I have a feeling that if films had been invented in 15th century, in stead of Shakespeare, it is the lead actor of his plays whose anniversary we would be celebrating.
The heroes of ancient times were warriors, kings and gods. The Sanskrit word which can be thought of nearest in meaning to the word ‘hero’ is ‘shura’ which means God. It also means a human being who is mighty.
In my previous article, the gladiators of our times, I have talked about the modern day sport stars versus the gladiators of the ancient times who fought unto death for the entertainment of the members of the Roman civil society. In contrast to the lives of our modern day sport stars who lead lavish life styles, the gladiators of ancient times led the life style of slaves.
Professional games and sports, or games or sports for public entertainment may owe their origin to the gladiator events of Roman civilisaiton. Defeated, a gladiator usually lost his life. Victorious, he was allowed to leave another day, with probably an extra glass of wine or an extra piece of mutton given as a bonus. But today, the losers of sports, unless they are already established, take up other professions. On the other hand victory brings them untold wealth and social status. While today a successful cricketer may rise to the level of the country head just by encashing his popularity, in Roman days all a successful ambitious gladiator could do was to become a rebel leader to be chased and hunt down along with his fellow gladiators ultimately.
The modern days sport stars are also the heroes of modern times as are the actors who play leading characters in our movies. Because we worship them so much they are the celebrities of our times.
Along with soldiering, sports, preaching and prostitution, acting has been one of the oldest professions. But you hardly come across any actor of the ancient times making it to the history books. People say that my father was an accomplished actor. In those days when plays were hosted on open platforms without light and loudspeakers, my father played the role of Viswamitra. Sometimes when crowd was thin he would say his dialogues at the top of his voice. He had a natural high voice and when he raised his voice it reached the villages nearby where the people though some unusual incident had happened and came to check in.
What made the difference between the actors of the old days and actors of today like Amitabh Bachchan, or the difference between my father and celebrity actors like Nana Patekar is the silver screen. It is this silver screen and there after the small screen that changed the life and the lifestyle of the cockroach fearing, dumb and parroting-written-text-after-many-takes filmy actors to be called as heroes. Or, heroines for that matter. Of course today also we have stage actors. But, the actors, who face the camera, take all the money, fame, credit, and the right to be worshiped by the frenzied public.
The modern day hero is a creation of the media. What gives them the celebrity aura is the fact that the common man rarely interacts with them in flesh and blood. Being the ruler of an utopian fantasy land, he is a temporary relief for the common man. His presence is felt everywhere – through street corner bill boards, through televisions, through newspapers, and other media. Yet, being out of reach and distant in flesh and blood like the stars, he is aptly called a star.
Today apart from politicians, who are mostly maligned in the media, it is such filmi heroes and players who occupy most of the media space. The so called news items and gossip about them are usually part of clever branding and marketing strategy.
Some of the warriors and kings of ancient times have taken mythical proportions. Some of them even rose to the status of Gods . But behind the myth was a real hero somewhere. Today also we see that heroes have taken to mythical proportions. There are temples dedicated to them.
But what is worst about this branding and hero-worship culture is that these filmy heroes are projected as experts of everything. For the hardcore fan whatever comes out of his or her mouth is gospel truth. There need not be a real hero somewhere behind the myths created around such heroes. In real real life they may the worst hypocrites and duffers, but on screen he must appear to be killing 100 enemies with one punch and give the most convincing lecture on any topic on earth. It is this onscreen image that the stupid masses assume for real and dedicate temples for them. Maybe, temple building too could be is part of the clever strategy of the marketing team to build the image of the filmy actor.
I do not mean to say the filmi actors do not have any merit. They are highly accomplished in the art of acting. But so is a district collector who might be very efficient in his administrative capabilities. So is a military leader who has impeccable strategy to win battles.
In the film line itself, a film is a team effort. The script plays a crucial element in every successful movie. Maybe the only exception being Salman Khan, it has been seen that where the script is weak no amount of good acting, branding, marketing or directing has saved a movie. Yet the script writer is not so widely acknowledged if a movie is successful, or condemned for that matter if the movie is controversial. Compared to the heroes we know, how many script writers do we know? I have a feeling that if films had been invented in 15th century, in stead of Shakespeare’s, it is the lead actor of his plays whose anniversary we would be celebrating.
Well, let the filmi hero take all the money. Let him take all the media space which is required to create his brand and promote his forthcoming films and make everyone concerned get a good return for their investments. Let his fans do milk abhishekam to his portrait on his film release day. But my objection is that why should the person who acts the lead character take all the credit for the success of the movie?
And why should a filmi actor (whether he /she plays the lead or the side kick) be treated as if he/she is an expert of everything?
I have attended, as an audience, a lot of functions organised to promote the language, literature and cultural heritages of particular regions. Even for such functions the first preferred chief guest is a filmi actor, even though he/she may not be speaking in that language off screen and is alien to the culture in body, mind, and spirit. If a filmy hero or side kick is not available then the organisers think of inviting a person who is active or has some expertise in the field of language, literature, or culture of that region.
In fact it happened in one occasion. The actor invited was not born in the state. The actor did not speak the language properly. She tried hard to recite a few lines from a parroted script. But midway she forgot that and started to speak in English glorifying some of the politicians on the stage. I think she had even forgotten what was the purpose of the function.
The organisers might argue that it is such celebrities, whether they have minds of their own or not, that act as crowd pullers. But, would not it be better if the crowd was small but it went away with the right impression about the culture and literature of the region than the larger crowd who went away as ignorant as before (sometimes with wrong impression) about the language, literature and the culture of the state.
Come on dudes. You are celebrating your state’s language and cultural heritage. Why not invite someone who is an expert in your language, culture and history in stead of the usual filmi hero who anyway has his/her fill of publicity all the time.
Moreover, with a country that is badly in need of real life role models, why should a glittering-but-shallow- and- parroting filmy actor be the preferred guest of all seasons?
By the way, here is wishing all the readers a very happy and prosperous Gregorian New Year. Wish the new year give our youth the discrimination to distinguish between real and fake heroes.