Sept. 1, 2013
Three years is a long time to be out of sight in politics and showbiz. But Amar Singh, a Rajya Sabha member and former general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, knows how to make a grand comeback.
After spending three years recuperating — physically and emotionally — he is now slowly but surely stepping out of the quiet and comfortable domesticity of his home. And the first public outing he engineered was the party he threw for Sridevi’s 50th birthday in Mumbai earlier this month.
This was his second “thank you” to a friend for remembering him. His first one was last year, when Sridevi’s English Vinglish released and she invited him for a viewing. He in turn booked a Delhi theatre for four days and invited friends and acquaintances.
Grand gestures come easy to the man who likes to keep glamorous company, and has expensive taste — a massive diamond ring shines on his hand and a Bentley is parked in the garage of his refurbished Lutyens’ bungalow in Delhi’s Lodi Estate.
Though a layer of dust covers his office, and a Bentley calendar on the wall has not been consulted since October 2012, his star, he believes, is in the ascendant. Singh, a firm believer in horoscope and astrology, says that he was going through a tough phase — “sade-sati of shani (Saturn)” — but that phase is now getting over. It was a dark period in his life. Charge-sheeted and jailed for offering bribes to BJP MPs in the 2008 cash-for-votes scam, he was expelled from the party he called his own, and edited out of the Bachchans’ happy family photo.
After giving me time on late Sunday afternoon, Amar Singh made me wait for two hours. And when he finally called me for the interview, the first thing he said was that he doesn’t like to talk, and he particularly doesn’t like to talk about friends who ditched him.
For the next 75 minutes, he spoke about the Bachchans and could not keep Shah Rukh Khan out of his conversation for more than 10 minutes at a stretch — at a film awards function in 2007, Khan joked about the darindagi (evil intent) he saw in Amar Singh’s eyes (he was in the audience), and at another function, again being hosted by Khan, Singh got into a fight with the organisers because he felt his bade bhaiyya, Amitabh Bachchan, was not being given the respect due to him, i.e. a front-row seat.
Amar Singh knows that to return to the centre-stage of politics and Bollywood, he needs to tell a compelling story. And in this country what’s more compelling than the story of estranged brothers and an evil bhabhi being narrated by an enfeebled, outcast chhota bhai. That’s the script Amar Singh is clutching as he steps out of his home, alone.
Edited extract of the interview.
What is your day like these days?
It’s a Sunday and you have been waiting (for two hours!). I’m still very busy, busy… in the last two decades, I had no time for myself — neither for my health, nor for my children, my wife, my business. There were scattered pieces of property all over, bought at a nominal price, but there was no one to look after them. They were lying idle, like a good old feudal landlord. Now I am compiling them and consolidating them. The consolidation of political alignments, corporate alignments and consolidation of strategic alliances for the benefit of so-called fake friends have yielded me nothing na, except momentary “thank you”. Thank you of the moment you get.
But you did keep very interesting company for a very, very long time…
All that glitters is not necessarily gold. What you think is very interesting from a distance might be very intensely painful.
Are you pointing in a particular direction?
No, no, I’m not pointing. I’m saying that in public life what happens is that all notions are preconceived and told so many times by so many people that they become the truth, like Goebbels’ principle… Repeat a lie hundred times and it’ll become the truth.
I still remember a wide-spread rumour that was being turned into a firm belief — in an esteemed magazine a write-up came that Aishwarya got married with a tree to take care of bad omen, because of her horoscope. Absolutely bullshit! No iota of truth in this. The horoscope was never matched and nobody really bothered about the horoscope angle… A Bengaluru-based astrologer claimed that somebody from Bachchan family came to consult and he advised this treatment to take care of the ailment in the horoscope. But so far as that astrologer is concerned, he was non-existent for Bachchans because at that point in time I was one of the… not closest…
No, no. I now know I was never family. And I have no embarrassment in accepting this because family is not deserted like this, the way I was deserted. I may be a convenience, I may be a facilitator, I may be a Special Purpose Vehicle in their life for some target achievement, but I was most certainly not family… now I understand the concept of family. My daughters are not SPVs for me, whether they are of any use to me or not, but they are still very valuable to me… Abhishek is family to Amitji and Jayaji… my confusion, the cloud of confusion in my mind has gone. I was having very close proximity with them, but I was not family, and the evidence of that is my feeling, the evidence is that I’m not there, evidence is that I don’t exist in the periphery of their life.
In some of the interviews you have given, you have put the blame squarely on Jaya Bachchan, and in some you’ve blamed Amitabh Bachchan for this estrangement between you and the Bachchan family. You’ve also mentioned a meeting between you, Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Ambani, a meeting to discuss parting of ways…
…I don’t want to talk about them all the time because it’s very painful. It’s not very easy to talk about your own personal agony… it is my own earned experience and, good or bad, let me live with it. And instead of repeating it again and again, I’ll simply say that I stand by what I have said earlier. I’m not one who will say something one day and the next day will swallow it because it concerns somebody as high and mighty as they are.
But now I can very comfortably assess that the fault lies with me, not with them.
And what is that fault?
Fault is that a big man, a so-called big man, if you invite him at your place and he accepts your invitation for dinner, he will oblige you by accepting your dinner — (speaks in a mocking voice) ‘Hey, I’m a very big guy. You’ve extended me invite and I’ve come. I’ve provided you an opportunity to feed me.’
He’ll not be appreciative of your hospitality or service. On the contrary, he will think that you are fortunate that god has given you an opportunity to serve him. And if you help somebody needy, who is absolutely oppressed, depressed and downtrodden, he will appreciate, he will value.
You did help them when…
No, I will not say that I have ever helped them. You see, nobody helps anybody. I helped myself. They were so close that their pain became my pain. So to say that they have exploited me…
But I didn’t…
No, no, you will have to be in my shoes to understand what I’m saying. If my daughters are in problem, if my wife is in problem… their pain became more intense for me to tolerate… so what I did, I did out of my sweet will and for that they are not to be held responsible.
So I really helped myself. I addressed my peace which was disturbed because of them. In the process they may have gained — their good luck, their destiny.
Three years ago you were part of two very big groups — Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Bachchans. And now both these groups are gone and you are…
Because of my ill health, and because of my tryst with death thrice — kidney transplant, once I fell from a flying helicopter in Jhansi and once at the Dubai airport when my sugar got low, 15, and I was almost brain dead and I went on ventilator because of lack of supply of oxygen in the brain — I’m also insecure in a way. I want my wife to know about the business, whatever little interest I’ve got. God forbid if something happens to me tomorrow, she’s absolutely… (pauses) The kind of confidence that I used to have, that if something happens to me, there is Mr Amitabh Bachchan, there is one Anil Ambani, they are very close, they are almost, if not family, then almost like family, my kids and my wife will be looked after. All that mirage is taken care of.
I have not understood one thing. Did you expect Jaya Bachchan to quit the Samajwadi Party with you? Was that your expectation?
My expectation was straightforwardness and truthfulness in a relationship. I won the second term of Rajya Sabha nomination and she came in politics — she’s not a political element, she’s not a great activist, she’s not an orator like Atal Behari Vajpayee, she’s not one who will mix with the normal, stinking UP workers… She’s from a different class and clan. She said that I want to come into politics to help you. So she came to help me. With this preamble she came, and Wow! What a help she rendered to me. I have to thank her. So this premises she used to come and then…
So you did expect her to quit with you.
No. I expected her to be absolutely straightforward — that I am a politically ambitious lady, that I want to build a career out of it, that’s it. There is nothing wrong in being politically ambitious… But to say something, to do something… that contradiction, that is hurting. Because you call yourself family and you are behaving politically. That is painful.
In Bollywood, I’ve met people who hold a very similar residue, let’s say leftovers, of a relationship with the Bachchans. It’s very similar… people who are hurting…
See, I’ll tell you very frankly — the persona is larger-than-life and a good actor can be a bad human being and a good human being can be a bad actor. Toh so far as his acting skills are concerned, nobody can question that. And his contribution to Indian cinema is also unparalleled. In 100 years of Indian cinema, at least 50 years are dominated by him (in a previous interview, to another publication, Mr Singh had said 30 years). So his godly screen persona is so big… his pedigree is so highly esteemed, see how heady it is: You are the superstar, close to the Prime Minister of India, so close that you are going on vacation with the serving Prime Minister. You are the closest chum and buddy, so close that when Rajiv Gandhi met with his tragic end, at his last rites other than the immediate family, the only person who is seen is Amitabh Bachchan. So the entire persona becomes very, very big and exclusive. And then any kind of external nicety also looks big and great. ‘Oh Wow! The Amitabh Bachchan is doing this to me.’ So that is the emotional and psychological entrapment.
And then someone like Mrs Jaya Bachchan, whether it’s Wizcraft, whether it’s Amar Singh or whosoever is there, in that orbit, will immediately do an assessment: ‘Oh God! All of them are getting greater mileage out of our help and they are shining under our reflected glory. So our being in their life, or they being seen in our esteemed company, is a big obligation that we are doing’.
That is the feeling and people like us, lesser mortals like us, who allowed them to pursue with this, that is our mistake, our foolishness.
But what was that need to be a part of that family, because, actually, they are not your family.
I’ll tell you what happens. I come from a middle-class family, left home very early, met with them. To be fair to them, definitely when I was going through surgery, for two months the entire family was with me (in Singapore, in 2009). So you feel special, you feel good that all of them are around. Maybe because of our middle class moorings, maybe because of our unsaturated social achievements…
OK, so Jaya Bachchan decided not to quit the party with you and was not upfront with you. Still there was a very real relationship — and not just with you, but between your families. So if you had not been very vocal about what you felt, do you think you could have…
I don’t think so, because after I was expelled, when things were not so bad, I was in London and I stayed in St James’ Court, with my children and wife. The Bachchans were also there. I phoned Mr Bachchan, that I have arrived in London. He said, ‘Oh, but I’m leaving today’, and he left. Jaya Bachchan was staying in the same hotel, in the next-door apartment, and she never cared to come out and say hello to me. She may think that she was elder, so why should she come out… at least she could have asked for my children, they used to call her Tai. But she never did. Shweta was there. She never came out to say hello to me.
So they have decided to behave so strangely… you see, big people they call shots. I’m not sure na, because she’s already taken a decision. She said at a press conference that ‘I’m with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Samajwadi Party’. I did not go to media. She went to media. After the dispute between me and Mulayam Singh erupted, she told Barkha Dutt about her admiration and adulation for Mulayam Singhji… I think the intellectual level of both, Jaya Bachchan and Mulayam Singh Yadav, is at par… They are intellectually politically very sharp and superior people…
I wanted to ask you about Jaya Prada. How is she doing politically, and what is your relationship with her now?
As compared to many others, I’ve done nothing for her. Yet, in my crisis, she stood like a rock. And for someone like me, what can she do? She cannot provide a bail amount of `2.5 crore. In hour of crisis and emotional distress you need only emotional anchoring… As humans we need many things — money to lead a graceful, eventful life. In the same manner we need company, as well as some emotional food to live life of enrichment. I think she provided that honestly… My problem in life is that if you’ve got a lot of friends and few of them are very prominent, then their prominence and their ditching and disloyalty overshadows the goodness of others.
So Jaya Pradha’s political career is a big question-mark?
No, not at all. Even my political career is not a big question mark… I’ve taken a sabbatical. If given an opportunity I would love to play my next inning. Now my health is alright… ideologically I’d be comfortable with the Congress. I don’t think I would like to go to any regional party… Because their whims and fancies have curtailed the sharpness of the government’s liberalisation initiative… Samajwadi Party’s top leadership does not understand the global economy…
Do you see similarities between these two stories — you were in the thick of things in Bollywood and Lucknow…
No, I was not in Bollywood.
OK. The No. 1 family of Bollywood.
I don’t agree with your statement. The No. 1 family of Bollywood is the Kapoor family because every generation has had somebody. It did not end with Raj Kapoorji. Rishi Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Karishma Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor — and all the generations are huge successes. In Dilip Kumar’s family, he made Ganga Jamuna for Naseer Khan. But where is Naseer Khan? In Dev saab’s family… In spite of push, in many families the greatness achieved, maintained is not sustained by the second generation. So the first family is the one where the sustenance of greatness is continued.
Now that you are in this self-introspection phase, would you say that essentially you are a bad judge of character?
No. No. Absolutely not… My fault lies in the fact that other than your immediate family, that is your wife, your kids, you should not allow anyone in your internal orbit, and you should not necessarily access someone else’s internal orbit.
I’ll tell you, anybody who has paid money to Mr Bachchan and has made a formal agreement, they are all happy — he’s endorsing Binani cement, he’s endorsing Lal Dant Manjan, because everything is squeaky clear — ‘Hey big guy, this is the money and you’ll be endorsing this’. And they are formally nice and correct to each other.
If you allow yourself to be used as carpet rug toh people will walk all over you. That is your fault, not theirs. So I think I’m not a bad judge of character. I’m a sentimental and emotional fool.
And this sentimentality and emotional foolishness is not going to pay any dividend. I’m a great believer in horoscope and I was going through sade-satiya of shani — people say that Saturn is bad, but I believe that Saturn is the best. It’s a good teacher — even if you don’t want to see, it’ll put finger in your eyes and make you see. Saturn will filter all the vices of your life.
Now you are clear of all vices?
Vices, misunderstandings, confusion. I will not be enamoured, I will not be in ecstasy over ambition. Basically, my tendency of getting intensely close to a person in a relationship, giving 100 per cent of myself and expecting the same from other side is wrong.
To be fair to Mrs Jaya Bachchan, she told me once in Goa, the one good thing she told me, that if you expect that what you do for others they will do for you, you will be a sorry man all your life.
So actually I should not be upset or angry with her. She made her intentions very clear while holidaying with me in Goa long time back — don’t expect me to do what you do for me.
You’ve learnt so many good things, life’s lessons from that relationship. What did you learn from Amitabh Bachchan?
Punctuality, formal goodness, clinically correct behaviour, politically correct words to use, very calculative and shrewd in dealings, and silence is gold. If there is no answer to any query, it is better to keep mum.
Last question. You had many Bollywood friends. Do they call? Does Bipasha still call you?
Bipasha Basu never called me. Poor Bipasha! I’ve seen her from a distance only twice in life… I challenge — if it’s Bipasha’s voice, I’m ready to be hanged.
My voice is definitely there. I must have said that to a boy, ‘Arre, you are not enjoying…’ My telephone is being tapped 24×7, and if I’m saying that thing to a guy it is not a kind of… I will definitely not tell those kind of things to a lady. I’m a decent man. I will tackle a lady’s proposal with elan and sophistication.