Not really, as today’s free-wheeling democracy of technology buries alive any semblance of silence, invisibility or distance, says Monojit Lahiri
As someone who grew up in Mumbai Pali Hill – the city’s Beverly Hills, with neighbours like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari, Pran, Sunil Dutt Nargis et al – movie stars were a reality, but with a difference. They were invisible! You saw them on the silver screen, read and dreamt about them, discussed their roles, movies, looks, clothes and romances at length with friends and waited breathlessly for their next release. They hardly ever ventured out in public or mingled with the janta and remained pretty much, in purdah!
This conscious and pre-meditated isolation, privacy and distancing from fans and the public – learnt from the Hollywood studio-managed star system of the forties and fifties – paid rich dividends. It bestowed upon them a unique aura, a seductive mystique, a romantic elusiveness, which rumour and gossip ignited into the realms of popular imagination, big time. Excitement and awe blended for the celeb-struck lesser mortals, in maniacal proportions and if perchance, any of these sublime creatures came into public view or – omigawd - personal contact, it was rapture, bliss and ecstasy into a zillion!
Can this amazing cloak of anonymity be possible in today’s times? Can the tantalizing enigma of romance and mystery even begin to take shape in today’s media & paparazzi-driven era? Could the legendary queen of silence, Greta Garbo ever dream of uttering her deathless line “I want to be alone” – and be taken seriously? Never! Why? Because the gorgeous and iconic Garbo was the product of an ancient and powerful Hollywood system that forced its stars into a code of silence. It made great business sense.
In contrast, today’s free-wheeling democracy of technology buries alive any semblance of silence, invisibility or distance. There is neither awe, fascination, admiration or tolerance for celebs who aren’t willing to come out and play, let it all hang out, do the full monty! We live in a digitalized world where Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, blogs, personal websites, with open-door chat rooms, 24x7 reality shows are everybody’s everyday public platforms.
Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt laments this insane intrusion and erosion of mystique and aura and puts it in brilliant perspective. “Mystery and enigma are two of the most powerful and magical components that constitute stardom; elements that fire, colour & dominate the imagination of their fans. Stars are supposed to create magic. Fans are supposed to be in awe of them. Mingling with the common man will destroy this magic and strips them off their charisma. Familiarity breeds contempt”.
Today that halo – in most cases – is missing thanks to the ‘tabloidisation’ of the media getting bolder and entering the crevices of the celebs personal space. Consumerism and social media across the board, are the new Frankensteins. Nothing is sacrosanct anymore, adds Bhatt.
Ace actor Adil Hussain, however, begs to differ. He believes that the age of enigma and mystery relating to celebs is a thing of the past and can never swing with today’s times. He reckons mystery is history… and also bad news. “It translates to not doing any work and is fit to be forgotten!”
He is of the opinion that today’s Gen X wants to get up close and personal and know what’s with you, your work, your life. He believes that social media – especially Twitter – is the definitive forum to interact with your audience”. Not everyone agrees.
Says a veteran director “I find this whole business of social media, over-heated and childish! Intrusive because it deals with sharing the minutest – dumb, boring, irrelevant – details of your life. Childish, because it assumes the whole world will curl up and die if you don’t reveal to them the name of your favourite brand of cookies … or whatever! How corny and insecure can you get?”
Actually, the simple and irreversible fact is, we live in a voyeuristic and exploitative society. Unlike the earlier era of respecting privacy and finding intrusion politically offensive and incorrect, today’s lot love to eavesdrop and peep into other people’s lives and where there is voyeurism, can exhibitionism be far behind? Every day, tons of people are perfectly willing to sell their bodies, soul, families, kids for that fleeting 15 minutes of fame. From the hottest celebs to Mr. Nobody, everybody is dying to be noticed. Insult, humiliation, embarrassment, shock, disgust, pain – The Moment of Truth, Sach ka Samna, Big Boss, Emotional Atyachar – are flamboyantly marketed on television to gigantic captive audience, enthralled and entertained all the way!
As consumers, we are the guilty party because we feed this frenzy by constantly demonstrating our insatiable hunger to sample the life of celebs – old and new – in quirky, weird ways, the sicker the better! Nothing is shocking, outrageous or exploitative; everything is entertainment. We seem to play out our lives in a strange world where tragedy can reap generous rewards, and deep, personal problems can be marketed and sold and it makes total sense to let go of a child for a day to get hold of a new play station!
And to think that once upon a time, there truly was thrill and romance in the unspoken. Mystery and the unknown weren’t something that you googled or ogled the idiot box shows, for the right answers.
Ah well, waqt waqt ki baat hai …