Shailesh Kapoor: Nothing Heroic About It!

30 Apr,2021

By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorFebruary 2, 2021: When singer Rihanna tweeted in support of the farmer protests in India, all hell broke loose. Her tweet, and the one that followed from activist Greta Thunberg, were provocation enough for the Government of India to issue an official statement. Within hours, a battery of Indian celebrities, the who’s who of Indian sports and film industries, were parroting the Government view. The hashtags #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda were trending on February 3, as a part of an evidently orchestrated campaign.


April 2021: As the devastating second Covid-19 wave takes its toll in India, the foreign media has picked the story up, ironically even more than the mainstream media in India. By now, we know that the current Government at the Centre does not like such coverage, which goes against years of image building efforts it has undertaken. There was an official response to a particular piece in The Australian. But you cannot keep taking on BBC, CNN, New York Times and a few dozen more. Unlike young female celebrities, global news corporations are not soft targets for an image-conscious Government to flex its muscles.


The farmer protests had its share of complications. For an ordinary citizen not connected to the issue directly, it was difficult to say who’s in the wrong. That grey area led to a campaign that found its takers. The current Covid crisis, however, has no such ambiguity. Unlike the farmer protests, it has impacted millions of Indians directly. The pain, the anger, the despair is real.


Over the last two weeks, we have seen how good souls on social media have taken it in their own hands to help fellow citizens, even as the “system” crumbles around them. But where are those with the widest social media reach? The celebrities. Those whose tweeted #IndiaTogether less than three months ago. Isn’t this the time for India to be together, more than ever before? Why, then, are they silent? Why are foreign cricketers the ones making donations while the top Indian stars play the IPL as if they are in a mental bubble too, not just a bio one?


We know the reasons, don’t we? This is not a topic on which you can possibly tweet in favour of the Government. And tweeting anything to offer help will be to acknowledge that there’s a problem to begin with. And that doesn’t go down too well with our Governments, including those in many states.


So, is it fear or is it greed? Fear here could be of both professional (disruption of releases) and personal (IT raids, property disputes, etc.) in nature. Greed would be the temptation to prolong their careers, and make it more commercially lucrative, by being pro-establishment. It’s difficult to say, and the answer may be different for different celebrities too. But even if fear is the dominant operating thought, one should question if it is justified, or if it is a mere euphemism for lack of spine?


How do some other celebrities manage to speak up in the same atmosphere of fear? They may be very few in number, but the likes of Sonu Sood and Taapsee Pannu do exist. Sunil Chhetri, a sports personality who wouldn’t even be called out if he remained silent, is handing over his Twitter account to experts and frontline workers, so that they can use his reach to spread awareness on resources. All this while the stars of the Indian national cricket team don’t even acknowledge the problem. And the big names in Bollywood are silently seeing this period through, even as some of the young aspirants post videos from Maldives, taking tone-deafness to new levels.


We live in a heavily political world today. And this is true not just for India, but for almost all major countries. Celebrities, especially those in the mainstream, do not have an option to be apolitical anymore. Because being apolitical is to be insensitive. Sure enough, our celebrities are not apolitical either. They have a clear political leaning. The problem is that it’s making them look rather poor right now.


Inspiration is a word that has often been associated with celebrities. We certainly need to question that. After the Rihanna issue erupted, I wrote on this website that if celebrities let go of their social currency, they also let go of the notion that they can shape the country’s future. Less than three months later, I’m wondering what I was thinking while writing that. Do celebrities even care about shaping the nation’s future? Hell, no.


We are nowhere past this second wave crisis. The peak is still a week or two away, if not more. At some stage, one or two of the big names would dig into their conscience to find a way to overcome the fear and the greed, and emerge as a real hero. We live in hope. Always.



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