Interview/Amitabh Bachchan

'This is our country and we're not going to let anyone drive us out'

Amitabh Bachchan

The superstar defends his decision to hold the Miss World contest, in an interview with Sunday editor Vir Sanghvi

In the aftermath of Michael Jackson, it has been suggested that your big mistake was in deciding to move out of Bombay. Bal Thackeray would have ensured that the pageant was a success here just as he did with the Jackson concert.

First of all, I think it's mistake to confuse Miss World with the Jackson concert. Michael Jackson came here because he wanted to explore new countries. He gave pleasure to an audience. And then he left. At the end of it, India was no richer or poorer.

Miss World is not an exclusively Indian event. The live audience is minuscule compared to the two-and-a-half billion people who will watch it worldwide on television. The attraction for us was that we could use the event to get into people's living rooms all over the world and show them what India was capable of. It gave us an opportunity to promote India to a captive audience that we would not have otherwise reached.

So I don't think there are any parallels with the concert. That was a live event. This is a global opportunity.

All the same, why Bangalore?

We researched several cities. Bangalore won out because we thought it represents a healthy mixture of East and West. It is an emerging megapolis, it has a sound infrastructure and has Indian's Silicon Valley, it is a technological hub.

Bombay and Delhi are well-known all over the world. But Bangalore is only just getting that recognition and we though that it would be a good idea to locate the pageant in such a city.

Those are the broad reasons. There were two others, one emotional and one commercial.

The commercial reason was that Welcomegroup are hosting the participants and they had hotels in Delhi and Bangalore. They did not have a property in Bombay.

We could perhaps have gotten around that factor but there was a emotional reason. I love Bangalore. I've always thought that Bangalore was a perfect city for an international event because of the spirit of the people.

That probably swung it in Bangalore's favour.

How do you react to the protests?

Obviously I don't agree with the protestors. But this is a democratic country, they have freedom of speech.

At the same time, we have the right to host the contest. We're not doing anything illegal or unconstitutional. All permissions have been sought and granted.

Ideally, both sides should respect the others' point of view.

That's not happening. Violence is being threatened.

The violence is frightening. There is no way you can justify a recourse to violence. And it's not going to bring about any kind of solution.

At the same time, if these people are threatening violence then the state should look into it. I'm a citizen of this country. And if I need protection, I will seek it.

Is that why you shifted the swimsuit round to the Seychelles?

It's the beachwear round. The contestants wear wraps and things like that. It hasn't been called the swimsuit round for years.

But on the bigger issue of shifting the contest, absolutely not. We had offers from The Seychelles and from Goa. We turned them down. This is our country and we're not going to let anyone drive us out.

What about the beachwear round?

The beachwear round is usually hosted in a different country from the main pageant. Last year, the pageant was in Sun City but the beachwear round was in Dubai and The Comorres Islands.

Why Dubai?

Ashwariya Rai Good question. What happened was this. Emirates were the sponsors. And they thought that the pageant offered a unique opportunity to promote their country. So they insisted on Dubai as the location for one of the rounds.

Now, as far as I know, Dubai is not some decadent Western country or whatever the protestors are calling England and America these days. But even Dubai saw the logic and benefit of being able to use the Miss World platform to promote itself to two-and-a-half billion people.

I can't understand why some people in India don't see the point.