This appeared in the Asian Age today....
Are Indian Celebs ready for celebrityhood...?
What happened at the Wankhede Stadium between Shah Rukh Khan, assorted officials, private body guards, cops, a 53-year-old security guard and a bunch of kids, has been extensively covered across several media platforms, and I’ll not bore you with details . But the latest incident involving a top Bollywood star and local authorities indulging in a pretty nasty public scrap , is definitely worth commenting on since it raises several issues related to our handling of celebrityhood. The very notion of çelebrity is comparatively new to India. Çelebrity, as opposed to fame. Fame is generally linked to achievement, whereas celebrity is a far looser, broader term that embraces notoriety equally. Unfortunately, we have yet to make that distinction when we describe anybody and everybody who has ever had a brush with publicity, as a celebrity. Worse, those very people start believing in their own, inflated sense of importance. I have heard obscure deejays and small time models strutting around at events aggressively demanding, “Get me into the VIP lounge... I am a celebrity.”Quite forgetting the first rule of celebrityhood : If you are indeed a bona fide celebrity, people should recognise you instantly without your having to hit someone on the head with it. Then comes another nauseating desi habit – pompous idiots who try and jump queues bellowing, “Don’t you know who I am?” The classic response to that is, “No, I’m sorry I don’t. Is there someone in the room who can help this person? He doesn’t know who he is?” Our obsession with famous people is understandable. In the old days, the only people who were recognised were politicians. Then came the first generation of Superstars from the film industry,( it wasn’t Bollywood back then), followed by cricketers. That was it. From Pandit Nehru,Dilip Kumar to Pataudi, India’s celebrity roster was pretty slim. What we are seeing today is a totally different ballgame. It is manufactured and media driven with humungous amounts of money involved in promoting certain individuals and protecting them more than other ordinary mortals. Which is why I wasn’t at all surprised when a co-panellist (on Arnab Goswami’s over-heated show, the night of the infamous brawl),glibly educated India on the importance of homegrown celebs. The guy who controls mega deals on behalf of his celeb clients,briskly counted five individuals in the country who represent Brand India internationally ( SRK,Salman Khan,Amitabh Bachchan,Sachin Tendulkar and Aamir Khan). He sported the look of an injured puppy when he asked, “These are our icons... and you want to demolish them?Destroy their brand equity?There are billions riding on these guys.” I nearly wept! Eventually, there was no moral argument left. It was only about safe guarding the financial interests of five individuals in a country of a billion-plus people. And to hell with other issues. Bizarre beyond belief.
Then came the “My daddy, best daddy’ arguments from the SRK groupies on the panel ( most had a financial stake in standing by their man). “He did what any father would do if his daughter was being manhandled,” was the chorus.Now, manhandling is a very serious charge, and if SRK can establish it, the outrage building up against his abusive conduct may peter out. That shouldn’t be too difficult to do given the witnesses and the cameras on the grounds. Equally, let us look at the other side of the coin - it is unfair to accuse SRK of drunken conduct, if that is hard to prove – which it definitely will be, since SRK was not subjected to an alcohol test the same night. So what this is going to lead up to is a whole lot of huffing and puffing on various channels, with brainy film industry types saying they’d rip someone’s head off for touching a child, and other equally sober comments. What is not as amusing is the attempt to polarise the situation by bringing Marathi parochialism into it. I have received nasty reactions from anonymous ( but, of course) viewers asking whether I , as a Maharashtrian, was upset with SRK because of his comment on a Marathi abuse that he said was so terrible he refused to repeat it on camera. I was also asked whether I was enraged by the loss of Mumbai Indians to SRK’s team that night. Hello! What if I said a la Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”Which is perfectly true. I remain indifferent to cricket and I wish I knew more abuses in Marathi!
God knows where this is going. At the time of writing there are fresh charges rolling in from SRK’s camp. More serious ones. If the security guard ( who has been with the Wankhede stadium for 25 years) is proven guilty of ‘molestation’, that’s the end of this man’s career, and maybe his life.But the public will still be in the dark as to what causes Indian Idols like SRK and others, to lose control in public and then insist they are the real victims because of their celebrity status. He pretty much trotted out the same reasoning recently when he was questioned at the airport in America. Perhaps, he has genuine reason to feel martyred and put upon. It happens. One can forget the upside of celebrity in a flash. All the perks, all the privileges, everything that goes with the elevated position. As a family man who has always placed his children above all else, SRK will no doubt find countless supporters, especially in the film industry and the IPL world, where he is heavily invested, financially and otherwise. Perhaps, he should also consider investing in counselling and anger management, so that if someone or something does provoke him in future, he will do what most others would – report the matter instantly to the police and let the law handle it. Oh... a couple of basic Marathi lessons would help, too.