Celebrities, Hypocrisy and Mass Fantasy in an Aspiring India

The celebrity is a source of the needs, drives and dreams of an aspiring India, writes Chandan Nandy.

3 min read
Salman Khan in 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

Salman Khan is everywhere. For days before and after he was convicted – and then released on bail by a stroke of judicial sophistry – he remains the blazing star around which television, newspapers, magazines and social media continue to revolve.

There he is, blandly urban, with a nervous smile, a five-day stubble, leaving the Mumbai court in faded blue jeans and a crumpled white shirt, bloodshot eyes, a massive silver bracelet dangling at his wrist, waving imperiously with his beefy arm at fans gathered outside his Galaxy Apartments block.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Showing off his bare, hairless and prodigious chest, stroking his carefully back-brushed dyed hair, addressing adoring employees, hugging other cine stars gathered to express solidarity with the hero, the outcast, the convict. Salman Khan is among the few people in India capable of diverting the media from the all-consuming feeding frenzy of Narendra Modi and his government.

Realm of Hypocrisy

In brief, Salman is the essence of celebrity and we can’t take our eyes off him as if we as humans are hardwired to be fascinated with celebritydom, even if it is built around hypocrisy. Behind the breathless and breathtaking chronicling of every twist and turn in the sordid hit-and-run saga, fueled by a seemingly insatiable desire to zero-in on celebrities’ foibles, lies a story that is never told.

Remember the Aamir Khan-hosted episode on drunk driving on Satyamev Jayete last year? “Should the law against drunken driving be made more stringent and stronger action taken against those who drink and drive?” was the question the actor-activist posed to starry-eyed viewers on primetime television.

And yet, as Bollywood’s celebrities shouldered arms, offering encouraging words suffused with righteous anger to the beleaguered Salman, bobbed Aamir’s head, concern for his colleague writ large on his boyish face. In a moment of brotherly affection, the theme of that Satyamev Jayete programme was forgotten, revealing that beyond the glamour and the tinsel, the beautiful people and their acting prowess, if any, lies the realm of hypocrisy – Bollywood’s dark side.

Satyamev Jayete now appears to be a product of celebrity manufacturing designed to meet an all pervasive Bollywood culture’s apparent desire for them.

Role Models?

Remember also the dream girl of yesteryear Hema Malini’s insensitive comment soon after being elected from the Mathura Lok Sabha seat in the summer of 2014 when she uncaringly said that widows from Bengal and Bihar need not crowd Vrindavan which has traditionally been home for thousands of destitute women from the two eastern states.

There are also tales galore of Bollywood’s superstars involved in drunken brawls, evading taxes on their stratospheric earnings, abusing spouses, of sexual transgressions and of infidelities.

Hema Malini (Photo: Reuters)
Hema Malini (Photo: Reuters)

But Bollywood’s ‘boys’ are never depicted as crossing the line between charming, good-natured deception and unsocial behavior. There is a certain degree of fabrication and falsification of truth by presenting them as model citizens.

The projection of a galaxy of celebrities is done in ways to convey that people are drawn to them, defer to them, respect them and love them. Somewhere on the elusive border between fact and fiction, we make heroes out of ordinary – and sometimes inadequate – men and women who are the subjects of refashioned reality.

We have for years glossed over the surface of celebrity events which vastly magnify the personalities and idiosyncrasies of some of these rather ordinary people. Reality is often kept at bay and Bollywood subjects become saints or heroes of mythical parables, with mundane events of their lives becoming tales of extraordinary achievements.

<!--StartFragment-->Fans wait Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan before the screening of the film ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the opening ceremony of the 66th Cannes Film Festival. (Photo: Reuters)<!--EndFragment-->
Fans wait Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan before the screening of the film ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the opening ceremony of the 66th Cannes Film Festival. (Photo: Reuters)

Adulation of celebrities satisfies the schizophrenia in a society in which he or she must not only be the best of us but also one of us, the notion of greatness suitably appended.

But isn’t a celebrity a mirror image, a reflection, in which we study and adjust our own image? The celebrity entertainer is a source of the needs, drives and dreams of an aspiring India which in itself is an indulgence in mass fantasy. There lies the real conceit.

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