For years, Authorities That Be have had a ‘use and ignore’ policy towards celebrities, especially filmstars, as well as top-rung filmmakers. Various regimes over the decades have held film celebrities in a tight leash, always having an attitude of ‘Or Else’.
India was not known to be a resourceful country to meet challenges. Be it a war, floods, earthquake or any other calamity, the country had to appeal to the public to donate its mite. From cash, clothes, grains to gold, everything was collected. Nobody trusted the governments and made donations. So, who was made to take out a rally and beg through the cities of India to beg on behalf of the government? Since the Indo-China war, this has been the norm. It is another matter that none of these collections from the public, in the form of cash or gold, has ever been accounted for, nor the tallies made public.
Yet, except for such occasions, the film industry and its celebrities remained ignored. Its existence hardly acknowledged.
Earlier, the tools used to keep the film industry in check were mostly indirect, like taxation, multi-window permissions for shooting, censoring of films, excise duties, export control, over two score licences for cinema halls and so on. Just about every aspect of filmmaking and exploitation business had to pass through some sort of authoritative control. In return, they got nothing.
However, the stars were left alone. They enjoyed massive following, and touching them would be like disturbing a bee hive. Once in a while though, the income tax department did catch up with them.
During the Emergency era in the 1970s, a new trend started. That of calling shots for celebrities. In a copybook strategy to keep the public occupied with distractions, films and film people were engaged against their will. Producers like Raj Kapoor and the rights holders of “Mughal-e-Azam” were forced to give their films for telecast on Doordarshan against their wishes. Playing of Kishore Kumar’s songs was banned on radio.
But, what has been happening lately is that the filmstars, among other celebrities, are being faulted for taking a stand. I think all the ruling regimes have indulged in some sort of exercise of clipping wings of people who did not agree with their point of view, over a period using various regulations mentioned above. But, what is happening now is blatant and can be defined as victimisation. When it is not a political outfit, it is the public at large that starts belittling an actor whose views it finds contrary to its own views.
Among the prominent stars caught in the storm of public ire are the like of Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah for airing their views on safety. Also, there is a section among the film people that tries to bring down their own on social media. A lot of them do it to remain relevant with their provocative comments. And the media seems so desperate that even these social media fights are treated as news and amplified for effect!
Recently, celebrities like Lata Mangeshkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar supported the Central Government’s farm policy and that upset some politicians who may not agree with the farm policy. An issue was made out of the matter, even seeking to set up an inquiry to find out if they were pressurised to make such comments.
Unlike the star celebrities of yore, when there was no social media and the stars lived cocooned in their own small world, these celebrities now not only have an opinion but also want to air it. Awareness among film celebrities is much more and the current lot is well-educated. Among other things, they also put down their views on the affairs of the nation. And, not the kind to be pressurised by any party or person.
So far the duals were between celebrities and trolls on social media. Now, more and more, even the political parties seem to be watching closely what is posted and by who.
Looks like the political scenario around us has become over-reactive. So much so that social media posts by celebrities are under constant scrutiny! Interpretations of such posts are derived as per convenience of those concerned. A lot of people react to the things happening in the country, posting their views for and against what the policies are nationally. And, the stars should also be treated as part of them.
It does not matter where a star resides, those who need him or her will follow wherever he is. Mithun Chakraborty, who stayed and made films in Mumbai, shifted to Ooty one fine day. His career did not come to an end. Film producers followed, shot with him there and came back with a completed film. He was not without work for a day as there was a line-up of producers making films with him.
Veteran character actor Sushma Seth lived in Delhi but called to Mumbai for shootings with luxury stay and airfare on the house.
Let celebrities feel secure and at home and don’t involve them in the political cesspool.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)