Thursday, August 02, 2007

And Justice for all - on Sanjay Dutt and what it means to be a star

Im all for equality before law. And in times like these where rule of law seems to have become nothing but a textbook term it is even more imperative for the state machinery to uphold and honour the law. But I couldnt help feeling the deepest sympathy for Sanjay Dutt and his family as he was sentenced this Tuesday to 6 years of rigorous imprisonment. Not because hes a filmstar - thoug he IS one of the better ones - but because he did in fact seem to be a changed man.

In our country filmstars and celebrities a have life that seems to run parallel to and at times dangerously at odds with the rest of the nation. The cult of celebrity has captured the imagination of the country in a manner that rivals the most ardent devotee and believer. It is a zealous faith, that borders on fanaticism. I just saw a news item on CNN-IBN about a man who had cut off his finger as an offering at a dargah. All for Sanju Baba. even without one finger his faith is intact. Unshakeable even in the face of evidence and the due process of law that has found Dutt to be guilty.

We may scoff at the obvious irrationality of a fan but trust me - it takes one to know one. One only has to mention "Rajkumar" to get a reaction that will be nothing short of extreme. If his natural death caused a city to be paralysed for two days on account of endemic violence, I wonder what would have happened had Veerappan done the unspeakable when he had the chance. Saira Banu, presumably distressed by the verdict had this to say to the media and anyone who was listening "Had he (Sanjay Dutt) been a South Indian superstar people would have been out on the streets in protest. But here nobody seems to be bothered." It is a strange and extremely self-indulgent statement to make. I say strange because it seems that the cult of celebrity is subscribed to not only by the aam janta but is believed to be the rightful claim of filmstars. By themselves!

It seems natural to ask WHY. Why are the likes of Sanjay Dutt, Amitabh Bachan, Rajkumar and Rajnikant revered and are second only to those images and beliefs we deify as religion? Why does an otherwise sensible human being take his own life in the event of his hero or heroine succumbing to what is only inevitable in natures scheme of things? What have these demigods of cinema given to our teeming millions which no heads of state have been able to give? Why has Munnabhai made Gandhi the new -ism yet again when historians, activists and politicians have notably failed in doing the same? Why have temples been built in the name of Amitabh Bacchan when religion has relentlessly failed its own followers?

Cinema in India belongs to the people. Ramachandra Guha in his sprawling work "India after Gandhi" gives due credit to it as a potent force and a necessary thread in the democratic fabric of the country. But then there are many shadows that lurk on the edges of this bright picture that everyone seems to be so eager to paint. The "film fraternity" in India has remianed consistently apolitical. Even Amir Khan had to reasess his position on NBA when his association with Coke was brought up. A commitment to art is a commitment to society. It cannot be diverged from the same. Amitabh Bacchan was a product of the time. His angry young man was a reflection of society. And he is still riding high on the wave of success that began then.

Why did the film communiy that owes its very foundation to the people, not come out in support for the victims of the Gujarat riots? Instead of paying lip-service to a cause why don't the babus of bollywood make a film on it? Why has there been a conspicuous absence of films being made on the Partition which is a deep fissure on the Indian sub-conscience? In countries like Germany, Italy and the Middle East cinema has provided an avenue for positive debate - a means to acknowledge and come to terms with the past and take stock of the present. One only has to watch films like No Man's Land, Goodbye Lenin or the films of the Makhmalbaf family to realise that cinema can indeed be a force to reckon with. And though I dont believe cinema to be a direct vehicle of change, I know that it is a catalyst and can do wonders for a starved imagination.

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