Bollywood's first man, Amitabh Bachchan, wrote a letter to his granddaughters Aaradhya Bachchan and Navya Nanda on teachers’ day this year. The letter, laced by care and concern in every sentence, was an exhortation to the young girls to never be bothered about log kya kahenge (what people will say). It talks about how unfair the world is, which will, at every juncture, tell girls what and how to do. Amitabh read out the letter himself and posted the video on Youtube. Needless to say, social media went beserk in soft sentiments and the hashtag #ABLetter trended across various platforms.
While most people applauded Amitabh for sharing such a pertinent message, a few others criticized him for doing a publicity stunt of something he could have shared privately with his grandchildren. Some also observed that this was a marketing master stroke from the thespian for his upcoming film 'Pink' which deals with women's rights. In any case, Amitabh had carefully justified in the video itself why he chose to publish the letter online: because it is relevant to every granddaughter of this country.
But from a gender perspective, the real issue isn't the motive behind the letter; it is the introductory content of the letter: "
To consider only paternal legacy as any legacy at all is a grave mistake. It is crystal clear that Amitabh restricts his (or his father Harivanshrai Bachchan's) legacy to Aaradhya, his son's daughter. Additionally, Aaradhya's immensely strong maternal legacy is not spoken about. Even on the paternal side, Navya has Ritu Kapoor (the eldest daughter of Raj Kapoor) and Aaradhya has Jaya Bhaduri for grandmothers. What happened to their legacies? If things were to go in this pattern, the girls will cease to carry the Bachchan and Nanda legacy too, one day; if they choose to get married! The letter loses its validity right there.
True, it is the norm of our country to take the father's name. Patriarchy is all about that and it is the exact system which puts girls/women in an unfair social situation, and ironically what Amitabh talks against in the latter part of his letter. Taking the husband’s name after marriage was once an unquestioned norm; but there are lots of women who refuse to do it today, thanks to a lot of questions that were raised, a lot of battles that were fought.
A man of Amitabh Bachchan’s stature should be silent about this line of empowerment, if not be a spokesperson for it. Reaffirming such patriarchal norms (even if inadvertently), while the whole country is listening, cannot be pardoned. Because until the day sons and daughters are both considered as legitimate bearers of the family name, every girl will face the stigma that he, and all of us, vociferously talk against.