Monday, February 21, 2005

Preity - Sensitive or not?

Jagadish has pointed to Preity Zinta's most recent installment of her column on BBC's South Asian section. Preity talks about her two close encounters with death in the last few months.

First she talks about that ill-fated Colombo concert in December last year, where someone threw a hand grenade into the front rows of the crowd, ostensibly in protest against the timing of the concert which coincided with the death anniversary of a noted Sri Lankan Buddhist monk. Then she found herself in Phuket on Christmas Day. On the morning of 26th, she found that she had slept through the two tsunami's that hit there and when she was woken up, she found water all around the villa where she was staying. She talks about staying on in Thailand for 8 more days. After that she decided to conquer her childhood fear of water, now reinforced by the tsunami, by spending four nights in a yacht off the coast of Burma.

I read the comments that a lot of readers have left and was appalled. A lot of people have bad mouthed Priety there for "not helping with the relief efforts" and for going "on with their (her) luxuries, not displaying any care for the deceased and injured". But Jagadish actually commends her, which second. Why? While she says she spent 8 more days in Thailand, did she say what she did there before she went off shore? Not exactly, but I do give her the benefit of my opinion that, as one of Bollywood's small bunch of level headed performers who you don't see in the news often, I guess she must have done what she could.

However, as India has shown itself to be, time and again, a country that celebrates and lynches its heroes at the slightest hint of a motive, most people who have commented, have lynched Priety. But why can't we, as ordinary people, accept that a celebrity could be capable of doing something without harping on it in public? The same thing was said about the Indian cricket team, with some journalists (like this one) commenting that they needed to do more for the tsunami affected than just auction their some knick-knacks. Why can't we just accept that celebrities have a life of their own away from the media glare? Why can't we accept that IT IS POSSIBLE for a person in the limelight to do something that the media does not get to know about?

It is as simple as this. Even someone like Rajinikanth has said publicly that while he cannot get out of his house in Chennai without being mobbed, he regularly watches movies in theaters in Bangalore, in disguise apparently. He gets to do what he wants with some restrictions of course. So, while not every celebrity may do the work of a Good Samaritan, I think it is definitely possible.

Give Priety and these other celebrities some credit guys. For all you know, she must have done just what you said she should have, i.e. helped people. She just opted not to tell us. If she had done a Vivek Oberoi and said "I spent 8 days in Thailand helping with the relief work", half the people who have berated her would have done so in any case for harping on her deeds, in addition to some of the few who have sympathized with her state of mind in the aftermath. This is obviously one of the pitfalls of being a celebrity I guess, but let not just group Priety with every other attention seeking or insensitive celebrity. Just not yet!

And IMHO, an Indian celebrity would (have) actually hampered relief efforts by personally doing something in Tamilnadu like Vivek Oberoi. I think that Murali’s work in Galle is still a one off case that would not (have) worked in Tamilnadu / India. Murali's celebrity status would probably not affect the relief work because of the extent of the devastation in Sri Lanka where a larger percentage of the populace has been affected. And Murali, being Murali managed to do everything on a low key with Cricinfo’s representative / contributor being the token media presence.

However, a comparable effort in India would have drawn the attention of every single unaffected citizen in the area, not to mention the wide group of well meaning people and the law enforcement personnel and media folk who flocked to the area in the aftermath. And mass hysteria would have come as a non value adding sidekick with such attention! In fact, almost every relief agency and other people who have documented the relief work in Tamil Nadu have vouched for the fact that the visit of a dignitary has actually led to confusion and disarray. Not to mention the fact that most of the dignitaries (a.k.a politicians) made the trip solely for the mileage gained in the media.

So if you care for the relief efforts, would you want someone like Sachin Tendulkar in the midst? I wouldn't. Instead I would actually ask him and the other famous people to quietly contribute some money to the effort. Maybe they did. In fact I am sure they did. And even if they did not, who are we to judge what they should do? Why don't we just do our own bit and agree that the same is possible from other people, celebrity or otherwise...

Update: As, Harish indicated, I think I fell into the same trap as the people I was criticising, by judging the intentions of some of the politicians who visited the affected areas. I apologise. I guess I am one of them too, sometimes...

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