What the Superstar is selling Today?
Amit Sengupta Delhi
Okay, Kajrare was fabulous, and for once, even an eternally clinical, antiseptic, refrigerated Aishwarya Rai actually titillated with salty sensuality — but what was the Samajwadi Party’s B family doing with Ash at Varanasi’s Sankat Mochan Mandir? Were they appeasing the pre-wedding Madhushala gods? Or were they sending the message that all Manglik women are pre and post-condemned, that only multiple rituals performed by an army of Brahmin priests can save them? At least the media gave this message: since the rituals were documented in great detail by the genius reporters of our English dailies with photo-ops of a demure Bharatiya nari, that is, Ash the antiseptic, dutifully following her in-laws etc through the maze of Manglik cleansing ceremonies.
Indeed, if there was one classic case of a best-selling brand, and a best-selling brand family, selling the most mindless, anti-woman, anti-scientific, anti-rationality, anti-modernity message, it was this incredible Sankat Mochan exercise. If the ‘Indian of the year’ (how, why, on what ground, if not only pure commerce?) is a role model, like his son, and Ash, then what is the message to the nation? That all Manglik women are pre-ordained in their immaculate misconception to be condemned?
In any case, Amitabh Bachchan, who started of as a thin and lean anti-establishment icon with that hungry look in the angry 1970s of the failed idealism of a failed democracy, ended up as a failed tycoon who genuinely missed the abc of authentic greatness, until Amar Singh fixed his debt-ridden resurrection with KBC. So what is the Big B doing these days? Selling, selling, selling – perhaps except for sanitary napkins this man is selling every product on earth. Last reported, he had donated a few crores worth for a crown for a cash-rich south Indian temple, that’s great philanthropy no doubt. But how is he a role model for the nation if he is only making hordes of money for himself and his family and for obscenely prosperous gods? ……………
Bachchan would have been a role model if he had the courage to break conformist thresholds, if he had made meaningful cinema, like actors Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, George Clooney, Jodie Foster, and Shashi Kapoor as producer; if he had been moved by farmer suicides and hungry children; if he had financed great cinema; and if he had, at least, built a hospital cum research centre on that rare disease which almost killed him after Coolie and when the entire nation prayed for him.
Mass adulation can make you a money-making brand, but it means nothing for the soul, for society or for history. Because true greatness can’t be bought or sold, like the memory of Che Guevara or the writings of Munshi Premchand or the films of Guru Dutt, Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
But what to do when the entire social, cultural and economic paradigm has become dominated by the tyranny of mediocrity? In a cloned society of backward capitalism and gasping globalisation, where every second day is a dry day, (Shiv Ratri, Ram Nawami, Balmiki Diwas, Holi, Diwali, Id, Budh Purnima, Mahavir Jayanti, you name it), where another money-making machine and method actor is now taking over KBC reportedly charging in lakhs per show, what do you do with talent? Look at Bollywood. When sons and nephews of dynasties take over as ‘actors’ with miscellaneous models (alleged followers of Mother Teresa etc) as ‘actresses’ how do you solve the mystery of vanishing talents like Pankaj Kapoor, Raghubir Yadav and Manoj Bajpayee? As Om Puri told Naseeruddin Shah in a TV show “They have distributed all the good roles among their relatives, while we are left holding a stethoscope in one hand and a banana in the other.”
Across the 2.5 per cent of the sexy Sensex, and in the micro domain of the celebratory 10 per cent growth elite, utter mediocrity and brutish insensitivity towards the larger social context of condemned and exiled India has come to dominate. So much so, the lonely underdogs who make it, are quickly usurped by the market and turned into comical caricatures: witness MS Dhoni or Irfan Pathan, from low middle class families, strutting on ramps with the glam dolls of the fashion circus.
So how many reporters were covering the Lakme fashion week: 500 plus, including the 24×7 channels, taking a repetitive respite from ‘Prince’ in the black hole and ‘Nagin ka Keher’, if not glorifying brazen police plants with fabricated evidence on the Parliament attack case which pushed us to a nuclear war in the subcontinent, propelled by a communal fascist government led by the BJP.
And how many reporters have been reporting the Vidharbha suicides, or the tribal struggles in Kashipur and Kalinganar against big business and mass displacement, or the classical murder and gangrape of a dalit family in Maharashtra’s Khairlanji where the Congress government played blind and dumb till violent protests rocked the streets? Or the thousands bulldozed in slums to make way for Indian Shanghais?
How many more tens of thousands of Indians will be forcibly displaced from their homes, land, rivers and forests from Singur to the Narmada valley to Dadri to make way for the neo-banana tax haven republics of the Special Economic Zones of the neo-rich backed by the Right, Left and Left of Centre parties. And how many thousands of years will we take to remove the mythical poverty line which traps 300 million plus people in abject tragedy, while a handful of billionaires enter the pages of Forbes magazine?
Surely we can make creative peace with our neighbours, including with Pakistan. Surely we need not continue to ‘occupy’ Kashmir with brute force? Surely we can punish the identified fascists who burnt the coach at Godhra or planned and executed the State-sponsored Gujarat genocide, or the killers of Sikhs in November 1984 with their reported Congress links, or the Shiv Sainiks and the cops who were named by the Srikrishna Commission for the Bombay pogrom of 1992-93?
People want nourishing food, good harvests, infrastructure, roads, clean drinking water, sanitation systems, functioning schools and higher education, comfortable homes and shelters, work and information, imaginative creativity and the aesthetics of brilliance; people don’t want hunger, indignity, injustice; people don’t want to commit suicide.