New Delhi: After months of media speculation Bollywood's most-talked about couple, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan, got engaged on Sunday evening in a closely-guarded ceremony.
The engagement took place soon after the couple returned from the premiere of their latest film Guru in New York and the news has literally kept the nation engaged ever since.
Does this mean that India is a celebrity-starved society? That's the question which was put forward by CNN-IBN's Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai on the show Face The Nation. On the panel of experts were actor and television anchor, Mandira Bedi; Ad guru, Alyque Padamsee; and senior journalist Madhu Trehan.
There was a sense of frenzy over the engagement as hundreds of fans and media personnel had gathered outside the Bachchan bungalow, Jalsa, in Mumbai, to catch a glimpse of the Bachchan family.
When asked if Indians were obsessed with stars in general and Aishwarya and Abhishek in particular, ad guru Alyque Padamsee said, "I think it's really the media which is obsessed with stars. All we see in newspapers today is Bollywood, Bollywood and more Bollywood with a little bit of cricket thrown in. It's a complete frenzy. What is going on?"
However, when told that the media had simply taken over from where the ad-men left, Padamsee said, "Yes, I agree. It's also the problem of advertisers who have gone mad about having celebrity brand ambassadors. But that can be understood for they are trying to make sales. However, I thought the news media was supposed to be giving us news not entertainment. It's a feeding frenzy."
Is the media responsible for this frenzy or is it simply reflecting the fact that it's Bollywood's Jodi No. 1 which is getting married and that makes for a great story?
To this Madhu Trehan said, "It's not the media that has gone crazy and neither is it that the audience are celebrity starved. It is basically a reflection of what India has become. It's a money making proposition."
She said that the film industry is an advertiser in all media with their films, their cinema and theatres and media houses would not turn down these great advertisements. "So it’s really the advertisers who decide the stars and these people are made stars by the business houses of the media," she said.
Do celebrities and media feed on each other?
So, is the relationship between stars and the media incestuous or do they simply feed on each other?
To this Mandira Bedi said, "Absolutely. They do feed on each other. I would like to know what the definition of 'breaking news' is nowadays. The fact that Aishwarya and Abhishek got engaged was breaking news on every channel on Sunday night and all through Monday morning. So, I am wondering whether the really important things in life are that important any more”.
However, she added that she agreed that it was a great story and since this is what the society wants, this is what the media will give them.
But stars in general are also marketing themselves. It's a part of the game that one needs to market themselves to be relevant – even Aishwarya and Abhishek almost needed to event manage their engagement.
Mandira Bedi disagreed with this saying that they don't need to event manage their engagement as the news channels and newspapers did the needful for them.
So do news channels have a defence in this regard, especially with ad-men and celebrities themselves attacking the media?
"It's a mutually exploitative relationship between stars and the media and in any exploitative relationship, it is very difficult because one always crosses the line. So a star will get up and say 'enough, this is my private life' or a journalist is compromised and is told 'I will give you an interview if you don't ask me about my affairs'," said Madhu Trehan.
To this Rajdeep Sardesai said that his own view as an Editor was that the 24-hour beast needed to cover both Nithari - a gruesome and terrible story - and the Ash-Abhisek engagement, a happy story.
So what does the international media and society do when confronted with celebrity weddings?
When one compares the Indian media to Western societies, India does not even have a real paparazzi of sorts. India hasn't even scratched that surface, but according to Alyque Padamsee, that stage is coming very soon.
"We are a country which originally had hundreds of gods and godesses. We are celebrity-crazy, there is no doubt about it. Now, the gods have just changed. They are sports gods and Bollywood celebs. So what has changed is that media now is unfortunately dumbing down. Media personnel are saying that as long as we are popular, we are good," he said.
He added that this kind of talk can be Bollywood talk but certainly not the talk of serious media. "People can pick up film magazines and read as much as they like about any of their favourite stars, but surely newspapers and TV news channels should be talking about and focusing on other things as well."
Is there too much of Bollywood in our lives?
Maybe that is a part of the problem that there is too much Bollywood into the life of the average Indian. We are all now part of a giant entertainment industry – movies, cricket, sports and politics, all come under this.
"There is no serious news. It's all about entertainment. Even sports is no longer about playing the sport well. It's all about abuses while playing a cricket match, it's about Ganguly being dropped from the team and then being brought back and then being dropped again. The news is no longer about achievement,” Padamsee said.
He gave the example of instant celebrities like Rakhi Sawant whose only claim to fame was the kiss that she alleged was forced upon her by pop-singer Mika at his birthday bash.
But for every Rakhi Sawant that emerges, does the media not uncover other stories and truths that matter to the common man and his daily life as well?
Padamsee chose not to answer the question and instead said, "This has got nothing to do with the advertiser. The advertiser simply pays for the rate that the media charges. If the media is greedy and wants bigger rating and feels that Bollywood can provide that, then that's where the media will focus."
He added that he did not agree with Madhu Trehan at all and that it was not the advertiser who was influencing or forcing the media into doing a story.
Madhu Trehan on her part said that she was not blaming the media but added that the mindset of making money at all costs had certainly entered the field of journalism and that the journalist does not have much of a choice.
She said that it was unfair to blame the public for the public was not the one who decided what they wanted to see on TV. It is the business house of TV channels, which decides what is good for the channel to play and what will bring in the money.
Celebs love the attention!
The laws of privacy in India are ill-defined, so are stars taking advantage of this? Do they really want to retain their privacy in the true sense of the term? And aren't they at all happy about the publicity that they are actually getting?
To this Mandira Bedi said, "Of course they are. I go to these airports and I see film stars wearing big sunglasses which are not to hide from the public but simply to be noticed. It's really not about wanting privacy."
She added that it was a double-edged sword. "If they don't get noticed and if they don't get the attention then they are unhappy and if they get the attention, then also they are unhappy. That's unfortunately how it is for a lot of the big celebrities these days."
So, the bottom line is that Aishwarya and Abhishek engagement makes a great statement.
Final SMS poll results: are we a celebrity-starved society?
Yes: 62 per cent
No: 38 per cent