New Delhi: As someone who grew up in Mumbai’s Pali Hill, the city’s Beverley Hills, with neighbours like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, Pran, Sunil Dutt, Nargis, celebs were a reality, but with a difference. They were invisible.
You saw them on the silver screen, read and dreamt about them, discussed their roles, movies, looks, clothes and romances at length with friends and waited breathlessly for their next release. They hardly ever ventured out in public or mingled with the hoi polloi and remained pretty much, in curtains.
This conscious and pre-meditated isolation, privacy and distancing from fans and the public paid rich dividends. It best owed upon them a unique un-attainable aura, a seductive mystique, a romantic elusiveness and huge curiosity value, which rumour and gossip ignited into the realms of popular imagination, big time.
The conscious and pre-meditated isolation, privacy and distancing from the fans pay rich dividends.
Excitement and awe blended for the celeb-struck lesser mortals, in maniacal proportions and if perchance, any of these sublime creatures came into public view or personal contact, it was rapture, bliss and ecstasy into a zillion.
Can this amazing cloak of anonymity be possible in today’s times? Can the tantalizing enigma of romance and mystery even begin to take shape in today’s media and paparazzi-driven era? Could the legendary Queen of silence, Greta Garbo ever dream of uttering her deathless line “I want to be alone” – and be taken seriously?
Because the gorgeous and iconic Garbo was the product of an ancient and powerful Hollywood system that forced its stars into a code of silence. It made great business sense. Anyone who dared to break the rule would have hell to pay. In contrast, today’s free-wheeling democracy of technology is mandated to bury alive any semblance of silence, invisibility or distance.
There is neither awe, fascination, admiration or tolerance for celebs who aren’t willing to come out and play, let it all hang out, do the full-Monty. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, personal websites, with open-door chat rooms, 24x7 reality shows are some public platforms for the famous celebs who want to appear ordinary – and vice versa.
Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt laments this insane intrusion and erosion of mystique and aura and puts it in brilliant perspective. “Mystery and enigma are two of the most powerful and magical components that constitute stardom, elements that fire, colour and dominate the imagination of their fans in indefinable fashion. Stars are supposed to create magic. Fans are supposed to be in awe of them. Mingling with the common man will destroy this magic and strip them off their charisma. Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The Small B however begs to differ. He believes that the age of enigma and mystery relating to celebs is a thing of the past and can never swing with today’s times. He believes mystery is history … and also, bad news. “It translates to not doing any work and means, fit to be forgotten.”
He is of the opinion that today’s Gen X want to get up close and personal and know what’s with you, your work, your life. He believes that social media – especially Twitter – is an amazing forum to interact with your audience. Not everyone agrees.
Says a veteran director, “I find this whole business of social media, both intrusive and childish. Intrusive because it deals with sharing the minutest – dumb, boring, irrelevant – details of your life. Childish because, it assumes the whole world will curl up and die if you don’t reveal to them the name of your favourite brand of cookies … or whatever. How corny and insecure can you get?”
Fact is, we live in a voyeuristic and exploitative society. We love to eavesdrop and peep into other people’s lives and thanks to technology; it’s not impossible now.
Where there is voyeurism, can exhibitionism be far behind? Today, tons of people are perfectly willing to sell their bodies, soul, families, kids for that fleeting 15 minutes of fame. From the hottest celebs to Mr. Nobody, everybody is dying to be noticed. Insult, humiliation, embarrassment, shock, disgust, pain – The Moment of Truth, Sach Ka Samna, Big Boss, Emotional Atyachar – are flamboyantly marketed on television to gigantic captive audience, enthralled and entertained all the way.
As consumers, we are the guilty party because we feed this frenzy by constantly demonstrating our desire to sample the life of celebs – old and new – in quirky, weird ways, the sicker the better. We then move to YouTube, the perfect setting of exhibitionism, bogeying with voyeurism. Nothing is outrageous or exploitative; everything is entertainment. We seem to play out our lives in a strange world where tragedy can reap generous rewards, and deep, personal problems can be marketed and sold and it makes total sense to let go a child for a day to get hold of a new play station.
And to think that once upon a time, there truly was thrill and romance in the unspoken and mystery wasn’t something that you googled or ogled the idiot box shows for the right answers.
Ah well, waqt waqt ki baat hai (It's a matter of time)…