The birth of actor Aishwarya Rai's first child nearly overshadowed all other news in a country obsessed with Bollywood celebrities. Aishwarya, 38, who is married to actor Abhishek Bachchan, 35, gave birth to a baby girl on Wednesday.
In the age of the social media, the pregnancy has triggered off intense interest on Facebook and Twitter. Easily accessible and entirely reliable, tweets from super star Amitabh Bachchan, father of Abhishek, has led to media reports on Aishwarya’s every move. The elderly Bachchan in fact broke the news of Aishwarya's pregnancy on Twitter leading to delighted responses from his fans, many of which the actor either retweeted or replied to.
The feverish interest in the lives of celebrities is not is a new phenomenon in a nation that idolizes its matinee stars. With the advent of social media, the level of involvement has become more intense. Once-secretive actors now adjust to the new-found freedom of talking directly to their fans round the year, instead of surfacing on television and specific interactions at the time of a film's release.
The intense interest in the Bachchan baby, christened 'Baby B' and 'BayB' on Twitter and Facebook is a trend the country's infotainment media is still coming to terms with. Never before has a celebrity birth gripped a nation as Aishwarya's pregnancy and delivery has in the past five months.
"Aishwarya Rai and the Bachchan family is perhaps the closest we have to royalty in the Indian context. She is a former Miss World and India's bona fide, legitimate female superstar," columnist Shobhaa De said. De earlier tweeted: "Little Miss World has arrived! Jai ho! Big B over the moon about Baby B. Someone sign up Ash as Ambassador for Girl Child, please? Worthy cause."
Considered Indian cinema's first family, the Bachchans have always stayed in the limelight, be it Amitabh's illness or the high profile marriage of Abhishek and Aishwarya. Aishwarya has acted in several Hollywood projects and is perhaps one of India's most prominent global faces in the present. She is also a spokesperson for the beauty brand L'Oreal and one of the few Indian stars whose billboards adorn the cityscapes of major global cosmopolitans.
However, De feels the controversy surrounding filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar's project 'Heroine', which was announced at the Cannes Film Festival in May, has fanned much of the interest in the birth. Bhandarkar had signed up Aishwarya as the protagonist of his film Heroine but had to let her go after learning of her pregnancy. He accused the actor of hiding the news of her pregnancy at the time of signing of the film.
It sparked a debate over whether Indian actors should sign a disclosure of pregnancy in their contracts like their western counterparts.
The Bachchans pride themselves for their lineage. Amitabh's father, the late Harivansh Rai Bachchan, was a noted Hindi poet. Abhishek's alliance with Aishwarya cemented two families of stars. But for Aishwarya it also meant proper conduct in the public as a step out of the ordinary will make the front page of news papers in a country where stars are judged by their behaviour in the public eye.
"Aishwarya handled her pregnancy extremely well and behaved like any discreet, expectant mother," De said, referring to the star's few public appearances during her pregnancy covered up from neck down in ethnic clothes. While the media captured her growing girth, there were no shots of the exposed baby bump that has become a fashion trend world over.
Abhishek and Shweta were themselves once star kids, as were their co-actors Ranbir Kapoor, Kareena and Karisma Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Karan Johar, Kajol, Shahid Kapoor and Akshaye Khanna, sons and daughters of prominent Bollywood stars of the 60s and 70s. The birth of the third generation star children, such as Nysa (Kajol and Ajay Devgn daughter) and Aarav (Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna's son), did not generate as much media frenzy as Aishwarya’s child did.
The reason behind this is also the larger-than-life image of Amitabh, whom a large section of India’s cinema-obsessed audiences still worship as demi-god and are acutely interested in his family life. Aishwarya too has a legion of fans around the world.
De feels the Indians have an emotional connect with their stars and the curiosity in the pregnancy and the gender of the baby is understandable.
Although India's news channels were unusually restrained in their coverage of the birth, people on Facebook and Twitter shared the news of the birth.
The emotional connect with our stars is evident in the social dramas that the film industry churns out every year. On his popular reality game show, a young fan addressed Amitabh as 'Dada' the Hindi word for paternal grandfather.
While the senior Bachchans, themselves huge stars of the 60s and 70s, could protect their children Abhishek and Shweta from early exposure to media, the baby will grow up in the spotlight at an age when stars are more easily accessible and the media more prolific and resourceful.