Recently, Farhan Akhtar reacted angrily to BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao’s sweeping generalisation that film stars have “very low IQ and general knowledge”. Akhtar tweeted “How dare you, sir?” The context was the Tamil film Mersal, that has scenes critical of GST and the Digital India initiatives of the BJP government. Rao has demanded removal of the specific offending dialogues, and on Twitter advised Akhtar to take “criticism in
It doesn’t appear that Mr Rao is very skilled at handling criticism either, but of course, that never stopped anybody from urging others to view themselves objectively. Like Oscar Wilde said in another century, good advise must instantly be given away. It is never of any use to oneself. These mean-spirited jibes at popular movie stars may be understood from the perspective that they’re beloved by millions. When they make convincing arguments against policy via their art, they have the power to make the voter wonder about solutions to their disillusionment. When the disapproval comes from the film community, it’s easiest to hurl a shrill, blanket condemnation of actors as narcissists and prima donnas who scheme, bicker and whine, and who are utterly oblivious to the other 98 per cent. The advanced state of self-absorption attributed more to film and rockstars (though by no means restricted just to them), allegedly makes them unfit for social commentary on complicated issues like GST.
But Indian films are not all escapist fantasy. Movies with political undertones have been a staple, even though they strike a discordant note with the centre. Aandhi satirised politicians with scenes showing them visiting citizens once in five years and, eventually, was banned during the Emergency. Haqeeqat, set during the China war of 1962, was a compassionate portrait of the suffering of the Indian soldiers. Politics is always portrayed as a dirty business and politicians, mostly, as sleazy opportunists. “Minister log mere peeche our police log mere jeb men rehte hain,” goes a more recent dialogue from Singham. Alas, there is no dearth of material for art in this wildly charged political environment. One can hardly blame a filmmaker for tapping into life-changing events like demonetisation or GST and using them as start off points to present an alternate point of view. These are policies that have affected millions of lives. Reality is always the best source for fiction and there are shattering stories out there that need to be told.
Even if there is some truth to Rao’s claim, that film stars don’t see beyond the bubble of their own existence, grandiosity has been an accepted disorder for celebrities since long. The difference now is, it applies almost equally to everyone in the era of the selfie. The culture rewards the chronically self-interested. We live in the most insular age of human kind where talking about yourself may even be an explosive career. For example, Vice magazine created a designation for a “Pills and Narcissism” correspondent. In some countries, if you are willing to write about your addictions and scandalous exploits in excruciating detail you may well be on your way to being an Internet sensation. So Mr Rao may not know IQ or poor general knowledge is not the handicap it once was. However, since our capacity for handling criticism hasn’t changed and stayed steadfast through the ages, let the humble goal be to give it, independent of our own interest.