Circa 2020 –the world as we know it, stands divided into essential and non-essential, a categorisation that had rarely merited discussion or thought earlier. And Celebrities seem to be falling into the latter category.
The Coronavirus as we discover each day has brought the world to a grinding halt and diminished the power of celebrity in a way unimagined thus far. As people grapple and struggle with their own existence- financial woes, uncertainty about employment and income besides the practical problems of looking after home and hearth without domestic help, one can hardly blame them for their sudden lack of interest in the shenanigans of the rich and famous.
A significant number of Indians live in 2-room units or even less and the last thing that is reassuring for them right now is to watch the indoor fitness routines of celebrities or their children’s prattle about other rich and famous friends, a walk around palatial (at least relatively) confines with a display of exotic foods and herbs keeping them healthy-- a life that the common man can ill-afford.
Truth be told, the Aam Aadmi (common man), may seek an escape from reality by watching a variety of shows or films, but at this precarious moment, the fancy, indulgent or decadent lifestyle of the rich and the famous or their chronicle of daily tribulations ensconced in their gilded comfort is no longer on his 'favorites' list.
The only one to buck the trend would perhaps be the cherubic Taimur—who again made headlines when a news anchor after an interview with his father, actor Saif Ali Khan insisted on a goodbye from the tot to cheer up the viewers. His father’s reveal, “I’m sorry, he’s currently on the potty (sic),” expectedly sent everyone in a tizzy with comments about the caliber of the news media.
Notwithstanding media’s obsession with Taimur’s antics, when a candid photograph of Peacocks and Peahens prancing about in Mumbai's Parsi Colony creates more buzz on social media grapevine than photos of celebrity fashionistas all dressed up with nowhere to go, it is apparent that the wind is not blowing in favour of Celebritydom.
In fact, even well-intentioned attempts by celebrities to reach out to the masses seem to be having a contrary impact. Recently when actor Ajay Devgn clarified the health status of his wife Kajol and daughter Nysa on social media, a troll went on to heckle him by asking him to donate Vimal Gutkha (tobacco) to people!
Even Amitabh Bachchan, who’s normally considered above scrutiny, was erroneously taken to task by a follower for allegedly plagiarizing a quote by Charles Darwin! The fact that the actor had mentioned that he was merely sharing a quote put up by one of his fans or Extended Family (as he refers to them) did not make a difference.
Even an array of grandiose announcements of donations by top-drawer celebs like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Kartik Aaryan, Bhumi Pednekar, Vicky Kaushal, Varun Dhawan, Anushka Sharma and Viraat Kohli and Salman Khan, barely created a ripple, unlike earlier times when the media machinery would go into overdrive magnifying every small socially-conscious gesture by a celebrity.
If anything, insensitive displays by celebrities—photos/videos that tantamount to showing off the privilege of a picture-perfect life- is only adding to a sense of Schadenfreude (happiness at the misfortune of others). Besides, instances of the privileged set’s disregard for following rules as was evident in singer Kanika Kapoor’s case does not help their cause. The fact that celebrities, with their powerful friends and ample resources, can ride through this storm unlike the majority of their fans has only amplified both the dissonance and disenchantment.
An article in The Guardian by Arwa Mahdawi explains this resentment rather succinctly, “Celebrity culture and capitalism are inextricably entwined. Both elevate the individual over the collective good. They rely on the lie of “meritocracy”: work hard and you can achieve whatever you want. But it has become uncomfortably clear how little we value our hardest workers--healthcare professionals, supermarket staff, bus drivers and delivery drivers who are keeping the world running while the rich run to their second homes. We are all in this together,” the rich and famous keep telling us. Sorry, but it is obvious that we are not.”
Indeed, all facile and specious celebrity content lost its magic as soon as visuals of migrant workers walking from the cities to their villages due to the lockdown flooded the media and debates about the wide chasm between the rich and poor took center stage.
Videos and photos of celebrities were posting of themselves taking the handwash challenge or sharing their suggestions of movies and books one could read during the lockdown paled in comparison to the efforts being made by the real heroes of the moment- people making a real difference to citizens’ lives every day.
Virologist Meenal Dakhave Bhosale who delivered COVID-19 test kits, doctors like Dr Rajesh Parikh, a medical expert who has co-authored a book on Coronavirus, pilot Swati Raval who flew to Italy to bring home Indians stranded there, nameless police officers feeding the poor and the homeless with barely any protection or tireless innovators who’re creating apps to make healthcare facilities more accessible to the common man are the heroes that the junta is gravitating towards. From the privileged set, a few like Anand Mahindra, Azim Premji and Ratan Tata have impressed people largely because of their philanthropic initiatives.
Present anecdotal data definitely seems to suggest that after a considerable spell of world dominion, the power of celebrity has been forced to play second fiddle to the power of substantial and essential workers. In all likelihood, as is the way of the world, once the coronavirus threat is over and normalcy returns, people will perhaps once again submit to the charm of celebrity. But for now, they certainly appear to be on a break.