There is a new breed of favour seekers in town. But unlike the ones who seek alms on our roads and squares, in the name of Allah or Bhagwan or by inciting our pity by exposing their mutilated bodies, these new mendicants seek favours in the name of their art and craft, by parading their 'rashtra seva and patriotism, saying, 'please give it in the name of celebrity, Baba.'
And they don't want leftovers or loose change for their needs. They want expensive land, coveted awards and tax, duty exemptions for their greed.
Consider the recent case of actor - parliamentarian Hema Malini, whose trust was allotted land worth crores in a Mumbai suburb for just Rs 70,000. For that money, these days you can't buy a hut in a remote corner of Thar Desert. But the BJP leader was allotted a plot measuring 2000 sq m at Ambivli in Andheri for a dance school.
As Humphrey Bogart would have said, of all the dance teachers in all the world, they gave it to her.
We know Hema ji is a famous actor. We also know she is a BJP parliamentarian from Mathura, a place she had never visited before her election and rarely visits after that. But why should the government give away land at concessional prices so that people can learn dance from Basanti? If she was keen to open a dance academy, couldn't she have just bought it through an open bid at the prevailing market price? But, no, perhaps she wanted it cheap because she is a celebrated actor. Or, perhaps as a payback for acting in films, for which she charged the day's market price, hopefully in white.
The idea of serving the country through art, sports is completely bogus. What is so special about the profession of the celebrities — especially artists and players — that entitles them to call themselves 'samaj sevaks' (servants of the society) or patriots?
Aren't they, like all others in the marketplace, just offering their services, selling what they have and making a living by getting paid for it? So, if a vendor who hawks his stuff in the market doesn't get an iota of concession from the government, why should celebrities who peddle their art and craft in the bazaar of entertainment demand land at concessional rates, tax rebates, rewards and other favours from the government?
Dozens of celebrities seek undue favours from the government and are often obliged, especially if they have had a history of sucking up to the concerned government. In their bid for favours, they often end up making mistakes and compromises that do not behoove their status.
A decade ago, Bollywood's biggest star, celebrity and icon Amitabh Bachchan was allotted three bigha land in UP by the Mulayam Singh government in Barabanki. The district magistrate of Barabanki later cancelled the allotment, alleging the Bollywood icon had 'misrepresented facts' to receive the benefit.
Later, Bachchan also reportedly used the allotment as a testimonial to establish his credentials as a farmer to buy agricultural land in Pune, Maharashtra, as the state's rules do not permit anyone other than a farmer to purchase such land.
Sachin Tendulkar, top-ranked and top-earning cricketer of his time and now a Rajya Sabha member, too had embarrassed himself by seeking waiver of duty on a Ferrari 'gifted' to him by Michael Schumacher. Tendulkar could have just signed an extra commercial to pay the duty. But he sought the concession, quoting his contribution to the nation, for his Ferrari ki savari. (Later, the government must have felt that it was the one taken for a ride when Tendulkar sold the 'gifted' Ferrari to a Surat businessman.)
Often these celebrities stop at nothing for a favour. Just like Bachchan, who reportedly claimed he is a Barabanki farmer to buy land in Maharashtra, others too arrogate to themselves imaginary roles.
Some suddenly become kisans and baghbans (farmers and gardeners), some become activists overnight for seeking or justifying favours.
For some time now, actor Anupam Kher, already a Padma Bhushan awardee, has been claiming that he fights for the cause of Kashmiri Pandits without bothering to explain what he has done for the community displaced from the Valley. Perhaps he believes just the accident of being born in a Kashmiri Pandit family entitles him to the role of the hero for their cause.
In a scathing rejoinder to Kher's self-anointed activism, Kashmir-based writer Salman Nizami had argued that the actor is just a successful film artist happy with his own life in Mumbai and enjoying all the luxuries money can afford. "KPs are just the means for you to gain the limelight and remain in news, and of course, to appease the current government, which may just shower you with more awards," Nizami wrote.
Yet, they feel the country owes it to them for being the professional artists and money-minters they are. Their hubris, just like their greed, hypocrisy and subterfuge, has no limits.
In today's (Saturday's) edition, Times of India, has pointed out that how artists misuse land allotted to them at concessional rates. Singer Suresh Wadkar, one of the artists identified in the expose, was allotted 1600 sq metre land in Juhu for running a music school. But the land is now being used for three marriage halls and a private school.
When asked why he had flouted the norms, Wadkar replied: "Those who ask why I have commercialised my plots are anti nationals elements who should be beaten with a whiplash."
So, Wadkar first seeks a favour, gets land allotted at throwaway prices in Mumbai, then goes on to turn it into a marriage hall and school and then, when caught, brands others anti-nationals.
Do Mr Wadkar, Mr Kher, Ms Malini really think there is something special about them that turns them into aadarsh Indians, artists, activists and patriots?
Since they are all filmi people, prone to drama and theatrics, let's ask them, as Sohrab Modi did in Yahudi: Tumhare hi liye hi paida hue duniya ke nazare; chamakte hain tumhari roshni se chaand aur taare; Tumhara gham hai gham, auron ka gham khawab-aur-kahani hai, tumhara khoon hai khoon, hamara khoon paani hai?
The fact is, most of these celebrities have done nothing for the country, or even art, other than using it for making money and commercialising the resultant fame. They have not served the country; the country and its people have served them.
Unlike Paul Gauguin, they did not renounce the material world or suffer hardships for the pursuit of art; unlike Charles Dickens, who campaigned for children's rights, education and social reforms, they did not pursue a single social cause of any importance (unless an impending imprisonment turns Being Human into an unavoidable PR strategy); unlike Angelina Jolie they did not even have the courage to discuss health issues in public; unlike Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha, Mohammed Rafi or Nargis, who performed for soldiers on the border during the 1962 war, they danced only at weddings and political rallies, charging, in return, in either cash or kind. And, unlike celebrities in the West, not one of them ever donated a large chunk of their wealth for charity.
All they have done is roam the corridors of power, pleading: Give us something for art's sake. Tickets, awards, land, rebates. Anything.