Compared to politicians, corporate titans or even cricket stars, our Bollywood stars enjoy a teflon-like immunity from popular judgement. They are free to be patently shallow, untalented, entitled, even break the law without losing their adoring public's affection — as long as they do what is required, ie look pretty and shake a leg.
And that's exactly what they plan to do at Mulayam Singh Yadav's village this week, where Bollywood A-listers Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit are expected to perform at the Samajwadi Party's Saifai Mahotsav. The other attendees at this Bollywood hungama — held each year in memory of Mulayam's deceased nephew — include Soha Ali Khan, Ranveer Singh, and the music composer duo Sajid-Wajid who are expected to "belt out their chart busters" in front of a VIP audience flown in on chartered planes. When Mulayam calls, no one refuses, not even Hrithik Roshan who was the "show stopper" last year at the same event.
This year's shindig, reports India Today, "has been widely condemned as a superfluous celebration distasteful in the backdrop of last year's riots." The celebration may have been judged as distasteful, but the participation of its star attractions has, however, drawn no comment. For this is the way it works in the media: We will pillory the Samajwadi Party honcho for his Nero-like fiddling, but no one will call out the highly paid nautankis dancing to his tune.
Of course, no one expects an industry that wept crocodile tears at the death of migrant-and minority-baiting Bal Thackeray to put principle before dhanda. But it takes remarkable insensitivity — and indifference to optics — to shake a leg for a party that is making news for its criminal neglect of riot victims. The UP government first passively stood by while its citizens were brutally killed and raped, then left them to tend to their dying babies in under-resourced relief camps, and finally evicted them from their only refuge. That SP is now choosing to gloss over its abominable conduct by holding a lavish PR event — likely with government funds that ought to have been used to feed and clothe victims — is reprehensible. But that our leading movie stars are willing to actively collaborate in the effort — for the right price, one assumes — is more shameful still.
And yet we don't care because we prize our movie stars precisely for their expediently 'apolitical' personas. Salman Khan is all the more beloved because he will never make the mistake of talking about Indian Muslims or Pakistan or racial profiling a la Shah Rukh Khan. We will forgive all the dead black bucks and pavement dwellers, the many stories of physical violence, as long as Sallu Bhai stays ekdum chup about the P-word. After all, this is a guy who, when asked about his silence in the wake of 26/11, said on NDTV, " I wasn't here, I was in Greece and I came back 15 days after that." Now that's a man seriously committed to the 3-monkey principle.
It's why he can gleefully rake in the money on carefully timed blockbuster Eid releases — including Wanted, Dabangg and Bodyguard — and blithely dance on the graves of riot victims which likely included many Muslim fans who stood loyally by him during his worst PR disasters. As Shohini Ghosh noted in Caravan:
The entire decade of the 1990s and a large part of the next, witnessed a heightened communalisation of public spaces as Hindu Right forces consolidated political power following the demolition of Babri Masjid. Muslims were cast as unreliable citizens whose loyalties were perpetually in doubt. The anxiety suffered by the ordinary Muslim—who could be randomly targeted for interrogation, torture and incarceration merely on the basis of suspicion—found reflection, as it were, in the unpredictable vicissitudes that beset Salman Khan. Like Sanjay Dutt before him, Salman was sent to jail, brought to trial and hasn’t yet been declared innocent. Neither success not stardom served as protection. At such a juncture, Salman’s ability to survive the odds may explain why among his billion fans, under-privileged Muslims form a devoted constituency.
But let's not hold Salman to a higher standard. Let's also note the hollowness of the other Khan's (Soha Ali) secular credentials which she flaunted alongside her blue-blood family at a book event celebrating Jawaharlal Nehru's liberal values. And we should be sure to wonder why the avowedly apolitical Madhuri who refused to become the brand ambassador for Maharashtra tourism found Mulayam's invite irresistible.
Or just maybe they do it because they can. Because they know none of us care. Much like the audience that will assemble to watch them in Etawah, all we want from our stars is paisa vasool. Being a star is a requirement. Being human is negotiable.
Published Date: Jan 09, 2014 09:55 am | Updated Date: Jan 09, 2014 10:01 am