For a superstar who seems to be so busy counting his Twitter followers, he appears chronically unable to stand up and be counted when it comes to the burning moral issues of the day.
The Tweeple are looking into the abyss.
Amitabh Bachchan, the shahenshah of Indian Twitter, has threatened to quit the platform. Is it for real? It’s hard to tell because we are so used to Bachchan as the voice of authority exhorting us to buy Kalyan jewellery, and Navaratna oil or inhale the khusboo of Gujarat. We are hardwired to believe the baritone.
But now we suddenly have to imagine a Twitter without the Big B.
Other celebrities have threatened to quit Twitter before. Some have even done it.
In 2015 TV journalist Ravish Kumar quit Twitter, fed up with the trolls. “Why is it that all online abusers on Twitter have the same profile?” he wondered.
In 2016 Rajdeep Sardesai disabled his Twitter account temporarily after abusive messages were sent out from his handle. “How low will some people stoop?” he lamented. “Hack my account? Put out false messages? When will this end? Time to disable account. Enough is enough.”
In 2017, Sonu Nigam showed us how to quit Twitter in 24 tweets in solidarity with brother-in-song Abhijeet Bhattacharya whose account had been suspended for abusive tweets against some women. “I quit Twitter today in defiance of this One Sided Sham,” said Nigam. “Every Logical, Sensible Patriot and Humanist should.”
And it’s not just in India. Ed Sheeran said he wanted to quit Twitter because “there’s nothing but people saying mean things.” Kanye West deleted his Twitter account because “you have distracted from my creative process”. Robin Williams’ daughter Zelda signed off after trolls posted Photoshopped pictures of her father’s body in morgue with bruises around his neck.
We have heard all the reasons — trolls, misogyny, bullying, distraction, a waste of time, partisanship, abuse.
But Amitabh Bachchan, meticulous bean counter of both his tweets and his followers, allegedly wants to quit because his follower count dropped mysteriously.
T 2599 – TWITTER ..!!!?? you reduced my number of followers .. !!??HAHAHAHAHAHAHA .. !! thats a joke .. time to get off from you .. thank you for the ride .. .. there are many ‘other’ fish in the sea – and a lot more exciting !!
Shah Rukh Khan, it turns out has beaten Big B, to become the most-followed Indian actor on Twitter. Bachchan went from 33 million to 32.9 million which is exactly the follower count of Shah Rukh Khan. Coincidence? Hmmm. It reeks, as Mamata Didi would say, of “conspiracy”. Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahin, namumkin hai. Or at least it was till now. There’s a new Twitter Don in town it seems.
Perhaps this is all in jest. Perhaps it’s just a way to make Twitter sit up and take notice.
But either way this is a time for us Tweeple to remember and be grateful for everything they have learned from Big B about Twitter and life. He is, as always, a role model.
He numbers his tweets setting an example of order and record-keeping in the chaotic world of social media.
He warms the hearts of his fans by doling out laughter. Sometimes he says “hahahaha” as he forwards a tweet by a fan. But we all wait and hope that one day we will graduate to an amazing, heart-stopping “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA “.
If we are very very good, he might retweet us. Or wish us good morning. Or tell us to “drive safe”.
He is an engine of positivity in a toxic world. He is often “humbled” or “honoured humbled” or “so humbled and in gratitude” or “grateful as ever”.
But it’s not just smiley faces, India flags, and roses. He says inscrutable things that sound profound like “Each human in World a delight .. coz’ we are all TWITTERED.”
He shows us what it means to be a patriot. He bares his heart to us by telling us his heart wells up in pride as he watches the Republic Day parade.
He gives us daily doses of nostalgia with old pictures. When a celebrity dies, he is Twitter’s mourner-in-chief leading the virtual cortege in somber remembrance.
But more than anything else, Amitabh Bachchan, a master of reinvention has rewritten the script of the Indian celebrity on social media. He has used Twitter to remain available and relevant. In a world filled with provocative tweets, designed to go viral and foment outrage, Amitabh Bachchan seems perpetually to aspire towards the troll-proof tweet.
He has created an illusion of connection via connectivity. Amitabh Bachchan thinks of us as his family. As he says: “Doing your own digital work is the most satisfying act .. asking someone else to do it is impersonal .. i like to be personal with my followers .. they are my Ef extended family.” And this is a family full of love and happy emojis. No wonder #WeAreWithAmitabhBachchan. His fans know this is his own voice not some hired gun running a Twitter account. It’s always the real Amitabh Bachchan — polite, articulate, statesmanlike. And playing it utterly safe just in a grave baritone.
That is in keeping with his public persona and the key to his long-lasting success. A Shah Rukh Khan might go off script in an interview, give us a perilous glimpse into some internal meltdown. But Amitabh Bachchan is always in control, the undisputed master of the anodyne. As Rasheed Kidwai once wrote, the angry young man has a “history of preferring discretion to valour in public and political affairs”.
When the triple talaq verdict was announced and he was asked for his opinion, he said “we can’t argue with the law of our country.” When heavy rains hit Mumbai, he told Mumbaikars “Don’t try to fight nature… don’t put blame.. what did the most powerful nation in the World do against Hurricane Harvey?” When the beef ban becomes news he says “I’m vegetarian, don’t know about the beef ban.” He told an interview once he did not feel “angry” about the Emergency but it was “perhaps the wrong decision.” When he wrote his famous open letter to his granddaughers, the cynical wondered why it was timed with his film Pink.
The greatest irony is that for a superstar who seems to be so busy counting his Twitter followers, he appears chronically unable to stand up and be counted when it comes to the burning moral issues of the day.
Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.