Shailesh Kapoor: Want A Controversy? Dial A Celebrity

27 Nov,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor


Till fairly recently, entertainment content was the domain of non-news channels and magazines. News media would rely on political, global, social, crime and sports to fill their airtime or pages. Celebrity news was limited to a weekend entertainment show, or to channels and print supplements delivering entertainment gossip.


In what can only be described as a further dumbing down of the news media, celebrity news is now taking primetime headlines. This has been achieved using the rather interesting route of combining celebrity news with the relevant socio-political themes running in the news at any point of time. So you juxtapose a Shah Rukh Khan or an Aamir Khan with intolerance, and you have content that has the ability to spark off a million Whatsapp jokes. Which probably means it’s newsworthy enough!


Anyone who has seen the full videos of what the two Khans said, and in what context, should be wondering what the fuss is all about. Celebrities have been accused for years for not taking stands on relevant social themes, and of being dumb and unaware of their country (something Alia Bhatt smartly made a virtue of). So when a celebrity indeed takes a view, one should see it as a welcome change from how celebrities behave in general. Whether you agree with the view itself is irrelevant in this context.


Yet, what happened in the Aamir Khan case, in particular, underlines the problem at hand. Almost everyone got the news as “Aamir Khan said he wants to leave India because of intolerance”. Some got it as “Aamir Khan’s wife suggested that they should leave India because of intolerance.” These headlines ran on primetime news for almost a day, with a short byte. Some channels showed a slightly longer version of the byte. But the context was set: “Aamir wants to leave India. Is he justified? Discuss.”


So anyone who got the news (Whatsapp and Facebook are key sources in urban India today), got it with an inbuilt conclusion about the man’s patriotism. If you agreed with his view, you may as well be called unpatriotic yourself. Not too many would actually see the full video, but even if they did, they would see it with a conclusion already in their head.


Calling celebrities to events like literature festivals, leadership summits and business summits is itself a questionable idea. Seasoned event curators know that a celebrity face drives media attention and sponsorships. It’s a glamorous shortcut to making an event more saleable. Most such events have heavyweights (political or media) backing them, and getting a big star or two can be just a phone call away.


Earlier, you would get them to speak about their life, or inspire the audience with their success story. Over time, such content has been served in plenty and lost its relevance. The political questions make for better copy. Articulate stars will be articulate enough to give good copy anyway.


The reactions to the Aamir Khan byte, fuelled by limited information and a herd mentality, have been dangerous and silly at the same time. Snapdeal has been caught in the crossfire. The suggestion that he said this on purpose to promote Dangal shows limited understanding of the media business in general and Aamir Khan in particular.


At this rate, the distinction between the Bollywood news channels (where I recently saw a full account of why Ranbir Kapoor’s driver quit his job) and mainstream news channels can blur very soon.


Or has it already?


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