Being a popular actor or a celebrity comes at a cost. There are no private moments at public places, the gaze of fans and paparazzi is always on you. The celebrity-crazy media keeps hounding you at all hours of the day. But then, most celebrities accept it with humour and as a part of life. They may hide their faces, duck behind a pillar and even make a run for it when confronted by fans aiming their cameras or mobile phones at them.
But being Jaya Bachchan is different. The once-popular actor who made a place in viewers’ hearts through the 1970s and later in a few blockbusters as well, is often in the news for her angry outbursts at the media and fans. She has been in active politics since 2004 as a Rajya Sabha member of Samajwadi Party. She is a bitter critic of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling party’s policies. Social media is replete with videos of Jaya Bachchan’s angry expressions and rude reactions with the media and fans. Her anger and belligerence at the media or any other public forum have been well-known over the years. Her reaction at being photographed while she is out in public places has always been critical and angry. People have remarked that she is hardly seen smiling when moving in public places. Film fans have pointed out that other actors of her age, like Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Tanuja and others, appear smiling and friendly when out in public places.
The most recent incident of her belligerent reaction at being confronted by paparazzi is from 16 October when she attended the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai with her granddaughter Navya Naveli Nanda. In a video that became viral, the actor was seen walking inside the venue with Navya when a photographer stumbled while clicking their pictures. On seeing this, Jaya Bachchan is heard saying: “Serves you right… I hope you double up and fall.” Most users who shared the video on social media wondered why Jaya Bachchan was always angry.
Also in October, Jaya Bachchan and son Abhishek Bachchan were seen in a video in Bhopal, surrounded by fans who try to click a photo with the actor. In the clip, Jaya is seen shouting at the fans, “What are you doing? The people of Bhopal must have some decency…don’t you have any shame?”
Some earlier instances of her angry reaction as shared in videos on social media are:
16 March 2022: Jaya Bachchan attended her daughter Shweta Bachchan Nanda’s birthday party. While sitting in a car, she lashed out at the paparazzi for clicking her pictures.
20 December 2021: Jaya Bachchan had an angry outburst in the Rajya Sabha while discussing the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill. The apparent trigger was when a member questioned her about the summons sent to her daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the Panama Papers leak case by the Enforcement Directorate. In her reaction, she let out a curse on the ruling party by saying: “Your bad days will be here soon… I curse you.” At that time, her behaviour was criticised by people and on the social media as “unbecoming” for a seasoned politician and a woman of her prominence.
6 September 2020: When coming out of a party in Mumbai, she had taken offence to a journalist called her daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan by her first name. “Aishwarya kya hota hai (What is Aishwarya)? Is she your school friend,” she asked the journalist.
September 2017: While coming out of a Ganesh Puja in Mumbai, she angrily told a fan who tried to take a selfie with her: “Don’t do that, stupid.”
March 2014: When the entire Bachchan family had stepped out to cast their votes. “How are you behaving like wild animals?” she angrily remarked looking at the photographers. Also in 2014, she was clicked having a spat with a media person and telling them: “Is this a place to click a picture? Don’t act smart with me.”
The earliest such instance is reported in from 1972 when on the sets of the film Baawarchi, she had reprimanded the then superstar Rajesh Khanna when he had advised her to stay away from Amitabh Bachchan who was struggling to make a place for himself, and appeared to suggest that Amitabh did not seem to have a future in the industry. An angry Jaya retorted that the man he is talking down to will one day run the film industry. In fact, there have been instances–pointed out on social media–when her outrage has been selective at remarks made by her own party leaders. She was seen breaking down during a silent march held for the Nirbhaya gang-rape victim and expressing her condolences to the victim`s family, but she had remained quiet when it came to speaking against the founder-patron of her own party Mulayam Singh Yadav’s comment during the Shakti Mills rape case where he said ‘ladke hai, ladko se galtiyan ho jaati hai.’ She had also kept quiet when her then party colleague, co-actor and fellow MP Jaya Prada was targeted by Samajwadi Party leader with sexist comments. Also, she had been vocal in criticising MP Ravi Kishan when the latter had raised the issue of drug abuse in the film industry.
It is remarkable that in her earlier popular films, she generally played a docile, soft-hearted, soft-spoken character prone to making sacrifices or suffering in silence. In contrast, her public appearances in the last so many years have been marked by her losing her cool quite frequently, rudeness and general belligerence. This has led fans to wonder what lies behind this. Is it her personality that she does not like the media and fans hounding her? Or is it her opposition to the current political dispensation that reflects in her public appearances? Seeing her husband Amitabh Bachchan’s behaviour (on-screen) in a popular TV show currently being telecast, and his immense popularity, the contrast is all the starker. Could this be connected? Behaviour experts might be better equipped to give an opinion on this.
The author is a prominent columnist and TV commentator. He has worked as Editor of several national dailies.