Australia

Bollywood reels as virus hits three generations of star family

NEW DELHI: When India's biggest film star, Amitabh Bachchan, announced that he had contracted the coronavirus, a loud alarm bell rang across India.

Bachchan, known as Big B, is not simply an enormously successful actor. He is one of India's most revered figures. His face and rich, avuncular voice, dripping with gravitas, are everywhere, deployed in ads for household products, voice-overs at museums and countless public service campaigns. He was recently roped into doing a campaign on — what else? — the coronavirus.

The worry was that if Big B could catch the virus, anybody could, and with India getting walloped by COVID-19, Bachchan, 77, said on Twitter on Saturday, "All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested!"

India is now racking up more new reported infections each day — about 30,000 — than any other country except the United States and Brazil — and it is rapidly catching up to Brazil. India now has the third-highest total cases after the United States and Brazil.

Authorities in several big Indian cities and states are reinstating quarantines after attempting to loosen things up to stimulate a critically wounded economy. The borders between states are again being rigorously patrolled, with visitors shunted off to isolation centres.

Loading

International travel is still blocked. Hospitals are overflowing with the sick. Even emergencies are being turned away. One pregnant woman was left to die in the back of an ambulance a few weeks ago after being rejected from eight hospitals in 15 hours.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to lift spirits by saying in televised speeches that India is still doing better than richer countries, especially when it comes to the death rate. India has reported about 16 coronavirus-related deaths per million people, while the United States, Brazil, Spain and Italy have all lost hundreds per million.

Experts think this might be for a few reasons. India's average age, around 28, is younger than that of other countries. Obesity is less prevalent, too, and many doctors believe that obesity creates a greater vulnerability to the coronavirus. Some medical professionals also believe that Indians have strong immune systems because of their constant exposure to microbes, living in cities that are not as clean as cities in the West.

Another explanation, though, might simply be testing — or the lack of it. India has performed far fewer coronavirus tests per capita than many other countries have.

Loading

India's biggest enemy is the density of its population. This country has dozens of cities with more than one million people. Even in smaller towns and villages, many families live in cramped quarters, eight or even 10 people to a room, which makes a highly contagious illness like the coronavirus very hard to stop.

In many of these areas, it is impossible to maintain social distancing. In recent weeks, Mumbai, one of India's most-packed cities and home to Bachchan, the movie star, has especially struggled.

The virus started out in Mumbai's wealthier neighbourhoods among the jet-setter crowd. Then it swept through the slums. Now it is gnawing through the entire city, home to 20 million.

On Saturday night, Bachchan announced via Twitter — where he has 43.2 million followers — that he had tested positive. He was soon admitted to Nanavati Hospital, near the exclusive Juhu neighbourhood in Mumbai where he lives, overlooking the Arabian Sea.

From hospital with his father in Mumbai, Amitabh Bachchan's son Abhishek said his wife and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and their eight-year-old daughter had also been infected by the new coronavirus.

Aishwarya Bachchan, 46, who often features on "most beautiful" lists, has also worked in several Bollywood and Hollywood films. She is a brand ambassador for some multinational companies, including L'Oreal .

Bollywood actress and model Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who has visited Australia a number of times, is resting at home after contracting the virus which has hospitalised a number of family members.

Bollywood actress and model Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who has visited Australia a number of times, is resting at home after contracting the virus which has hospitalised a number of family members.

Authorities have been sanitising Amitabh Bachchan's upscale residence in Mumbai, spraying disinfectant inside the compound and on cars parked outside.

The illness in the illustrious Bachchan clan was such big news that the Health Minister of Maharashtra state issued a Twitter post about it at 4.30 am on Sunday.

"I pray to God that Amitabh Bachchan Ji recovers from this soon," the minister, Rajesh Tope said, adding the respectful "Ji" to Bachchan's name.

It is hard to overstate how big Big B really is. Walk through just about any city in India, and there is his handsome, gray-bearded face staring down from a billboard or a railway bridge, advertising a new phone app or chocolate bar or public health campaign.

"He's like God," said Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, a filmmaker who has worked with Bachchan. "I've never seen a star having such power, such credibility. He's the biggest superstar this country has ever, ever seen."

His contracting of the coronavirus might create more fear across India. But it could also help take away some of the stigma that infected Indians have endured, evidenced by people kicked out of their neighbourhoods and a few even driven to suicide.

Loading

Dungarpur predicted that a lot of Indians would find his struggle inspiring and say to themselves, "If Amitabh Bachchan can fight this, so can we."

New York Times and Reuters

Most Viewed in World

Loading

Football news:

Messi-Casillas: you are an incredible goalkeeper. It was a beautiful rivalry that made you overcome yourself
Ferran Torres: Ronaldo was the best. He is an example for everyone who wants to achieve the maximum in football
Barcelona cannot agree with Ter Stegen on a new contract. The goalkeeper wants to stay
We found out how the fascinating logo of Iceland appeared: Game of thrones has nothing to do with it, the source of audacity is the success of the national team
Ronaldo-Casillas: Proud that we shared great moments
Bayern want to sell Boateng in the summer. The club has no offers yet
Solskjaer on the Europa League: a Trophy would be a big step forward for Manchester United. We want to win something