What can stars do, beyond shine? Actually, quite a lot, says Anupama Chopra
Fame is a curious thing. In the social media age, we are all trying, in ways big and small, to be famous. Yet, those who are famous will tell you that it’s more brutal and brittle than it looks. I recently read an interview on vulture.com with American filmmaker Joel Schumacher (St Elmo’s Fire, Flatliners), in which he talked about working with Julia Roberts on a film called Dying Young. Pretty Woman had just been released and Roberts had become, overnight, one of the biggest stars in the world. She was sobbing in his car because someone had written a story about the boys she had gone out with in high school. She said: I never needed to be this famous.
Joel tells the interviewer that this was profound to him because, until then, he hadn’t realised that you can’t decide how much fame you get. “It’s not up to you. You now belong to them.”
This belonging is magnified in Indian cinema. We’re a movie-mad culture obsessed with stars. Pre-social media, the relationship was reverential, with actors placed on a pedestal. They were literally like gods — I remember reading news reports about an Amitabh Bachchan temple in Kolkata.
Post-social media, they’ve become ‘intimate strangers’ (a term American film critic Richard Schickel coined in 1985). We know too much about them. Of course social media presents a highly curated and constructed identity, but it has irrevocably blurred the lines between private and public — from Hrithik Roshan’s bonding vacations with his sons to Farhan Akhtar’s grand passion for partner Shibani Dandekar, it’s all out there for public consumption.
Stars are now ‘on’ 24x7. Is the information overload fraying our relationship with them? I don’t know. But the additional followers / subscribers / eyeballs have given them even more clout. Their hold on us is complete. So it becomes even more imperative that they use their power responsibly, which brings me to the Telugu actor Vijay Deverakonda.
The star, whose fans are called Rowdies, combines acting chops and charisma with a refreshingly unrehearsed manner. He’s politically incorrect and unpredictable. He’s also generous.
Last year, Vijay launched his own production house, King of the Hill. A few weeks ago, he announced his first production, Meeku Maathrame Chepta (I’ll Tell Only You). He posted on Twitter that he would be putting most of his savings on the line. He said: “While we were finding it painfully hard to break into the industry and make a film, I decided the day I’ll make it, I’ll start a production house... I realise how hard it is to do this and how risky, but what’s life without a challenge?”
At a screening in Mumbai of his latest film, Dear Comrade, Vijay promised that every film he produced would be an ‘open house’, that actors would be selected ‘purely on auditions’. He said: “I promise no one will look at you like you’ve come to take a loan. Because that’s how I was treated.”
After the Q&A session, Vijay instructed the many viewers clamouring for photos to keep their phones on selfie mode. Then he went from aisle to aisle taking pictures, affectionately reprimanding the fans who weren’t ready. He was playing the star but there was no vanity in it – he was just trying to keep them happy.
I wish more artists would use their fame like this – to put smiles on people’s faces and to discover and empower new voices. That’s real success.