Thursday 26 November 2015

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Celebs in a fix: Damned if they speak, damned if they don't

November 26, 2015

Celebs in a fix: Damned if they speak, damned if they don't

While Hollywood celebrities like Susan Sarandon have long been known to criticize the US government and its policies, Bollywood has largely remained silent on social issues and has refrained from taking a political stand. But when Bollywood does speak out against issues such as rising intolerance, the likes of Aamir Khan face violent and extreme reactions, including the downgrading of an app for a brand he endorses.

"Celebrities speaking out on social issues is obviously a good thing. That Bollywood, which usually does not take a stand on political matters, is coming out and talking of intolerance, is an indication of how dire the situation is. The Muslim community is worried. When someone like Aamir Khan talks about the issue, people sit up and take notice," says Shilpa Phadke, sociologist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Santosh Desai, social commentator and MD of Futurebrands says that, over the last few months, society has turned thin-skinned towards any form of criticism."A critique of the government has now been conflated with a critique of the country .So if you criticize the environment prevalent in the country today , you are labelled anti-national. Aamir Khan made his point in the most liberal manner possible as part of a conversation he was having. The severity of the backlash and language used against him virtually proves the point he was making," says Desai. While Desai points out that some of the govern ment's actions have been cau se for alarm, he says the reac tions to those who criticize these actions are more distur bing than the actions them selves.

"While people have every right to disagree with Khan the attacks on him have turned personal. Instead of focu sing on the point he has made people are attacking his ilms, discussing his marriage and downgrading the app or the brand he endorses. At one level, this shows the dis proportionate response India has to celebrities - it's either complete adulation and deifi cation or absolute vilifica tion," adds Desai. He feels celebrities actually have the thinnest layer of protection -they have all the fame and no actual power, unlike politicians.

Desai believes the downgrading of Snapdeal's app shows an evolution of the market. "While celebrities in recent times endorse brands without any real connect with the products being sold, we are now seeing a scenario where a celebrity is actually being identified with the brand he endorses. While brand endorsements allow celebrities to monetize their fame, there are also costs to be borne, such as when a celebrity chooses to voice his opinion on social and political issues that could affect the brand. This is a good thing and a healthy evolution in the market. It is a healthy sign for a democracy when a celebrity voices his views despite the money riding on him," adds Desai.

"In mature democracies such as the US, while celebrities have criticized their government over issues such as the Iraq war and the Vietnam war, their patriotism was never questioned on account of their critique of the government, something we are currently witnessing in India," says a political scientist.

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