Ganesh utsav and Navratri brought in the festive season and, along with them, the DJ parties featuring popular Bollywood dance numbers. It set me thinking on the level of intrusion in our lives that we have allowed this one industry.
Film and television is one of the most visible industries today. Only cricketers and politicians can probably get close to that level of visibility. Like any other industry, it provides employment to many creative, technical and business professionals. It plays an important role in the society. They entertain us and allow us to be happy, to be away from everyday hassles, even if for just some time. As artists, they hold a mirror to the society and show us viewpoints that we might have missed.
Dispropotionate Influence of Bollywood
The amount of influence and financial muscle that a bunch of filmy celebrities hold has become highly skewed of late. I see no reason for the kind of influence they have on every aspect of our society. Nor do I understand the highly disproportionate amount of money a few of them command. This skew is putting many other things out of balance.
A 20-something youngster gets paid millions for just wearing nice clothes and looking good. With the amount of effort that goes into making them look good with an army of fashion designers, hair and makeup artists, professional photographers and filmmakers, most youngsters would look stunning on camera. Compare it to the best professionals in other fields, who study for years before entering a profession and then work hard all year round to earn nowhere close to it. Even sports professionals work their way up to a point before they start commanding big money.
If you tell me that they have influence, you are probably clueless about the wheels of the PR industry. Every ‘coincidence’ is well planned and promoted, including the well-timed leaks about private lives. If you think the social media trends are organic, you need to check your naivety quotient.
Influence Vs Impact
In any case, the problem is not a few youngsters making a lot of money. The problem is the highly skewed work-reward ratio and the work-impact ratio compounded by the high visibility of a few. The worrying domino impact of these insanely popular stars is that a lot of youngsters across the country want to step in their shoes. The lure of instant fame and money happens without being aware that what you see is not what you get.
When I say this, I am aware that these people work hard and smart. It is not easy to shine in a crowded space of equally talented people. Still, what they do is nothing crucial for the society like, say, the work of doctors or the armed forces, who save our lives or risk theirs for us. Their sponsored lifestyles and the culture of consumption that they constantly promote is something we can definitely do without.
Second, these guys are portrayed as ‘heroes’ and ‘idols’ by the media, fuelled by their PR machineries. Youngsters of impressionable ages instantly want their high-flying and high-visibility lifestyle loaded with money. Due to careers that start early, many of them skip formal education and are rarely well informed about the rest of the world.
Living in their cocoons, worshipping those who give them opportunities, engaging in behaviours that would raise eyebrows elsewhere, they get hired, including by government agencies, to preach to the rest of us. There are ample examples of them flaunting their ignorance on public platforms in a way that undermines the value of ethics and knowledge. Their lifestyles get highlighted with news of abusive behaviour, including of drug abuse. If fitness was one inspiration they could lend us with their well-maintained bodies, that cookie is also crumbling now with so many premature deaths of young fitness-freak professionals of this industry.
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I could not locate any public data about the impact popular brand ambassadors have on sales that justifies the kind of money they are paid. It is public knowledge that most lead actors make more money from brand endorsements than from their core business of acting in films.
While saying this, I do not underestimate the global soft power of this industry—way beyond the Indian diaspora. I have heard street vendors in Jordan and school children in the remote Raja Ampat sing Hindi film songs. It is an industry that knows how to market itself and how to create platforms for self-promotion. It knows how to be organised despite largely being an unorganised, project-based economy.
Who is to Blame?
The blame is not entirely theirs. We as a society have completely outsourced the most creative aspects of our lives to Bollywood. We have forgotten to play music, sing songs, dance spontaneously, and express creativity at our family functions. No family or public event is complete without Bollywood music being played, dance moves being copied, fashion trends being blindly followed. Sadly, this happens even in educational institutes where creativity must be nurtured. When I have tried suggesting creative pursuits for these events, the idea of just getting a Bollywood DJ to entertain us clearly overweighed it.
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I wonder if we going to draw a line and limit their influence on our lives. Can we actively engage in creative activities with family and friends? Can we look for entertainment beyond films and television to bring the much-required creative balance back in society? Maybe we need to begin by reducing screen-time and increasing real-life creative interactions. Or maybe this awareness first needs to dawn on us.
First Published in The New Indian Express on Nov 05, 2023.