred around very conventional ideas of clothes, beauty and marriage. It doesn’t venture into other ways to challenge other stereotypes about what women can and can’t do. Or should and shouldn’t be.

Why not tell your granddaughters (or young girls, for that matter) to be ambitious? That nothing can stop them? To be a nuclear scientist if they want to, find the cure for Alzheimer’s, be fiercely ambitious and not be afraid when they are being called out on that?

Bachchan’s letter talks about privilege of the Bachchan surname, but why not the need to be sensitive to other women who are not as privileged? (Photo: iStock)
Bachchan’s letter talks about privilege of the Bachchan surname, but why not the need to be sensitive to other women who are not as privileged? (Photo: iStock)

In his letter, Bachchan says, “This may be a difficult, difficult world to be a woman.”

Well, it is even more difficult to be a woman in India if you aren’t born with the right surname, the right class and the right religion. Bachchan’s letter talks about privilege of the Bachchan surname, but why not the need to be sensitive to other women who are not as privileged? Who have to bear the double cross of being a Dalit as well as a woman?

Of course, I have no right to dictate what Amitabh Bachchan writes to his granddaughters. It’s his family and ultimately, his opinion.

But please don’t shove the letter in my face as an inspiring example to young women, because it’s not.

Indian women (and to be honest, Amitabh Bachchan) can do better than a well-timed, promotional stunt for a film.

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