Feat of clay


Feat of clay

We love celebrities when they fly high. We love them even more when they come down

Shah Rukh Khan has joined the list of the officially uncool. Accused of abusive behaviour at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium last week, his aggression deepens the red marks that dot Bollywood’s behavioural report card. This has been a particularly bad year when it comes to good behaviour among film stars. A series of scattered incidents are stacking up to form a pattern. Barely a fortnight ago, the Mumbai high court stayed actor John Abraham’s conviction for a case of rash driving. Earlier this year, SRK slapped filmmaker Shirish Kunder; Saif Ali Khan picked a fight with a fellow guest in a restaurant; singer Mika allegedly misbehaved with a beauty pageant contestant; actors Ameesha Patel and Sanjay Dutt are reported to have had a spat at a party in Goa over something Patel wore; and even Karan Johar — known as the ambassador of warm diplomacy in filmdom — has reportedly openly turned against Priyanka Chopra for upsetting his friend Gauri Khan.

There are enough skeletons in the cupboard. Sanjay Dutt’s TADA sentence; Salman Khan being tried for hunting blackbucks and a hit-and-run; and TV biggie Ronit Roy’s bullish driving, to cite some. Every second day, some star or the other is reportedly “burying the hatchet” with someone (the assumption being that a hatchet is buried only after it is brandished); others are sued for plagiarising scripts, music, lyrics, fashion. Celebs now openly take insensitive personal digs at each other on talk shows. Then there are rival celebrity clans provoking power politics. It’s a grainy picture.

So if debates around the darker side of stars have become the stuff of daily conversation, it’s not without reason. These people invade our space and imagination 24×7, selling us everything from entertainment to medical insurance, sunscreen to luxury penthouses, literacy to vaccination. There is little room left for other role models, because all roles are played by film stars. The hype manufactured around stars well before any real evidence of their talent or commitment to cinema turns them into self-serving dandies and narcissists. Admittedly, Bollywood is bigger than ever before. It is also full of imperious stars obsessed with fame, adulation and money, instead of being driven by a passion for Hindi cinema — acting, dancing, writing or singing — their core professional distinctions. SRK and others like him want to own a cricket team, not an acting school.

Then, the armies of publicists and fame managers and “friends” that surround celebrities these days seldom seem to give them negative feedback. Everything a star does is termed “fabulous” or “amazing”. In a syrupy environment saturated with breathless fame and lots of money, the moral compass of celebrities begins to point inwards, not towards others. So, in a volatile situation like the one between SRK and the MCA officials, abusing others is easier than reasonable behaviour. It is not important to find out whether SRK was actually drunk or not. Instead, it is important to note how stars behave in the face of emotional triggers.

They behave, you might argue, like most of us would. Much as each episode tells us a little more about the star in question, it also reveals why we love to hate them. It has long been argued by fame analysts that the only relationship that thrives between celebrities and their fans is a love-hate one. We love celebrities when they skim — star-like — on clouds of success, their inaccessibility enhancing our enchantment. But somehow we love them even more when they topple. The vicarious pleasure of fans peaks when stars come closest to being like the adulators themselves — fat, sick, bald, depressed, divorced, angry, drunk or guilty.

That’s what is happening now. If audiences are divided over the verdict on Aamir Khan’s “real” intentions behind his show Satyamev Jayate, or if hitting out at celebs has become a free-for-all sport, it is also because of the reflected notoriety. Aamir Khan could well be its victim. But you can hardly blame the media or audiences for being cynical if Bollywood’s glossy layer starts visibly cracking too much and too often.

Even if celebrities make up after brawls, issue clarifications, walk free on bail, insist that drugs (as with Fardeen Khan) were planted, or as in Vivek Oberoi’s case, claim that reports of him smoking in public despite supporting the World Health Organisation’s anti-smoking campaign were fabricated, the damage is done. Some of it is unfair, even uncalled for, even as we realise that our stars are only a mirror image of who we are collectively as a society.