Bollywood rumours are much like the ghost of Banquo in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. Just like the deceased Lord Banquo who kept coming back in spirit form to torment Macbeth, salacious and sexist gossip often has a way of returning to haunt those affected by it at perhaps the worst possible moments.
Take the case of Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha and the alleged star love affair that rocked the 70s in India. But why is something that allegedly never happened back in the news 40 years later amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
On Saturday, Indians were shocked to find out Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, along with his son Abhishek, had been admitted to Nanavati hospital in Mumbai after testing positive for Covid-19. Both are currently in stable conditions and have shown mild symptoms. The actor's residences, Jalsa and Janak, have been sealed and declared containment zones.
Very soon, news emerged of two other Bollywood actors who had been affected by the virus, directly and inderctly - actors Anupam Kher and Rekha.
Though the Umrao Jaan actress has not been diagnosed with COVID-19, Rekha's bungalow in the Bandstand area of the Bandra locality has been sealed by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) after a security guard tested positive for Covid-19. The bungalow named Sea Springs has also been declared a containment zone and BMC has sanitised the locality completely.
On the other hand, Anupam Kher tweeted that his mother has been found Covid-19 positive. She has been admitted to Mumbai's Kokilaben Hospital. Kher's brother, sister-in-law and niece have also tested positive for the coronavirus.
While wishes for Big B's speedy recovery, as well as wishes for Abhishek and Kher's family flooded social media, some people thought it was okay to make memes and joke about the fact that the Bachchans had tested positive for coronavirus around the same time as Rekha's security guards.
Very soon, salacious and crass tweets took over Twitter:
#Rekha#AmitabhBachchan Yesterday Rekha jee building was sealed because her security guard was covid positive ☹️☹️☹️Now Amitabh bachan also tested positive 🙃🙃YE PYAR NHI TTO AUR KYA HAIN❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/vXslarb1SH— nikky (@iamsovindra) July 12, 2020
Sir bola tha aapko ki Rekha Aunty k ghar mat jaiye.... Ab ho gaya na panga— Bhavin Patel (@bhavinJaijeet) July 12, 2020
Most tweets seem to be in references to Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha's alleged love affair which had rocked Bollywood in the late 1970s in what is considered to be one of the biggest "scandals" of B-town till date.
Even more infuriating is the fact that Rekha continues to be vilified for no fault of hers.
Decades ago, when magazines and tabloids were tracking every move the two actors made, Rekha was portrayed as the "other woman", a homewrecker. Comparisons were drawn between Rekha and her contemporary and Amitabh's wife, Jaya Bachchan. The two women were constantly pitted against each other (something that remains constant even today) while megastar Amitabh Bachchan emerged unscathed from the scandal.
Most reports dating back to the 80s suggest that their affair was a ruse, to promote the many films Rekha and Amitabh worked on together at the time. Rekha had, however, opened up about their relationship in an interview with Stardust magazine in 1978. While the truth may be more complicated than rumours, gossip mills instantly went to work following news about both the actors' homes being sealed due to COVID-19.
At present, Maharashtra has over 230,000 active coronavirus cases. Is is quite possible for two houses in the same city to report positive cases. Incidentally, no such jokes were made about Kkhe or his home which was also sealed off at the same time.
Here's the thing - whether or not Bachchan and Rekha had an affair is inconsequential and totally their personal business. Both actors have been affected by the ongoing health crisis in the country. Bachchan, 77, has been hospitalised since he also has co-morbidities. Rekha's house has been sealed after her employees tested positive. One would expect a degree of sensitivity at such a time of crisis, especially for actors who have given their entire life entertaining their fans and audiences.
The fact that the entire Bachchan family are currently going through a crisis and that another veteran actor is at risk of contracting the virus (which has already killed millions) seemed lost on most - making "viral" memes, often crass and offensive, gains top priority, it seems.