Updated: May 15, 2022 8:08:52 pm
In the last 10 days, the lurid fascination for Rahul Gandhi’s private life has spurred Op-Ed pieces in newspapers, righteous Tweets and drawing room debates on what exactly constitutes propriety for public figures. Everyone has an opinion on the WhatsApp forward that showed RG gazing at his phone while music was blaring and liquor flowing, ostensibly, at a nightclub in Nepal. Despite his shaky political future, the dimpled Congress scion remains mass media’s darling — a generation brought up on Instagram sees nothing wrong in compulsively trespassing on the personal space of famous people.
Whatever one’s political views, it can’t be easy being Rahul Gandhi. To have your every move dissected (and invariably) criticised in front of all and sundry — it makes one feel grateful for a humdrum existence. I know from experience that a nasty remark can weigh on one’s mind for weeks. The famous have to get used to sneering opinions cascading in relentlessly on social media; people who would probably be fawning if they came face to face become vicious, emboldened by anonymity. The jeering RG has been subjected to, is, at a deeper level, indicative of Indians’ collective fear of failure. If the Congress had been winning elections, RG’s attendance at a wedding wouldn’t be cause for comment. Since they are not, the expectation is that he should be shamefacedly hanging his head down, in hiding.
There is a tendency to believe that those born with the proverbial silver spoon are happily insulated from the vagaries of life. And they are, considering 99% of humanity is toiling away in obscurity, attempting to climb an arduous ladder to success that’s nowhere near guaranteed. Stardom, acquired or inherited, comes with significant benefits: a family name opens avenues to make money. Admiration is a boost to the ego, a great armour of defence against our embedded fears of rejection. So, considering the advantages, simplistic thinking goes, the 24/7 spotlight is a fair trade-off for awesome privilege. The desire for fame is so ubiquitous that society barely acknowledges the serious downsides.
It’s so much harder for the rich and powerful to form genuine friendships. People are either sucking up to you or basking in the glow that comes from having access to an important connection. Life without real conversations, surrounded instead by obsequious sycophants, sounds like it would be a dreadful bore. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of fame is that nobody tells you the truth, so you start believing in the myth of your own greatness. That megalomania can insidiously creep up and take over was best articulated by Denzel Washington to Will Smith recently: “At your highest moment be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
Subscriber Only Stories
Ironically enough, the truly famous are ambivalent, rather, distraught, by constant adulation. Taylor Swift has said her greatest wish is to drive around alone. In a poignantly illuminating interview, Britney Spears related how she wore the same clothes every day, hoping that would make her “uninteresting” to paparazzi. Prince Harry fled from England. At the height of their popularity, the Beatles retreated to an ashram in Rishikesh, disillusioned by the hysteria surrounding them. All these people discovered that fame just means you get a lot of (hollow) attention. It can’t match feelings of well-being that come from being appreciated in close relationships, built the old-fashioned way, over time.
These days it’s so much easier for everyone to be famous. Exclusivity has been democratised. Sooner or later, the question is bound to arise, when everyone’s lighting up Google Trends— is anyone? It’s good that so many get to experience cheap thrills of quasi celebrity-dom. Perhaps, it’s only after a craving for prestige is satisfied, that one has the clarity to reject it completely.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films
📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.