Film Stars endorsing social causes: Is it a dangerous trend?

Published: Monday, May 14,2012, 08:47 IST
Film Stars endorsing social causes, amir khan, Taslima Nasreen, satyameva jayate, child abuse, devinder sharma,  aamir Khan, farmer suicides, film stars, social cause, star tv satyameva jayate

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen is angry. This time her anger is about film stars who put their 'pretty faces' to social causes. Even before Aamir Khan launched his weekly show SatyamevJayate (on Star Plus and DD National channels simultaneously), film stars had ventured into areas about which they knew little or cared little. But since it became fashionable, and TV channels wanted them to endorse a particular cause (more for the sake of their viewership) film stars were willing to oblige. After all, film stars look for an excuse to be in public glare.

Taslima Nasreen is disappointed, says a Page3 report in HT City. "Feminists have been talking about female foeticide and its dangerous effects for decades. Ppl have learned about it today from Star Plus (sic)," she tweeted. I agree. It is not only disappointing, but disgusting. It reflects a lot on today's educated and learned society. If you need the pretty face (or pretty legs) of a celebrity to educate you about the social ills plaguing your own family (after all, female foeticide is predominantly prevalent in every other well-to-do family), does it not mean that we are in the midst of an era where helplessness and despair reigns supreme. Where the only way to wake us up from deep slumber is when a celebrity tells us to. Otherwise, we remain indifferent and ignorant. All is well, until Priyanka Chopra or Katrina Kaif or the likes tells us.

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A few promos I saw of a forthcoming show on environment on a popular TV channel I noticed the anchors beaming when film stars ShahRukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra appear on the stage. I wonder where were those social activists who had slogged and struggled, putting their own lives and families at stake, and go unsung in the fight to protect environment. Bringing one or two of them on to the stage amidst a loud applause does not do justice to the cause. In a way it is a dangerous trend. The film stars (cricketers still have lot of money to make from IPL matches, and so have no time to spare) are taking the space that richly and genuinely belongs to social activists. Social activism is being marginalised in the process. This has serious repercussions.

It all began when some TV channels came up with a fanciful idea of taking film stars (and ex-cricketers) to the border areas to do a bit of dancing for the jawans. After a few shows, and a few film stars, the viewers interest weaned, and so did that of TV channels. In fact, I have always wondered why film stars have not jostled with jawans for several years now? Because no TV channel offered them the free ride.  In other words, film stars had no interest in soldiers manning the frontline, it was simply because the TV channels wanted them to do so. I haven't yet seen a film star who has expressed concern about the spate of farmer suicides and has dared to walk the talk by actually visiting and spending some time with the farm families in distress.

I wouldn't be however surprised to see a number of pretty faces jumping onto the stage and even shedding a tear or two for the farmers who were left with no option but to drink pesticide or hang themselves from the nearest tree. The TV audience will applause, the newspapers will discuss the issue for a coupe of days, and life will be back to normal after a few days. Asking the film stars to shake a leg before the cameras may be a good visual, but will do little if nothing to stop farmer suicides. By doing so we will only be trivialising an issue of utmost importance. Unless of course the film Star is like Aamir Khan, who not only does a meticulous job in presenting an issue but goes all the way to take it to its logical end. I admire him for taking out time to go to meet the Rajasthan chief minister on the criminal issue of female foeticide. But then he is an honourable exception.          

I must admit that some years back I too was fascinated and bitten by the idea of bringing in film stars to espouse the cause of farmer suicides. With numerous committees, reports, studies and quite a significant amount of money being pumped in, suicides haven't stopped. My idea therefore was to rake up the real issues through the voice of the celebrities. To make the nation (and policy makers) sit back and realise where the fault lies, and what corrective measures were needed. I am glad I couldn't raise the money needed to bring the celebrities together for the show. Let me assure you, film stars don't come for free. I would have been therefore equally guilty of sounding a hollow trumpet, and wasting public money which could have perhaps been put to better use. The same money could have provided, for instance, financially support for education and marriage of thousands of girls whose father had committed suicide.

There is a growing feeling that in a Star-obsessed India, people do listen to celebrities. This is the general impression that the media conveys. I don't buy this. I have seen many recognised and well-known faces among social activists in this country who didn't have to piggy bag on celebrities. They have made their name and place purely on the basis of their work, their commitment and honesty to the purpose. My suggestion to TV channels would be to bring these (and other little known but hardworking) faces into public domain. Let us showcase their work, their life and sacrifice, and turn them into heroes. The nation needs a new crop of real heroes, beyond celluloid. And let me assure you your TRP rating (viewership) will not fall, but will actually increase provided you know how to present the show. Aamir Khan has shown that. Content should reign supreme, and not the noise decibel. People want to know the real truth, want to lend support for the social causes, and media can surely help galvanize the country towards a better future.

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