There is something crass and childish about desperately wanting to become famous. And yet, wanting to be famous is entirely human and something that is a key incentive for people to do what they do well.
The wish to become famous is an extension of wanting to be appreciated and loved, only that once you’ve achieved fame, you are liked — and disliked — by people about whom you have no clue.
Which makes fame an even more potent force, as people are fond of famous people not for who they are, but for who they appear to be. Which is just as it should be, since what we rightly care about is not whether Mother Teresa harboured murderous thoughts during breakfast but that she looked after the poor and needy.
Sometimes, of course, the personal crosses over into the public domain to colour our judgement of a famous person — as it did with golfer-fornicator Tiger Woods and, more dramatically, with athlete-murderer Oscar Pistorius.
This mixing of the personal and public personas provides us with one of the few incentives to remain unfamous and anonymous. You getting caught shoplifting would be less of a harrowing experience for you than it would be, say, if Katrina Kaif was caught tucking lipsticks from a showroom into her bag.
However, in India it’s more likely that a celebrity, after being caught and recognised, will be given a complimentary make-up set while you will be reported to the police in the same situation.
When Sanjay Dutt was arrested in 1993 for possessing illegal arms that he had procured from dodgy characters connected with the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, the then almost 34-year-old was known as the dim and rather spoilt son of veteran actors Sunil Dutt — who, at that time, was a Congress politician — and Nargis Dutt.
He had taken a few stabs as a scrawny-long haired actor and later as a more well-toned one but remained, at best, a cult bad boy figure in 80s Bollywood films.
His star rose in the early 90s courtesy hit movies such as Sadak, Saajan and Khal Nayak, the last hit film ironically depicting him
as a good-hearted criminal that was released three weeks after Dutt was arrested and charged with his real-life crime.
I’m not sure whether people petitioning for Dutt’s pardon after the Supreme Court upheld the 2007 verdict last week by sentencing him to five years’ imprisonment would have been moved enough by his plight if Dutt’s career had ended with Khal Nayak.
Why, even the Shakespeare- and Voltaire-quoting Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju seems to have based his decision to seek pardon for Dutt from his strange perch on his knowledge of “that Munnabhai film”, as I heard him say on television.
It’s just as well that Dutt himself has decided not to seek pardon, announcing that he will surrender to the authorities within the required duration of a month.
But the matter remains that there are many right-thinking folks out there — Shakespeare and Voltaire-quoting ones to boot — who seem to think that this particular case should have the courts and the judiciary realise that ‘the quality of mercy is not strained’ and that their appeal is purely based on the fact that Dutt’s not really a bad man but ‘was just a stupid young man’ who has suffered enough and should be allowed to live the rest of his life in peace.
The quality of fame is not only unstrained but subtle. While Katju and Co. would rather splutter and throw a paperweight at me before admitting that Dutt’s fame as a loveable character who is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi in an endearing National Film Award-winning, box office hit movie affected their judgement, the truth is that it did.
“I am least impressed by the fact that he is a film star. It is nothing to do with celebrity,” said the very non-reticent Katju on prime-time television. Really? So he would have had heard of him even if Dutt was a mid-level employee in a bank and hadn’t been splashed across the media during his arrest?
To cover his tracks, Katju has sought that another convicted in the 1993 blasts case, Zaibunnisa Kazi, who has been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for storing arms, also be pardoned.
Once again, my question is: Would the issue of Kazi’s pardon have come up at all if Dutt’s fame had rested overwhelmingly on a decades-old film in which a pivotal scene has the actor prancing about in a black cape and hat singing ‘Nayak nahin, khal nayak hoon main’?
In cricket, the umpire is under tremendous pressure when there’s a tough leg before wicket decision against, say, Sachin Tendulkar.
No umpire will admit to it, but there are more chances that a super-popular player will get the benefit of the doubt than an
‘ordinary’ cricketer faced with the same delivery. Going by that route, every criminal should insure himself by becoming famous.
Which, come to think of it, may explain why so many crooks join electoral politics in the first place.