Are our celebs fame and fortune, disproportionate to their offerings?

Do our movie and cricket superstars really deserve the luxurious lifestyle they live? Who deserves more applause, accolade and support – Virat, SRK or those champions who work as agents of change?

Clock wise: Mannat, Galaxy Apartments, Kangana Rnaut's residence in Mumbai, and Akshya Kumar's residence in Mumbai
Clock wise: Mannat, Galaxy Apartments, Kangana Rnaut's residence in Mumbai, and Akshya Kumar's residence in Mumbai

Monojit Lahiri

This unending lockdown has really got the keeda in my panga-driven buddies bheja, big time! This time his call arrived at midnight. “Gurudev, I know, like Dracula, you are a night creature and this must be tea-time – since blood-sucking is no longer in fashion! – so I thought I’d indulge in some intellectual curiosity. Ek baat bataiye our movie and cricket superstars really deserve the luxurious lifestyle they live? The fame, fortune, mega-bucks, mass-craze, hero-worship et al compared to the much more deserving souls - real game-changers, who make a difference on the ground – forever ignored, overlooked, unsung, unheralded? Why this massive disparity and inequitable allocation of attention, resources & rewards? Whatever happened to our chest-thumping hoo-haa about our 5000 year civilisation with the Rig Vedas pronouncing that the real aim of our life is keeping Dharma, Karma, Artha and Moksha in perfect balance? If you can locate an answer, pray, do tell!”

As always, the agent-provacateur got me pondering over a subject I never really bothered to chew. My mind went back to several breathless invitations [through social media] to peep into the impossibly luxurious and opulent homes of our celebrities with roof-top swimming pools overlooking a spectacular view of the sea ... all so unreal & in dramatic contrast to the simple and modest home and lifestyle of a fraternity who did and continues to do path-breaking work in the area of social upliftment through inspirational achievements to make a real difference to children of a lesser god! Coming to think of it, what is so special about our movie stars and cricketing heroes that clean bowls the vision and value, passion and purpose, drive and dedication of a community that single-mindedly focuses on path-breaking work relating to the underbelly of the world’s largest democracy earning them nothing more than tokenism & lip service? His words came back to me. “Why are the tireless champions who refuse to divorce hope from reason given fifty-third from left space in the big picture? Why are these silent achievers deprived of a voice in the public space, totally hijacked by cardboard cutouts with the tinsel thunder who despite their heroics on screen, shrink to embarrassingly, puny size creatures off-screen?!”

A fearless chronicler of truth whose trademark is to searingly expose the face behind the mask, takes first strike with an interesting theory. She believes that today, words like progress and development are eminently interchangeable and have less to do with the human spirit than the different brands of deodorants! It’s because freedom is equated with choice. The market too has changed. It is now a de-territoralised environment that basically is in the business of buying and selling ... the future! Powered by the twin forces of consumerism and globalisation it intimidates and marginalises the un-entitled players who refuse to turn customers and Houdini-style hypnotise the starry-eyed fraternity who have thrown their hats in the ring, ready, willing and wanting to be seduced into this optical illusion!

Not all agree. Devotees of our stars and cricket icons insist that human beings – especially in a suppressed, un-entitled, unjust and corrupt world – always look for heroes and role-models they can look up to. Once upon a time, we had towering figures across the entire spectrum –Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Sports, Entertainment, Business and Industry, Social Reformers, even politics – but today we seem to have dwarfs desperate to cast large shadows. In this depressing space, it is these dazzlers who bring colour, excitement, hope and joy with their inspirational achievements & aura on screen and in the past.

Another lot takes it further to pinpoint the defining moment when, suddenly, luxury swept into our lives to change us, forever ... the post-liberalisation era! The wealthy, rich and well-off section of society were always there with their bungalows, cars, clubs, foreign holidays and imported lifestyle products. So were the austere middle class, content in their own secure world of basic comfort, but perhaps secretly dreaming – in idle moments – of the good life. 1991 introduced a dramatic paradigm shift in actually getting us up-close and personal with the meaning of luxury. Overnight, the world came knocking with all their [so far – inaccessible] bounty of goods and services. Also, the term luxury meaning extravagant excess came into flamboyant play. Perspectives changed and the aspirational found a trigger to actually sample a life they had secretly dreamed of but dared not articulate. The genie was out of the bottle and nothing would ever be the same again. In the last three decades, this term luxurious life style has zoomed North to touch impossible heights, infecting the aspirational to live their dreams. Today, consumerism rules with work hard, earn well, live big being the new mantra! Austerity, saving for a rainy day, economise has gone flying out of the window. One life, celebrate it with all cylinders firing or else, when you die, you will die without ever having lived!

So, along with the desperate desire for heroes and the post-91 boom, came a brand new environment where glitz, gloss and glamour dazzled our lives, replacing the drab, dull, simple existence of yore. On cue, Advertisers jumped into the fray of manufacturing needs and selling wants to market the goodies, with media swiftly getting into the act As Incredible India started making its global presence felt with new confidence and raised its ante in the international scene – with Bollywood & Cricket taking centre stage – primary media [TV, Radio, Press] found super juicy masala to glamourise these two hi-profile, audience-friendly sweet-spots of the masses and go berserk. This coincided with India’s big success in these two fields, at home and abroad. Over time, with the BCCI becoming the richest and most powerful board in the cricketing world and our movie superstars rocking the charts everywhere their films were screened, these two became the new religion, spawning super heroes while completely capturing the imagination of the masses. Money, fame, attention – they got it all! In our most dull, dreary and depressing moments, didn’t our cricketing & movie stars provide us excitement, joy, hope? In a climate where sensationalism, hype and rocking testosterone flail the air & generate unthinkable buzz, this template is in order. Renowned Sports journo concludes this brilliantly when she zeroes-in on the life and times of the new sporting icons. “Indian sport today is youthful, energetic, moving past the handicaps of history and weightage of heritage, an agent of renewal, re-invention & redemption. We no longer participate, we fiercely compete and win with the best of the best! These guys and gals have a fearless brashness, a combative edge and a confident optimism that never existed before. This is a metamorphosis from monochrome to hi-definition, hi-resolution, hi-voltage. The last four decades have re-written history. The growth of TV, the 1983 World Cup World Cup, liberalisation ... across every decade the Sports star has played his/her part and grown into entrepreneur, mentor or visionary, ready to strut their super wares on the world stage with Tees screaming Well behaved women rarely make history and embrace stardom, the bigger-the-better! Strutting on red carpets, walking the ramp, talking the talk, today’s sports stars feature high on the superstar totem ...”

30 year old Bhavna Khanna begs to differ and is shocked, horrified and disgusted at this glamorous and hi-decibel celebration of celebs who clearly don’t deserve the mega bonanza gifted to them. The young social scientist believes that in this scary world which knows the price of everything but value of nothing, the real meaning of making a difference has been hollowed out and emptied of true worth. Consumerism in India, she believes, has created a prosperous, inward-looking middle-class, punch drunk on sudden wealth and the vulgar respect that accompanies it. Its conscience clearly is haemorrhaging and it’s rhetoric reflects its blinding love affair with all things connected with the good life. ”I have nothing against entertainers and sports persons being well paid, but the lakhs & crores accompanied by a 10-star lifestyle is most certainly not justifiable. Why? Simply because at the end of the day, what is their real contribution to society? Apart from providing a pleasant break and distraction from their dull, eventless & routine life, what is their exact role in making life more rich & meaningful for the masses? Forget the blah-blah about teaching us bonding & leadership lessons in sports and providing glamour & fantasy to act as cushion against the tyrannies of everyday life, do they act as agents of change that can take life forward?

The thrill that Virat Kohli or SRK gives you is indeed undeniable – but what else? In contrast, Khanna argues, away from the Mannats, Antilla & Jalsa, Lamborginis, Ferraris & Bugattis, are the armies of unsung heroes & heroines, the silent achievers who continue to passionately dedicate their time towards societal change. Such stories of inspiration, of relentless dedication of touching life to transform lives are actually well received by a cynical readership and viewership blitzed with tales of venality, greed & corruption. These celebrate heroes far removed from the frivolous Page 3 crowd so beloved of one section of today’s dumbed-down-media catering to the lowest common denominator.

The history of the world, a brilliant editor once famously said, is littered with the ruins of ancient civilizations. India is probably the only civilization whose ancient knowledge and traditions have been kept alive for over 5000 years. This has been possible by the passionate silent minority who have basically striven, moulded but not mastered by circumstances, defying all odds, to reach out to the neglected fringe people, forever marginalised and disenfranchised, to show them the light. Who deserves more applause, accolade and support – Virat, SRK or these champions who work as agents of change?

Over to you, gentle reader.

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