The country is in a party mood, nah, nah, I am not talking political parties. The country is in a birthday party mood! Amitabh Bachchan turns 80 today and continues to rock it at the BO. An entire festival, dedicated to the quintessential superhero of Bollywood, has been screening 11 of his movies made between 1973 and 1982 (that’s clocking 1.1 movies per annum, folks!) in 19 cities of the country. Tickets for the fest would cost just ₹80 on the big day, as also the ticket price for his latest film ‘Goodbye’– an affordable date with the star.
Not too many know that Amitabh Bachchan is actually an economist (that, errr, includes the Superstar himself), but the RBI is acutely aware of it. No wonder then, that all RBI staff have been sent to watch the fest at ₹80 per ticket with an assignment to come up with a paper on ‘Bachchan, the Unknown Monetary Economist’ after the movie. Just examine his many commentaries on inflation. Bachchan aficionados will remember Amitabh playing Vijay, the police inspector in Zanjeer.
During his investigations, he meets with Mala, the knife sharpening girl, who has witnessed a road rage accident. The villain Teja, played by the very-imitable Ajit, sends his men over to bribe her into silence. The men offer her ₹5,000, on which she says, ‘Itne paison ke liye main zindagi bhar goongi reh sakti hoon!’ The lady promised life-long silence in return of ₹5,000. Given that she may be hoping to live another 50 years minimally, this translates into ₹100 per year (actually lesser, if you discount) — that is, around ₹8 per month. The monthly earnings for the self-employed knife thrower must have been around ₹100-120 in 1973. Bachchan tells you that 6-8 per cent of the monthly earnings was the price of silence.
The estimate has immense learnings for all those wishing to buy silence or voice in any of the upcoming elections in the country. It is uncanny to note how the price of buying out votes has stuck to the Bachchan estimate of 6 per cent across the years across cities and rural areas alike. Truly a strong Zanjeer!
We fast forward to the one movie that probably defines Bachchan at his very best — brooding (playing that haunting tune on the mouth organ), loyal, courageous, creative and yet humorous, laconic (Tumhara naam kya hain, Basanti?) — Sholay, 1975. There is an award of ₹50,000 to catch Gabbar Singh. A silent society can be bought at ₹5,000. A crime-free society comes at 10 times the price! Stuff to think about, folks. Given the number of tears I have shed when watching the climax scene in Sholay (umpteen times) when Jai dies, I have often wondered why Jai couldn’t have negotiated a bargain with Gabbar to accept ₹50,000 against a promise of causing no further trouble to Ramgarh. It would have allowed Jai and Radha to live happily ever after on reel, just like they did in real. Most importantly, Indians wouldn’t land up feeling overwhelmed and tired after crying for the 136th time; I believe from a highly judgemental survey with non-probability samples that Indians watch Sholay 136 times during their lifetimes.
Now, given that Bachchan is an economist of repute, he definitely must have read the Coase theorem. And yet, if he did not bargain with Gabbar, that must mean only one thing — ₹50,000 was not an acceptable price for Gabbar! That also implies that the premium on crime-free life is more than 10 times than that on a bribe-free life. Whew! Of course, there are also tons of political economy undercurrents here. May be Gabbar would have accepted ₹50,000, but Thakur wouldn’t have got his revenge. And hence, Thakur pays an additional ₹20,000 personally to Jai and Veeru; that is the price of not getting into a bargain with Gabbar.
The RBI staff is cold to such hot political ideas and has shown inclination for monetary learnings only. Most of them clapped on hearing, ‘Khota sikka to dono hi taraf se khota hota hain!’ and turned visibly white at the end on seeing the fake coin with heads on both faces.
Many are inspired by Bachchan informing Sanjeev Kumar in Trishul (1978), ‘Mujhse 5 minute na milkar aapne apka 5 lakh ka nuksaan kar diya hain’. This is inflation commentary by their customer awareness mascot! From ₹5,000 lifelong payment (1973) to ₹5 lakh for 5 minutes (1978), looks like the decade of the seventies was a horrendously high inflation zone. If we could survive that, what is 12.41 per cent WPI inflation in 2022? Just ask Dr. Bachchan how to stop the Bramhastra of inflation!
The writer is a brave economist trying to laugh against the odds