Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Romantics

Edited & Brought to You by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar: The Romantics

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Kareena and Shahid are not only human, they err on the bright side. But are they epic material?

There have been at least four epic romances in Bollywood: Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal; Dev Anand and Suraiya; Raj Kapoor and Nargis; and Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. Notice anything in common? Each was a Hindu-Muslim relationship. And they lived in a time when the odds were against such love. The bitterness of partition had soured humanity. Such affairs created tension.

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Kareena

The Romantics

The technology has changed. The problem remains. Flashbulbs were once as dreaded as mobile cameras are today. Those who live by the camera must occasionally expect to die by it. That’s part of the deal when you are a movie star.

Quite often the fuss is only about making a fuss. As the mischievous poet points out: Badnaam jo honge to kya naam na hoga? Or, if I become infamous won’t I become famous as well? Movie stars are about fame, not art. Fame makes fans into fanatics, fame keeps the box office healthy, fame protects the personal bank balance, fame becomes a self-sustaining industry. Fame is the feed that nourishes frustrated millions who pay good money to forget, briefly, their own drab lives and slip into fantasy: the clothes you will never buy, the cars you will never drive, the wealth you will never have, the sex you will never enjoy. It is entirely logical that fan and fantasy have the same root. A publicised public kiss between Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor can do neither any harm and both some possible good. Neither cares less about disturbing any moral sensibility. Just the other day a sister of the lady in question had to clarify that Kareena was not pregnant. She did not go on to suggest that Kareena was a virgin. That would be too boring, which is the one sin a celebrity cannot afford.

Flashbulbs or MMS cannot survive if there is no media to buy the pictures. The scourge of the Flashbulb Era was a publication called Mother India edited by a certain Baburao Patel. He called it Mother India only because he fancied himself as a nationalist of the Akhand Bharat variety. Neither mothers nor India approved of what he wrote. He dished out all the dirt that establishment publications like Filmfare, edited by the fastidiously proper B.K. Karanjia (brother of R.K. of Blitz fame) refused to print. There was then as there is now a place for everyone.

Technology has changed techniques but not the substance. Life was not any easier in the old days. Paparazzi is now a familiar term: it comes from Paparazzo, the name of a photographer in Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita (The Good Life) who chases stars and starlets to earn a living. The Good Life flourishes on a two-way street: stars and photographers fed off each other and everyone was content.

I have only been introduced to the miracles of Bluetooth, the connectivity through which pictures travel at the speed of space between mobile phones. It is an entirely appropriate name, given the fact that so much content is blue and it bites. Alas, the only picture I have received is that of a ballot paper from the German elections of 1936 that brought Hitler to power, warning me about the dangers of mass hysteria in a democracy.

The only question in my mind about Kareena and Shahid is not whether they were bitten by Bluetooth, but whether their love affair is one of the great romances of cinema or not.

Let us admit it; the modern track record is not very attractive. I have no problems with the fact that many filmstars are surreptitious about their affairs. That is understandable. Any hotel manager of any stature could make a decent packet out of memoirs if he chose to expose how Hero A insisted on a room that had a discreet connecting door to the room of Heroine B. They live in a hothouse that can induce all forms of perspiration. One near-contemporary actress was famous for wasting more money phoning her boyfriend (and, compared to her, he was a boy) from her hotel room when on out on a shoot. Her producers found it much cheaper to fly him in.

Actually there is much more candour now. When Kareena and Shahid went to Goa on holiday together, they didn’t much care who was watching. This brings us to the first rule of media: if you don’t care who is watching, no one will bother to watch you. They forgot this when they denied that they had been kissing in the Mumbai MMS Saga. It was the denial that made the story. If they had only said, with a simultaneous laugh, "Yeah, big deal — come on and we might do it again" any half-decent news editor would have thrown the story into the nearest shredder. This isn’t the Fifties. There is no big deal about kissing. No filmstar runs around trees anymore. The latest clutch of starlets are ready to kiss any number of times in front of the cameras, either in the service of high art or, as they explain, if the script demands it. (The number of scripts that do demand it is rising by geometrical progression.) The new role model is a starlet like Mallika Sherawat who weighs her amour’s privates and then announces the weight on television chat shows.

The low point of contemporary romance was surely the Aishwarya Rai-Vivek Oberoi episode. They sold their love to a multinational, I hear from stage whispers. Rai’s former boyfriend Salman Khan was then advertising a competing brand, and great play was made of Oberoi’s victory over a jealous rival. I hope Salman’s jealousy was sincere. It would be useful evidence to prove that stars are human.

Kareena and Shahid are not only human, they err on the bright side. But are they epic material?

There have been at least four epic romances in Bollywood: Dilip Kumar and Kamini Kaushal; Dev Anand and Suraiya; Raj Kapoor and Nargis; and Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman. Notice anything in common? Each was a Hindu-Muslim relationship. And they lived in a time when the odds were against such love. The bitterness of partition had soured humanity. Such affairs created tension. Communities were protective, and it was seen as ‘our’ girl having been ‘stolen’ by ‘their boy’. Guru Dutt took tragic recourse to suicide for reasons that have never been adequately explained. But the other three couples succumbed to social pressure, real and imagined. Dilip Kumar wed late, and conventionally to Saira Banu. When it was time for marriage Dev Anand took the conventional path too, although his own subsequent path was anything but conventional. Raj Kapoor and Nargis were the most daring. They did films together, and didn’t give the proverbial damn when they were ‘outed’ at a Tashkent film festival. But it never went to marriage.

It took the brave believer Sunil Dutt to convert his love for Nargis into marriage, despite the communal divide. It was this marriage that destroyed imagined demons, for nothing disastrous happened. Theirs was an exemplary relationship. They found love, children and national respect. Nargis, if I am not mistaken, became a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. Sunil, typically, chose the more idealistic route to Parliament, proving his commitment to politics not only in direct elections to the Lok Sabha but also in the yatra he undertook for peace in Punjab at a time when the state was aflame with anger, suspicion and violence. Sunil Dutt was always the idealist in a community short of ideas and long on hard cash. He has reached a well-deserved pinnacle in his political career.

Compared to the tensions of these romantics, all Kareena and Shahid have to worry about is mobile phones. I hope you have recognised the good news. They too are a Hindu-Muslim couple but that is not an issue with anyone — not with the media, not with the filmmakers, and not with the masses who pay good money to keep them in the style they have become accustomed to. This is the India that is emerging in the new century. This is the change that has taken place, slowly, over the decades. True, this is not the full truth. There are young men still who would happily break the spirit of an evolving nation and chip into a hundred divisive pieces. But their domination is over. The box office says so.

The only MMS-freaks who deserve the harsh whip of social ostracism and the sharp sting of the law are the exploiters like the website, baazi.com, which put a Delhi schoolgirl’s photographed foolishness up for auction. This is corporate debauchery for which no punishment is sufficient. The police have arrested the chief executive of this website. What is astonishing is that the owners of this website (I have no idea who they are but it would be a good idea to find out) took no action against their chief executive. For them, a sale was a sale. The police has found only an executive. They should also look a little higher up.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, i can't believe you're blogging and yet don't know how baazee.com(check the spelling at least) or E-Bay works. Do check your facts -- if the CEO of baazee.com were to check every single transaction that happened on the site, he'd basically have to close down the site and do nothing else given the volume of transactions. It's not like bringing out a newspaper, the content of which has already been decided days in advance and is completely under the control of a few people like the editors. You talk about democracy and yet you are completely clueless about the global revolution that is happening on the web through sites like Baazee, Amazon, E-Bay, Google etc. Actually wait, am not even sure if it's you writing this blog or some minion. I'm willing to bet on the latter.

XXX said...

I am not sure Akbar could mis-spell baazee and not know how it works.

karen said...

This is a very interesting post, but as positivre as it sounds when it comes to Filmy Hindu-Muslim marriages its not for the rest. I mean each and everyday you see youngesters giving up their Hindu or Muslim love for thier parents and society. When do you think that society is going to learn to overcome interfaith marriages(esp/mainly hindu-muslim marriages?)

karen said...

This is a very interesting post, but as positivre as it sounds when it comes to Filmy Hindu-Muslim marriages its not for the rest. I mean each and everyday you see youngesters giving up their Hindu or Muslim love for thier parents and society. When do you think that society is going to learn to overcome interfaith marriages(esp/mainly hindu-muslim marriages?)