As I write this post, the new Dharma Productions film Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl sits at a rather unfair 5.2/10 score on IMDB and a trailer for another Bollywood mainstream film Sadak 2 creates a record in garnering the most dislikes on YouTube within days of it being posted. Right now the number of dislike impressions on the trailer are at 12 million. Why are people and the media so angry with the two films? Do they deserve to be so angry? And, do these questions even deserve a write-up?
To understand the anger, one would need to go about two months back to the fateful day when Sushant Singh Rajput, an actor in the Hindi film industry, died. His demise has lead to a number of speculations as to whether he was driven to suicide or was it a cold-blooded murder and who the perpetrators are: the “Bollywood Mafia” as the self-appointed gatekeepers of the film industry are being called or Sushant’s girlfriend. While the speculations haven’t settled on any one party, the incident has set the age-old debate on nepotism in the film industry rolling, and has clearly found a villain in the big names of Bollywood and their “star kids”, whom the netizens have been bashing ever since.
The anger among hardcore Sushant fans and others, who may or may not have been fans, has set off a campaign of hate and abuse against the star kids, the aforementioned movies and one particular filmmaker Karan Johar, who is also known as the mai-baab (godfather) of these so-called star kids. The internet and the news media are, it seems so, in a non-stop war with the Hindi film industry “insiders” for not allowing easy entry to talented “outsiders” in the business and even, in some cases, sabotaging the careers of self-made “stars” in the industry so that the less-talented and undeserving insiders continue to thrive in an industry they have claimed as a gated enterprise.
Quite a noble task the fans have taken up, haven’t they?
Fandom isn’t as menacing and toxic as some people suggest it is.
Not quite, on both accounts.
To begin with, most of us have a skewed idea and superficial understanding of merit, talent, discrimination and justice, and none of us can escape bias (I, as an independent thinker, have my own biases, too). The people who are trying to take down the Bollywood establishment are not any different. The idea of challenging an unjust organisation that thrives on hierarchical exploitation, allows and defends wage discrimination, and is only a less-structured version of corporations has my support, but the way people are going about it, does not.
One of my primary issues with this whole campaign against nepotism is that people are making it only about Bollywood. They are forgetting that they are not on the committee that sends the Best Foreign Film nominations to the Oscars. Nepotism is but only a tip of the capitalist, casteist, racist iceberg that has sunk a lot many smaller boats than a celebrity ship. Before I lose you with the metaphors, allow me to get back to the point: we forget that many of us (at least, the ones who are fortunate enough to be able to voice their opinion) enjoy the privileges of nepotism or other similar privileges that we are born with and have done nothing to achieve or be proud of.
But we wouldn’t question our claim to the life we are enjoying, would we? Because certainly we have worked hard for it. And anyone who does not enjoy a better position has only their lack of merit, sincerity and determination to blame. And as we are so meritorious, just and talented, we have the right to call out the ones who aren’t and are enjoying a position they clearly don’t deserve.
It doesn’t matter how righteous our anger is or how incompetent and undeserving the celebrities are because we are the ones who turned actors into stars. As with god, we created the celebrity cult and personality cult. The people who enjoy this status are merely good at exploiting it. We cannot simply put the blame on them and absolve ourselves of all the prejudices, biases and injustices we support to make it happen. We are a part of the machinery.
Ask yourself, who decided that all the top box-office-friendly “stars” are light-skinned and/or male. Or, why aren’t transgenders allowed to play themselves on screen and tell their own stories? Why is sexism and racism so prevalent in comedies? Why are celebrities afraid of expressing their political beliefs, especially when that belief does not agree with the majority’s? Why isn’t there more representation of indigenous tribes and Dalits? Think about it. All these aspects that we have readily accepted to be not good enough for space on screen and popular culture go on to make make the kind of entertainment we consume and the celebrities we idolise.
We can’t keep fooling ourselves that we are any better than the celebrities we love/hate. We can’t slight them for leading lavish, pompous lives when we ourselves aspire to it. And how do we claim to be fighting for justice when we scoff at stories of discrimination against gender, sexuality and minorities and are quick to accusing victims of pulling the victim card?
We are the internet generation: we fall in love online, our idea of relaxation is governed by a slogan from a video streaming giant, we get our next fix in virtual crates and carts and our obsessions are accompanied by hashtags. The collective consciousness of people has never been so easy to manipulate. But people have always been manipulated. Remember, there was a time when the only source of truth was the religious text. Things have changed, our sources of truth have diversified. But the one thing that has not changed is our love for spectacle. The grander the narrative, the more willing we are to believe. And what gets grander than Bollywood (after religion and cricket)?
Mainstream Bollywood continues to simplify or whitewash the issues faced by people who are at the margins of society as we continue to ignore them by downplaying their need for and right to justice and life of respect. It is not just Sushant’s family who needs justice, there are millions who need that prime-time slot to tell their stories, people who need us to raise our voices in their support. Boycotting movies and actors does not make us powerful consumers. We are still at the mercy of the media that exploits our obsession, weakness for jingoism and spectacle and the free time at our hands to continue peddling a tragic incident with new genre twists that range from suspense thriller, police procedural, family drama to the supernatural (so filmy). Ask yourself, wouldn’t a share of such coverage do wonders for people and issues that desperately need our attention?