Filmstars have been the biggest draw when a calamity strikes the country and funds have to be raised. Governments in states or at the Centre are quick to appeal to the stars to hit the streets and seek support and help of the people, to give their mite and help alleviate the effects of whatever calamity has struck.
The stars have done the best they could. They took to streets, take out long processions with a caravan of trucks. Dressed in all whites with fancy glares they asked for cash, clothes, jewellery or whatever!
The first instance to my knowledge was post Indo-China war. The stars were sent out to plead for material help for the war. Now, when I think about it, I don’t understand how it would have been of any help in a lost cause such as the particular war. One would think, the resources for a war needed to be managed before going into a war!
Nobody at that time thought how this help in cash, jewels and used clothes would be of help and who actually needed it. But the public, the masses, knew only what they were told by the government-controlled media, mainly, the radio. The appeal had come from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, no less. The generation was still cherishing the freedom from the British and now had its own leaders running the country. The war was an assault on their recently attained independence.
Some women were said to have donated every last piece of gold jewellery they owned! The stars also hit the streets when calamity struck. It was a rather strange way of raising resources to help the calamity-affected people in a poor nation, asking help from its poor people! But people believed in the cause and the leaders and their pleas for help.
There were more such situations when the star power was put to use. Pune flooding, Surat flooding, Koyna earthquake and so on. The stars did their bit but never knew what happened in the aftermath of their efforts. Nobody told them how much they collected and neither was credit given thereafter. Yes, though limited in numbers, the press photographers dutifully followed such rallies. They had served their purpose, risen to the occasion.
Having watched such fundraising rallies from the sides, I, too, became a part of a couple of such rallies. One was led by Sunil Dutt in Mumbai. Dutt was always into causes involving the Army as well as during other social causes. He was well respected and the actors turned out in numbers to join his rally. The other rally I was a part of was for Saurashtra Draught Relief held in Rajkot. This rally’s star attraction was the entire cast and unit of the television serial “Nukkad”. No need to say how popular the serial and its actors were back in the day — they took the city by storm.
This raising of monies during national need soon went on to become a racket. Not only the stars and the governments, but others also got into the business of cashing in on calamities. Kargil War fund raising was one such occasion. The new breed of fundraisers included media houses, which appealed through their publications, besides NGOs, local politicians and such. Many of them never came back to the people who helped, to tell them where the money went.
Now, we have PM’s Fund and CM’s Funds and National Relief Fund. These funds are meant to collect contributions officially. The era of offloading cash in the name of serving a cause was over. On their part, the corporate entities have, what is called, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) whereby the business houses are meant to contribute a certain percentage of their profits.
As for the film stars, they were not quite organised, though willing to do their bit in times of need for people as well as the country. Quite a few stars have been known to do behind the scene charity work. Sometimes the media gets the whiff of such deeds of the stars and sometimes, the media does not find whatever a star does worth its while.
Contributions through government or other registered funds carries an advantage of tax exemption. And, the star gets this satisfaction of having done his/her bit. But, now political party wars, and the media wars, the stars were given a feeling that when they were favouring a certain fund, they were expressing their loyalties. The social media was the first to slot these actors.
Last year, in 2020, when the Corona pandemic hit India, the biggest sufferers were migrants who flock to metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru or Surat in search of work, mostly daily wage earners. In metros, they lead a hand-to-mouth existence, share small dingy rooms with a few others and have no savings for a rainy day.
When the pandemic-enforced lockdown followed, these workers looked towards home, in far off states from the metros, seeking whatever transport was available at unaffordable prices. Those who did not have money were even willing to walk for a thousand kilometres. Sadly, they were also manipulated by politicians spreading fear and doom. The electronic media went to town showing the plight of these workers minute by minute.
The actors had all the money as well as all time since shooting had stopped and the scenes on television screens stirred their conscience. One after the other, the actors decided to either contribute to various funds helping Covid cause or doing their bit personally on case-to-case basis. Although most decided to donate to a fund earlier, the trend seems to have changed, with the celebrities’ personal involvement this time. That is, setting up hospital beds or providing oxygen for those in need. Some are also looking after the welfare of the cine workers.
Since the Hindi film industry as well as all the artistes are Mumbai-based, those who contribute to the PM Cares fund, also contribute to the Maharashtra CM’s fund.
Even before the ball started rolling, actor Sonu Sood took it upon himself to arrange and send wage earners home, well provided for with meals and comfortable travel. Lately, one does not see much of Sood in Hindi films, some may wonder about his resources. But Sood is a bigtime actor in the South film industry. Also, as he took on more workload, he formed a team.
With the second wave of the pandemic this year, just about every artiste has got involved in some way or the other to help. When it comes to cash contribution, Akshay Kumar has been generous with Rs 25 crore towards the PM Cares and a crore to help the efforts of cricketer and MP, Gautam Gambhir.
Others who have helped in some way or the other include Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, Anushka Sharma (With Virat Kohli), Shilpa Shetty, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, Lata Mangeshkar, Vir Das, Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas, Alia Bhatt, Kartik Aaryan, Bhumi Pednekar, Sushmita Sen, John Abraham, Milind Soman, Hrithik Roshan, Varun Dhawan, Kangana Ranaut, Taapsee Pannu, Richa Chadha, Vicky Kaushal, Sara Ali Khan, and Katrina Kaif.
Some of them helped by taking to social media to guide the Corona victims while some helped with motivational posts.
In the South, top-rung actors are contributing not only to the PM Cares but also to the Telugu and Tamil film workers’ cause since a lot of them work in both these languages. Prominent actors who contributed include Rajinikanth, Ajith Kumar, Chiranjeevi, Junior NTR, Prabhas, Mohan Babu, Pawan Kalyan, Allu Arjun, Ram Charan, Nithin, and Sai Dharam Tej.
It is great to see the film fraternity members loosening their purse strings and opening their hearts, although many of them may be losing on the income owing to lockdown, as no shooting is taking place.
It is also heartening to observe that while some rotten apples had put the industry to shame by getting it into headlines due to drug rackets and suspicious deaths, this year the fraternity has been able to show its golden heart.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran film writer and box office analyst. The views expressed are personal)