We have no heroes left in India. Once upon a time cricketers were kings and film stars were literally worshipped but, these days we have the Achilles version — a fatal flaw is a feature, not a bug.
Divisions in society are now even reflected in the rarefied space where the stars dwell.
Every Indian cheered for the Saurav Ganguly shirt off in the Lords cricket ground in London in July 2002 when India won the NatWest tri-series final under his captaincy “Oh captain my captain” Walt Whitman’s gorgeous lines came to life.
Similar jubilation and an elated India greeted Kapil Dev in June 1983 as he brought the World Cup home.
But, that was a more innocent India. All Kapil Dev did to aggrandise the moment was a wonderful advertisement “Palmolive da jawab nahi” which made you smile at his toothy infectious smile and a very distinct accent.
In “New India” “Dada” as Ganguly is universally known as, is the chief of cricket in India with Jay Shah — only son of Home Minister Amit Shah — by his side. And, stories make the rounds that Ganguly will be the chief ministerial face of the BJP as BJP squares off against Mamata Banerjee.
A recent prolonged bout of ill health culminating in stents in the heart has ensured that the moment of decision is put off for Ganguly.
Politics and the pejoratives associated with it has now made the idea of a universal Indian hero who appeals to all of us, gives a moment of comfort of pride in the idea that we are all universally knit in the bond of being a proud Indian, is now near extinct.
We sit in our silos and nitpick. But, for this blame our heroes who are now brands with millions of endorsements. They have lots to protect. And, fear is the key when they suddenly tweet in unison on a government hashtag with copy paste content.
In support of government
Once you’ve opened yourself to one political party, you are pretty much fair game. So we had the big daddy of cricket control in India, Sharad Pawar, tell Sachin Tendulkar publicly that he should comment on issues he actually understands.
Even Raj Thackeray, the other Thackeray, waded in and said that the BJP government had made two Bharat Ratnas — Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar — troll bait for the tweets in support of the government against the enemies of the state — Rihanna, global pop icon and Greta Thunberg, teenager climate change activist.
Thackeray took a swipe at actor Akshay Kumar, always ready to cheerlead the government saying witheringly that Kumar was “suitable” for such things. Take the case of Kumar and the diversity of feelings he evokes.
A section of the audience goes gaga over his interview of Narendra Modi where the toughest question he asked was “Aap aam kaise khatey hain” (how do you eat a mango) others call out his hypocrisy of being a Canadian citizen — Canada Kumar — while trying to personify Indian nationalism.
The cosy lap of power
Time was when mega-stars like actor Dev Anand and legendary singer and polymath Kishore Kumar actually opposed Indira Gandhi’s emergency and paid a commercial price for it. Kumar’s songs were banned on All India Radio — pretty much the only platform available to singers then.
Now mega-icons prefer to nestle in the cosy lap of power — flying in to Delhi on a Karan Johar organised charter flight to do a selfie with the prime minister. Poor Johar — the contortions he performs would put an acrobat to shame. He is now on the same side as bête noire actor Kangana Ranaut who attacks him publicly on a daily basis.
Mega superstar 78-year old Amitabh Bachchan actually wrote a blog where he said he quit politics because a fan wrote and gave him a piece of paper which stated “Mr Bachchan I am a big fan of yours, but I am with the opposite party. Please leave this state as you are making life very difficult for me for I am torn between two desires”.
Bachchan went on to write “that for 25 years I had tried to woo my audience to love me as an artist, as an actor. And, once I had accompanied that I was now telling them to love my politics as well. Not acceptable to me”.
You wonder what happened to this acuity and self realisation as Bachchan is now brand ambassador number 1 for the BJP government. I was shocked that Bachchan did not tweet obligingly on the hashtag provided by the government. Matinee idols fall from grace when they want to sprinkle stardust on a political party.
India is tired now of these multi-millionaires selling snake oil. They have made us cynical. And, magic does not happen when you embrace cynicism — when you realise that your idols don’t just have feet of clay but, are totally malleable to power.
I long for a simpler time when we had heroes we could look up to and believe in. The moment you are a brand you lose the faith you had as a simple human being.