Oprah Winfrey has been declared by Time as one of the most influential persons of the year. Just six years ago, she figured among the world’s top 100 of the 20th century. Randeep Wadehra on the talkshow girl.
She prances around and whoops on the small screen while her witticisms make the audience titter. She sobs when a participant narrates his or her tale of woe, and the audience weeps too. She reunites estranged couples and other family members by facilitating a no-holds-barred emotional exchange – using catharsis as a healing tool. This is the impression one gathers, initially, while watching the Oprah Winfrey Show on Star World. Over a period of time, one realises that the woman is a phenomenon. She has channeled the bitter memories of her difficult childhood into constructive action. She empathises with the loser, rejoices with the winner and charms the most hardened of racists into moderation. She could be playful with kids – like the 11-year-old who had come up with his first book of poetry based on the 9/11 tragedy. When she asked him what made him write poetry the kid replied earnestly, "Experiences of my life"; patting his head she asked, "All the 11 years of it?" "Yes" said the lad, innocently spreading ripples of giggles all around. As Deborah Tannen, a critic, remarked, "She didn’t create the talk-show format. But the compassion and intimacy she put into it have created a new way for us to talk to one another".
The Time magazine declared her as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. And, in 2003, the Forbes magazine declared her as the first African-American woman billionaire. Quite an achievement for one born, in 1954, in an ordinary family, and one who, as a child, was a victim of abuse. She was brought up on a farm in Mississippi by her grandmother and, later on, a very strict father who wanted her to be the best in whatever she did.
Oprah was barely 17 when she began her career as broadcaster in a radio station in Nashville. Later on she worked for a couple of television stations as reporter/anchor. She got her real breakthrough when she moved to Chicago in January 1984 and started working as host of WLS-TV’s AM Chicago – a chat-show-in-doldrums. Soon it hit the popularity charts in a manner big enough to be renamed Oprah Winfrey Show in September 1985.
In 1986, she formed her own film and television company, HARPO, which took over the Oprah Winfrey Show, and also began producing movies, tele-series etc. Soon the Oprah Winfrey show was syndicated not only nationally, but globally too. Awards followed: the youngest person ever to win the International Radio and Television Society’s Broadcaster of the Year Award; several Daytime Emmy Awards et al. In 1998, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Before becoming a name to reckon with as a TV host, Oprah had already won laurels as an actress. She was nominated for Oscar and Golden Globe awards of best supporting actress for her role as Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s Novel, The Color People; and won critical acclaim for her performance in the movie Native Son, based on Richard Wright’s 1940 novel. In 1998, she starred in a movie, Beloved, based on Toni Morrison’s book. Apart from these, she has acted in her home productions – both for television and cinema. But the main achievement of this small town girl who made it big is that today she is reckoned by authoritative sources as the highest paid entertainer – giving Steven Spielberg a run for his money.
Apart from these activities she runs a lifestyle website, a magazine and is an avid reader to boot. Her favorite authors are Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Marianne Williamson and John Steinbeck.
Television has given her an unparalleled reach – millions of viewers in more than 130 countries. She runs an on-air book club, Oprah Book Club, which gives assorted writers a chance to display their wares. Every time Oprah endorses a book, it becomes a bestseller. As a philanthropist, if she espouses a cause, money begins to pour in, which she matches with contributions from her own purse – the beneficiaries could be from any part of the world. She gives preference to promoting education among the poor – especially youngsters – by giving scholarships to the deserving. Her philanthropy does not end there. Thanks to her relentless campaign former President of the US, Bill Clinton signed the Oprah Bill which is now National Child Protection Act that ensures protection against child-abuse.
A tremendous achiever she is, and she is barely 50.
THE government’s decision to recall the draconian POTA has not come a day too soon. This two-and-a-half year old law has played havoc with lives of numerous women and children.
Jharkhand enjoys the dubious distinction of arresting more than 350 women and kids, some of whom were as young as 10 and 12 years of age, and keeping them in the lock-up for two years and more.
In Tamil Nadu, Kashmir and Delhi a large number of women who were accused of having assisted militants in committing crimes against the state were arrested. A state-by-state study of the women arrested under POTA shows that most of the women arrested had no involvement with militant groups and had often been forced at gun point to assist militants.
Take the example of the six adivasi girls between the age of 16-18 years living in a small hamlet in the Gumla district of Jharkhand. Two years ago, they were ordered to prepare dinner for a group of armed men who broke into their homes. They did so under duress. The next morning, a posse of policemen arrived in their homes and arrested all six of them for having harboured the outlawed MCC members in their homes.
They were taken to the Jhansi jail and remained in the lock-up for 18 months. They would have probably remained in jail for a longer period but for the efforts of Stan Swamy, convenor of the POTA Virodhi Jan Manch(PVJM) in Jharkhand to get them released. ‘Two PVJM members visited them several times in jail in order to gain their confidence and helped them get released on bail,’ said Swamy.
Seventeen-year-old Ropni Khari of Tira Masori Toli village in the Gumla district, was also arrested on an equally frivolous charge. Ropni, a matriculate, encouraged girls to attend school and raise their voices against patriarchal oppression. That was provocation enough for some villagers to inform the police that she was an MCC member and have her arrested under POTA. Two high-profile arrests in Delhi also serve to reinforce the ludicrous charges under which women have been arrested.
One of the most prominent women detainees was Navjot Sandhu, arrested for conspiring against the Indian state in the infamous December 13 attack on Parliament. Deposing before the People’s Tribunal, Sandhu’s lawyer, Nitya Ramakrishnan elaborated on how her client had been arrested on the basis of an innocuous conversation that took place between her and her husband, Shaukat, a Kashmiri Muslim. Shaukat has also been accused of being a militant.
Following the Parliament attack, Navjot is reported to have asked her husband, Shaukat,tum pahunch gaye, to which he replied, Main pahunch gaya. She then went on to say, Kuch log aye the, referring to the arrival of some policemen who had come to her house for questioning. Her case was thrown out for lack of evidence by the Delhi High Court. Navjot was kept for two years in Tihar jail where she gave birth to a child. She has been left so traumatised by the experience that she is currently undergoing treatment at VIMHAANS in Delhi.
Sringar-based lawyer Parvez Imroz involved with the Association of Disappeared Persons points out that eight women were arrested under POTA in the valley. They, along with other POTA detainees, have been released by the People Democratic Party government. These women too were arrested for similar reasons that had led to the arrest of the women in Jharkhand as also in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Security forces in all these states insist that these women provided assistance to militants. As recently as September 2003, the Tamil Nadu police arrested eight women on charges of their being Naxalites.
Mohini Giri, points out that during her tenure as chairperson of the National Commission of Women, she had the opportunity of interacting with several women dubbed as Naxalites and who had remained under the lock-up for 3-4 years and even longer.
Giri points out, "These women were caught between the devil and the deep sea. Like the women in the valley, their crimes were that they were forced to provide assistance to militants at gun-point. If they refused, they would have a bullet in their brains and when they did so, they were arrested by the security personnel. Theirs was a pitiable fate."
No figure is available about the exact numbers of women and children arrested around the country under POTA. Lawyer and activist , Colin Gonsalves says, "We have repeatedly approached the Home Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission to give us a number. They claim they have no knowledge about it.
After Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, actress Aishwarya Rai will join an exclusive club of celebrities with her wax model on display at the world famous Madame Tussaud’s here.
A spokesperson of the museum said the wax model would be unveiled as an interactive Bollywood corner on October 1. It would be placed alongside the wax statue of Amitabh Bachchan. "We chose her as she is making waves all over the world and we wanted this to coincide with the release of her latest film Bride and Prejudice," Michael Birch, spokesperson for Madame Tussaud’s, said.
Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice with Aishwarya in the leading role will be premiered globally on October 8. Birch said "it will be more than just a model, with clips from the film setting the backdrop. Aishwarya fans will also get a chance to come up and perform scenes from the film with the model and some dancers," he said.
In a statement Aishwarya Rai said "It’s difficult to putdown what I’m feeling in words. But I am thankful to God and people who love me for what’s happening to me. My journey to this position has been very enriching." The museum, which included mainly political figures from India like former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi in its galleries, has had an overwhelming NRI response ever since the Bachchan model was unveiled over a year ago.
There is also speculation that Aishwarya could soon be playing Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi in a film by a noted director. Filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi is planning to make a film called Sinhasan on Rabri Devi.
Apparently Rabri Devi is no less celluloid material than her husband, Railway Minister Laloo Prasad.
Laloo’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) members here said it was a matter of pride "for us that after Laloo, it was now the turn of Rabri to be the subject of a film.
"All this shows her popularity and personality," an RJD leader said.
— PTI and IANS