New Delhi: Pop stars, Movie stars, Sports stars … why do they drive us, nuts? What mystical X quality do they possess to yank out moods, feelings, emotions and passions we lesser mortals seldom dare to reveal or express in our everyday lives? MONOJIT LAHIIRI tries to seek some answers.
Actually it was my young and serious writer friend who first got me thinking. Socially-conscious and sensitive, the evolved and articulate guy is astounded at the huge buzz Aamir Khan's 'Satyamev Jayate' created. Shaking his head in part-amusement, part-bewilderment, he offers his take. "Ek baat batao. None of these rampant social evils Aamir Khan focused on, are unknown. Nor were they born yesterday and discovered today! They’ve been around for ages, but nobody – Government agencies, Political Parties, NGOs or media – gave them the kind of aggressive exposure that this show seems to be doing. While the Superstar does deserve to be complimented for what he and his team were attempting, my question is more basic: Why does it need a celebrity to publicise, focus or turn on the heat about issues that concern all of us, in very real ways, everyday of our lives? Why does it need an entertainment or glamour backdrop to seduce us into confronting causes and concerns that should affect and motivate us anyway and force us to (re) act? Most importantly, why is such vulgar and disproportionate publicity accorded to a show that is in no way commercial – product/movie launch – but meant to work as an eye-opener and wake-up call at a grass-root level addressing social evils?" Before an agitated Aamir Khan groupie could leap in and defend her favourite Khan, he re-started … "Even if Aamir’s show had some method behind its madness, Shah Rukh Khan’s hi-pitched dramabaazi during the IPL matches were bizarre! First his ugly spat and slanging match at the Wankhade stadium and later ‘nautanki’ with the CM of West Bengal in tow no less – at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata after the KKR win to completely hi-jack the main focus – the salutation to Gautam Gambhir and his winning team and an amazing game of nail-biting cricket! Why are we so celebrity-crazed as a nation, dismissing, ignoring and blanking out everyone and everything once these creatures come on? What's so hot about these media-made, larger-than-life, cardboard cut-outs? With two Khans already lime-hogging, it won't be long before Khan 3, Salman, joins them with his brand of 'Dhinka-Chika' entertainment to power the message of … being human? What a life!"
My young, intense and disturbed friend is not alone in believing that mediocrity has overtaken excellence in an environment where popularity is confused with quality and celebrity-hood and stardom have clean flattened out everything else. Tons of skeptics have voiced similar opinions and wondered why celebrities – especially of the movie stars and cricketers kind – are so hymned and celebrated when their true worth in terms of basic intelligence or knowledge are [mostly] abysmally low and [frequently] embarrassing!
Bright, intelligent, evolved and educated as my learned young friend and his mafia maybe, in their determination to articulate their shock, anger, disgust and helplessness against these "spoilt, overpaid, lucky brats," alas, they've totally missed the point! Celebrities – like Bollywood stars – are created, valourised and consumed not by sponsors, advertisers, media or image-agencies but by Us, the teeming public! Social Commentator Santosh Desai scores a bull's eye when he states that "celebrities are nothing but a glittering and magnified version of all our perceived inadequacies and unrequited fantasies. We are forever setting impossible standards, mandating unreal combinations and demanding from the celebrities, performances at any and every possible moment [How dare Aishwarya Rai Bachchan put on weight?!]. In return, we give them our unwavering attention, hysterical adulation and unremitting criticism. We make it impossible for the celebrity to interpret the world in any other terms, except through his/her persona; they are allowed to sense the word only through our reactions. They come to believe in their own magic and mythology but depend entirely upon our credulity, which we withdraw selectively, without warning."
However this comes with the territory. Journalist Shobhaa De appropriately points to what happened recently to the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi whose drawings mocking the parliament landed him in jail! Overnight the media swooped in to unleash 'hi-pitched stories debating the freedom of expression. Articles, morches, TV discussions followed. His release from jail led to jam-packed press conference! Fact is overnight this simple unknown cartoonist was hurtled into celebrity-dom, sharing space with rich n' famous, glamorous & sexy cricketers & movie stars! Was he invited to walk the ramp, star in a reality show or a pen a book?” Well he is in the Bigg Boss, Isn't he? Was he a pivot symbol or hero – the right man at the right place touching the right concerns to the right constituency? Don’t know, but once the 15 minutes of fame were done the very media which honored him, put him on a pedestal yanked off the rug under his feet and slung him into nowhere land. So basically it was an unreal journey from obscurity to oblivion with a little celebrity dazzle thrown in between.
Fact is, at the end of the day we need celebrities to look up to, venerate, worship and hold high on a pedestal as dazzling role models. We also need them as sexy, glamorous, hot, gorgeous hunks and babes to add colour and exciting distraction to our [y-a-w-n] everyday lives, stressed out and complexed as they are in the consumerist society we reside in. They are low maintenance creatures and easy to wow or trash at will since they are "thought experiments and societal what-ifs” created for our convenience and amusement. Sure favourites and loyalties will always be there because of the nature of the beast. High passion [“Shut up! Aamir Khan is not a patch on lover boy Shah Rukh Khan! He is THE Badshah of romance! ["Hai, main mar jawa!!”] and [“Boss, Sachin Tendulkar is God. Baat khatam, okay?!"] will always scorch the skies alongwith ["yaar, Sachin ko retire ho jaana chahiye! He is a has-been, a great once-hero jisko dekh kar taras aata hain aur embarrass ho jaata hoon!"] solid jibes, when we feel let down by them. This entire crucible of pleasure and pain, highs and low, hi-performances and thuds played out to scenes of exaggerated enthusiasm and theatrical sorrow, melodrama scripted from their gestures of bravado, arrogance or posturing … all these are a part of the universe that we have created in which they are storm-centre. They are divine deities – or fearsome Frankensteins – that we have given birth to, so like it or dump it, celebrities are realities we have to live with!