From Hero to Zero

The country where temples are built to worship actors. The country renowned for its hospitality and talent. The country of Bollywood. The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world with hundreds of films released every year. Yet the actors, the stars who the public quite literally worship, show little responsibility to those who have put them there. Overpaid and adored by billions, they don’t have the time or the inclination to take a look at themselves and wonder, “Am I a good role model?”

Maybe I’m being a little harsh. I’ve grown up with Hindi films and although the amount of films I watch has dwindled in recent years, I still love the magic, the melodrama and the song and dance sequences. The plot is often hard to digest, but that doesn’t matter because the audience understands it’s not real life. In a country where millions don’t have the privileges we take for granted in the west, who can blame the audience for craving a little escapism? After all, for an industry often ridiculed for being overtly camp and slammed for its song and dance sequences and over the top, loud dialogues, it’s also been inspirational to foreign filmmakers. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, which did phenomenally well at the box office and garnered critical acclaim, was more than a little inspired by Bollywood, with Luhrmann himself professing to be a fan of Hindi films.

Sadly,I’m increasingly finding myself disappointed by the workings of the industry and the stars themselves. Raja Sen recently wrote an incredible article about the gender bias where pay is concerned, with female actors earning only a tiny fraction of what their male counterparts take home. There have been other incidents, with actors going to prison, directors and hosts having a falling out on stage at award ceremonies and media wars between outspoken actors. I understand that these things happen the world over and I”ve come to accept that times are changing and it was naive to expect that a booming industry would not fall prey to these issues.

What I AM finding increasingly difficult, is the biased journalism that seems to be taking over. I’m following a number of journalists on twitter, I occasionally watch the Indian news channels (often under duress by my mum who can’t seem to get enough of them) and I read the odd film based article online. In doing so, I’ve discovered there are a handful of celebrities that are untouchable. Predominantly the Kapoor family. As the first family of Indian cinema, spanning 4 generations, they are unquestionably Bollywood royalty. It was pretty much decided early on that Randhir Kapoor’s daughter Karisma was going to be a successful actress. It didn’t matter that she had a voice suited to a child yet to hit their teens, or that her stilted and slow dialogue delivery made it difficult to concentrate on what she was saying, she was hailed as the princess of Bollywood from day one. Her debut film was terrible (to put it kindly) and her dress sense and grooming were almost as comical as they were ridiculous. To her credit, she turned it around spectacularly and went on to win a number of awards and become a fashion icon. However, if the press were to be believed, she always had been a talented actress and beautiful. Hmmm.

This brings me to the reason for this blog/rant. Last Saturday (here in the UK) Kareena Kapoor, younger sister of Karisma, appeared on India’s most popular chat show Koffee With Karan with her live in boyfriend Saif Ali Khan. As expected, she was controversial and outspoken and though I admired her honesty and the fact that she had strong opinions (something Indian actresses often lack), I was gobsmacked at her proudly agreeing with the host Karan Johar that she had started a size zero trend. There were a number of other worrying things about the interview. The host gushed over her ignorance when it came to music, language and other people’s feelings. All this while she preened with a vacant smile on her face. At one point, when shown clips from other interviews on the show, her only contribution was an outraged  “But everybody looks so FAT!”. Not one of them was over a size 12. I sat there watching this, incredulous that the host and her boyfriend didn’t seem to find what she was saying incredibly offensive. In fact, during the rapid fire round, Karan even asked her boyfriend “Do you prefer Kareena as a size zero or a ‘healthy’ size 4? I almost fell off my chair. By the time the show was over, I almost felt sorry for her. No doubt there would be a media backlash the next day.

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So I found myself in front of the computer the following morning, googling reviews of the show. I found them almost straight away. It was all there, her comments about other actresses, how she looked, her relationship…not a word about her comments about size. Not one. And worst of all, the tone was congratulatory. Not disgust. Every article I read about Kareena’s appearance on KWK either centred on her views on other ‘celebrities’ or her relationship with Saif.

I’m still at a loss as to the media’s stance on refusing to talk about it. We’ve seen the part stick thin celebrities have paid in the huge rise in anorexia in the west, yet India refuses to acknowledge that it could ever be a problem. In a country where as recently as the 80s, curvy figures were considered attractive, you now hardly see any actresses with healthy curves. The west is now too far gone to reverse the trend but India has a chance, why not nip this dangerous trend in the bud and name and shame actresses who parade their unhealthy bodies? Even in America or the UK, a celebrity would get a huge media backlash if they were to openly promote being stick thin. In India, Kareena gets applauded for being “feisty”. Perhaps when children start to starve themselves to death in order to emulate their idols, the country will wake up. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’ll even get a mention in the press, Kareena may have a new handbag that day.

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4 thoughts on “From Hero to Zero

  1. Thankfully there are others in the industry who are looked up to for making it big, despite not being from the 'family' of stars & they maintain a more 'responsible' public appearance.

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  2. wow, great post, thank you! yes, much to feel rage about.
    “But everybody looks so FAT!”
    What message is that sending out to young girls?
    It makes me shiver.
    x

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  3. Rooh says:

    Hello And.
    I know this blog is a few years old but I like to start at the beginning (probably partly my OCD), even if I do, and will, lose my way through the middle, as I always do lol
    Nice starter blog. Interesting, esp. coming frm a cultural perspective. I could never make up my mind whether I liked “Bebo” as an individual. Her comments here and words she’s used to describe her less “fairer” (as in darker!) co-actresses in the past really made me dislike her. Although, I do think she can pull off a performance when she applied herself. For me, “Chameli” was her standout film. That Kapoor gene really shines through there.
    The issue, I feel, in relation to your blog, is that India is a land of socio-extremes & status, money & power are the biggest trappings of that culture’s psyche. This, & several other co-factors, leads people (from &) of the region to undergo the hysteria of extreme hero worshipping. Im guilty of it myself! Say whatever trash u want about cricketers BUT don’t u dare say anything about “our SACHIN”! LoL Back on a serious note, Ive observed small changes in attitudes but all too minor to make an overall dent in mindsets, be it towards vogue of weight, skin fairness, or just nodding along to the worshipped elite &their latest gospel to the masses. Change is gonna take a collective, concerted effort.. and many generations. Sad.
    Soz, I’ve gone on a bit 🙂

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    • I see no willingness to change, which is the problem for me. They live in such an elite bubble surrounded by yes men and devoted fans, it’ll continue as it is. You only have to look at Salman’s soaring popularity.

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