As Rhea Chakaborty and Bollywood are vilified, silence of industry's biggest stars is no shocker
Despite the ongoing vilification of their industry and of a young member of their professional fraternity that went on for more than three months, none of the big stars of Bollywood found the heart to speak up.
Joining the Dots is a fortnightly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire
It took three months of a vicious media trial and the combined efforts of multiple investigative agencies to send actress Rhea Chakraborty to jail after the death, by probable suicide, of her former boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput. After Bihar Police and the CBI found no evidence of wrongdoing on her part in Sushant’s death, she and her brother were charged by the Narcotics Control Bureau of being members of a drug syndicate — on the basis of alleged confessions by two men who worked for Sushant, Dipesh Sawant and Samuel Miranda, that they used to receive marijuana for Sushant’s consumption, and the recovery of 59 grams of the substance, which was found not from Rhea but from the alleged suppliers.
All sorts of things were meanwhile said and insinuated about her, and about Bollywood people in general. Yet, despite the ongoing vilification of their industry and of a young member of their professional fraternity that went on for more than three months, none of the big stars of Bollywood found the heart to speak up. It finally fell to yesteryears actress and current Member of Parliament Jaya Bachchan to step up in defence of the film fraternity. Whatever push-back there had been from Bollywood until then had come from the relatively smaller stars — actors like Sonam Kapoor and Kubra Sait, and directors Hansal Mehta, Zoya Akhtar and Anubhav Sinha. The biggest Bollywood celebrity to clearly come out against the witch-hunt was director Anurag Kashyap.
A similar situation has operated in the media as well. There, it is the biggest, richest, most successful TV channels that led the vilification campaign against Rhea. These are coincidentally also the channels that had not found it worthwhile to report honestly on COVID cases, the distress faced by migrant workers due to the lockdown, the terrible state of the country’s economy, or the fact that the Chinese have occupied hundreds of square kilometres of Indian territory in Ladakh for months now and are refusing to vacate it.
Perhaps this range of responses, from silence to wilful participation in perpetuating evident injustice, on the part of the biggest and richest stars of both Bollywood and media is not a coincidence.
Success in today’s world comes at a small cost: You cannot have a character, a personality or a conscience that gets in the way of somebody’s business or political interests. If you are a reporter for one of those channels, you’ll have to invent the story your bosses want, regardless of the truth. You may have to charge at somebody’s grieving old parents with a mic asking “how are you feeling” or you may have to yell at a poor postman for allegedly demolishing a house. Whatever it takes, because your job is not journalism, it is selling drama and lies and brainwashing gullible people, in exchange for a salary and the occasional scrap of praise. That is also the job of your bosses, and of their bosses too.
One might imagine that those with enough money and fame, whether in media or in Bollywood, would be able to free themselves from this life of slavery, but apparently not. Success in today’s world is its own punishment. This is because beyond a point, superstars like the Khans stop being mere mortals, and become brands. After that, they are not free humans any more, they are machines for a lot of people around them to print currency notes. The machine cannot stop. The star cannot say anything or do anything without some manager or the other rushing in with a Public Relations or financial angle, or a fearful warning of some retribution by government agencies.
The biggies of both Bollywood and media are trapped, like the juniors over whom they rule in the manner of feudal lords, in the seductive prison of neoliberal capitalism. It is a system in which, as the Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han wrote in a famous essay, the oppressed worker is a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. “Today”, he wrote, “everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one”. Whether it is the star or his lackey, people no longer have to be forced to obey commandments and prohibitions. They subordinate themselves to domination on their own. The trick lies in the system that “instead of making people compliant, endeavours to make them dependent…the subjugated subject does not even realise that it has been subjugated”.
That subjugation by dependence is akin to the slavery and dependency of the addict.
The freest people in this situation, and the ones least addicted to dependence on the ruling powers, ironically, are the small fry. That is perhaps why they are able to find the courage and strength to speak up for truth and justice when others much bigger than them fail. In doing so, these few brave individuals uphold dharma, which is first and foremost a moral code, against assault by the assorted forces of evil that, in a tale as old as the Ramayana, often come disguised as sadhus.
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