‘Queen of hearts’ charms India

2010-11-08 11:11

US First Lady Michelle Obama is an undisputed hit in India after winning hearts with a Bollywood boogie and displaying a common touch critics say her husband sometimes lacks.

The Times of India hailed her as a “dancing queen” after she took to the floor twice during her visit to Mumbai, shaking a leg to Bollywood hits on Saturday and joining in a local folk dance with schoolchildren yesterday.

Photographs of her in a range of outfits from a sober grey tunic worn at a memorial to victims of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to a bright turquoise dress donned during a visit to the 16th-century heritage site of Humayun’s Tomb have been splashed in Indian newspapers, with most noting her style approvingly.

Videos of the First Lady dancing have been getting constant play on Indian news channels, with one station, NDTV, describing it as “the defining image of the Obamas’ maiden visit to India”.

India Today magazine drew attention to her “emotional appeal” with a headline which reads: “Michelle steals Barack thunder.”

“Obama appeals to the head, Michelle touches the heart, despite her formidable intelligence,” Sunaina Kumar noted in the magazine, praising her “inordinate warmth” and calling the couple “a perfect team at work”.

Speaking to students at Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College yesterday, the First Lady peppered her speech with personal stories of her working-class childhood in Chicago and encouraged her audience to “keep dreaming big, gigantic dreams”.

Indian author and commentator Shobhaa De described the visit as “a charm offensive”.

“She succeeded spectacularly. What came across in her interaction with average Indians was her ability to think on her feet and respond intuitively,” De said.

On Saturday, Michelle Obama danced to popular Bollywood hits and played a round of hopscotch during a visit to a local charity that helps orphans and runaways.

As she chatted with the group of children – all between eight and 13 years old – one little girl told the First Lady that seeing her was a “dream come true”.

“No, you are my dream come true,” Michelle responded to the delight of her young fan.

The 46-year-old hasn’t always attracted such positive feedback.

An ill-judged remark during the 2008 presidential campaign when she said “for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country” – unleashed a tide of criticism, with critics lambasting her as unpatriotic.

In the intervening years, the First Lady has made a concerted effort to focus public attention on her charitable work, fighting child obesity, promoting nutrition and fitness.

She also earned praise for her fashion sense, mixing designer-wear with affordable high-street labels in a bid to connect with average women.

But her primary public role has been as a self-described Mom-in-Chief to America, as she has sought to assuage concerns among ordinary Americans over the slow economic recovery.

Unlike the president, who has been accused by his critics of being impervious to the financial suffering endured by his countrymen in the wake of the 2008/2009 recession, Michelle Obama has been more effective at striking a note of empathy in her speeches to families across the United States.

As First Lady, she has stressed her role as mother to daughters Malia and Sasha and her humble upbringing rather than her high professional and academic pedigree.

It’s a strategy that has seen her rule the popularity charts, with a domestic approval rating that ranks about 20 percent higher than her husband in most surveys.

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