The film world has always excited the imagination of commoners
Source – Times of India
It’s the awards season of the year again. Week after week TV audiences are getting to see Bollywood stars perform on stage, with fancy awards being conferred on them to mark their achievements. Witnessing glamorous people laugh and cheer as film stars perform and make wisecracks on stage is an experience few people seem willing to miss. But this is also the time of the year when one becomes acutely aware of the long shadow that the Star Syndrome has come to cast over our lives.
It can go down as one of the not so talked about aspects of the liberalisation era. The film world has always excited the imagination of commoners. Film stars have enjoyed a larger than life status right through the independence years, with different decades throwing up their own icons, whether it be Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, or Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan or more recently Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, among others. But the socialist era saw a clear demarcation between the lives of film stars and commoners. People visited theatres, cheered and whistled at their icons and went back to their lives.
Liberalisation has changed all that. The logic of the market has brought film stars from the distant theatre into our living rooms. In fact, they seem to be everywhere now. Besides the multiplex that is a stone’s throw away, there is television offering films 24X7, there are endorsements featuring movie stars in every commercial break on TV, and there are chat shows, news channels and reality shows which feature them on a regular basis.
In the real world too you have movie stars staring at you from the morning daily and gazing down from billboards. Why, you even catch a glimpse of them at malls these days and get to know what they are up to on the social media. It’s as if they have invaded our lives. You may argue that this has made our lives more interesting, what with commoners getting to vicariously enjoy the high life that beautiful people lead.
But this in-your-face presence legitimises questions about the real worth of the Salmans, Shahrukhs and Katrinas who seem to bestride the world like colossusi. In a historical sense, a curious reversal of sorts seems to have occurred. While traditional societies had a place for performers and entertainers, they denied them the top berth in the social order. That girls from good families were not expected to enter films in India was a manifestation of this phenomenon through most of the last century. From that extreme we have swung to the other extreme today, with film stars setting the benchmarks of success and achievement.
Such deification clearly rests on an unreal foundation. Rarely if ever is it acknowledged today that the superhuman status that the Amitabh Bachchans and Shahrukh Khans enjoy has less to do with their innate attributes and more with the power of cinema as a medium. That it is the magic of the giant screen that transforms individuals with some talents into demigods beyond compare.
The fan will say that film stars only get what they deserve as artists. But this is untrue. As far as acting as an art form is concerned, few of the stars in India today can be called front-benchers. In fact, some of the best actors around, who work in some of the best films that are being made, seem to lead very regular lives.
This is not to deny what a Shahrukh or Salman gets to the table. With some acting, some dancing, some dishum-dishum and an individual personality that is appealing, they do ensure that the viewer gets back his money’s worth. Perhaps above all, they ensure that the producer who puts his money into a project earns returns several times over.
But even in commercial films, the stars hog undue credit. For without the screenplay, the dialogues, the music, and, above all, the direction they would be nowhere.
There is reason to contrast movie stardom with the status sportsmen enjoy since the latter actually perform on the field. You may argue that there is talent involved even in peddling make belief convincingly. After all, every actor does not end up as a star. But that the component of talent here is less becomes evident when you consider that movie stardom gets passed on to the progeny oftener than is the case with sportsmen.
There is no getting away from the Star Syndrome without a perspective that relegates movie stars to what they are: entertainers. Entertainment is important and most of us love movie stars for the way they look, talk, come across on screen or the emotions they evoke through their roles. But this is not the same as overrating them and granting them ubiquitous presence in our lives.
For this, no doubt, the media is as much to blame, particularly the industry that has come up around stardom.
There is also the question of the role models we present before the young. Just as a society needs entertainers, it also requires engineers and businessmen, scientists and soldiers, teachers and scholars. Unfortunately, the Star Syndrome is skewing the social benchmarks of achievement. I am not certain whether I want my four-year-old son to grow up thinking Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan as the ultimate achiever, which seems quite likely to happen. Nor am I sure whether as a grown-up it would be great for him to undergo surgeries to look handsome or take flitting in and out of relationships as his idea of love.
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