No other country – except perhaps the neighbouring ones in the Indian subcontinent – is as celebrity-struck as ours. It makes me wonder sometimes if we have nothing better to do than follow every small and big move of these celebrities? Be they from the field of sports or films, they are literally deified and worshipped. Oh yes, there are even temples for actresses in Tamil Nadu!
This is how it is in India. When a celebrity cricketer and his actress girlfriend marry, the social media and media goes into a tizzy tracking their every move and telecasting the minutest detail of their wedding/reception as if the future of the country depended on it. The first birthday of another star couple’s child sets the studios abuzz and sends the fans into paroxysms of delirium. And when a small-time actress winks, she turns into an overnight internet celebrity! I don’t think the national media of other countries do the same. True, there are tabloids and specific slots to discuss news and non-news related to celebrities, but doing it on a national scale?
To this list of celebrities add high-profile journos and small and big politicians – and you have the sum of all ‘idols’ in the country. Many of these superstars, especially in the south, have thousands of fan clubs with lakhs of fans who are willing to do anything for their idols.
Today Salman Khan was sentenced to a 5-year jail term for black-buck poaching during a film shooting in Rajasthan, and the internet is exploding with condemnation and commiseration. For days now, all channels will debate this burning issue on prime time TV, giving it a political twist, a communal shade and more. His fans nationwide are grief-stricken.
Does anyone know who Subhasini Mistry is? She is one of the Padma Shri winners this year. A poor vegetable seller from West Bengal, she has built a hospital for the poor with her meagre earnings, her doctor son and his siblings helping her in the efforts. How did she do it?
“I used to earn about five paise. Two paise was for rent, two paise was for eating and I used to save one paise.”
I am sure many would ask, ‘Paise? What is it?’ for it is the times of lakhs and crores and lakhs of crores. Read about her here.
How many channels interviewed her and gave a tour of her hospital? How many magazines ran her story? Did she trend on Twitter? For that matter, did any of the other unknown heroes and heroines of this year’s Padma Awards merit a prime time slot? A cover story? Nah! Who wants to read about their lives? So boring!
Now, if Sachin Tendulkar donates his salary as an Rajya Ssbha MP to the PM Relief Fund, it is prime time news. But of course! His exploits on the cricket pitch and his international fame make him worthy of that, don’t they? How can one even compare him to a mere vegetable seller?
This one really riles me. What is so noble about a multi-millionaire cricketer donating his salary, which is a pittance compared to his endorsements? And especially since he reportedly just attended 22 sessions of the Upper House during his entire tenure as MP? But who cares? He is a superstar, so what he does has to be highlighted!
The hold these celebrities have over the minds and imagination of youngsters, especially those from the economically weaker sections of society in urban areas, has to be seen to be believed. If the middle-class students still dream of getting a professional degree and a high-profile job for a life of comfort, these children only look at the glamour, especially on the small screen that beams these images into their homes. They are also directly exposed to the big city life with all its glamour and glitz – in the malls, the movie halls and other places. And they begin aspiring to become part of that life.
Recently four boys of the 11th standard from one of the nearly hutment colony, who came for their Accountancy classes in our house, disappeared without notice to their teacher. Turned out they had gone to attend the funeral of Sridevi! They had their priorities all set. To hell with the exams that were fast approaching. Or perhaps they were banking upon the quota system to see them through. Another day, when she got them talking about careers, the only course they wanted to know about was Mass Communication – specifically careers connected to TV reporting, anchoring and of course acting in serials!
Is it naivete that makes them believe that holding a mike in front of the camera is the be-all-end-all of a career choice? Or is the perceived and presumed glamour associated with that image so persuasive as to draw them irresistibly towards it?
For the younger children show-biz is the ultimate goal in life. Ask any 10-year-old and he or she would tell you that they want to become an actor or model. Slightly older girls dream of becoming fashion designers and hobnob with the glamour girls and boys. You should see their eyes sparkle with stardust as they speak animatedly. They of course have no idea about the kind of education or training they have to have to become a fashion designer or model. They think that all they have to do is to dress well, style their hair fashionably and look pretty. After all they have the recent example of Priya Prakash’s wink to give credence to their belief, don’t they?
But can we blame them entirely? Starting with easily available smartphones with their selfie cameras, they feel it is the easiest thing in the world to appear on the small screen and from there, on to the big screen. A plethora of reality shows targeting even the very young makes it all seem so easy. TV shows profile the stories of those who have made it big in the world of glamour or have made pots of money in sports. Why would anyone in their right mind want to slog at studies and try to become a scientist or an entrepreneur? Isn’t it infinitely more glamorous to become an actor/artist/cricketer/TV star?
I am oh, so tempted to shake them vigorously and make them see sense. And then I despair the very next moment, for I know that no amount of shaking is going to wipe off that dreamy look from their eyes.
Actually I am darned sight happier that they are not enamoured as much by the politicians, for in addition to the high life that they seem to lead, they also have power – whether it is money power or muscle power. Which is why the heirs of the political dynasties of various states of the country are celebrities, never mind that all they can boast of is their privilege and entitlement. Not to speak of other small, big and very big politicians, some of whom run their empires even from behind bars! Being embroiled in controversies – even crime – make these leaders more attractive to the youth – especially those without any direction in life, I guess!
If the children began holding them as role models, imagine their plight! They’d either be following them on their rallies and protests or turning leaders themselves, much as so many of our campus heroes and heroines who are fast gaining popularity, power and glamour. It is so easy to follow or emulate someone who rouses rabble, isn’t it? Make incendiary speeches, the more provocative, the better, and own no responsibility for the mayhem that follows. Instant celebrity status, right?
The celebrity status that power brings, gives these politicians the liberty to shoot their mouth off and get away with it, sometimes even getting accolades! Remember the ‘cattle-class’ remark by Shashi Tharoor? I bet most people have not only forgotten but are chuckling instead indulgently at his farrago vocabulary and admiring the poster boy for his scholarship. Needless to say, he is the toast of the intelligentsia.
Sorry for digressing, and please don’t get me wrong. I am not against superstars from any field. They deserve all praise and accolades for their work and achievements. But making them the sole idols and ideals of an entire generation, is something that sticks in my craw.
Is there such a dearth of role models in this vast country? We do have many scientists, innovators, inventors, explorers – to emulate and follow, surely? Why not talk about them and highlight their achievements?