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Friday, February 3, 2012

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(Published in on 3 February, 2012, retrieved from

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Shah Rukh Khan and his former best friend Farah’s husband Shirish Kunder may have kissed and made up after their ad-inspiring scuffle. But this one’s the latest in a long line of Twitter-induced Bollywood confrontations, which have kept many a tabloid alive and notched up pageviews for many a grammatically incorrect gossip site over the past couple of years.
Are celebrities so intoxicated by the idea of waking up to a thousand new followers everyday that they’re sacrificing their inapproachability at the altar of social networking?
When I was growing up, most celebrity spats littered the covers of cheesy film magazines, which women with studiedly bored expressions flipped through in beauty salons, and men wearing derisive smirks searched for raunchy pictures, sniggering, “How do you women find all this nonsense entertaining? Heh, heh.”
Since Twitter grabbed celebrity eyeballs, though, the filter of the film writer is gone. No one can say s/he’s been misquoted, or quoted out of context, and the drawn claws are as prominent as the back-scratching fingers.
Everyone’s gasping over Shah Rukh Khan’s allegedly violent reaction to Kunder’s dig at Ra.One on Twitter. How could this guy, who gave away a Tag Heuer watch to some dude who threw away his earnings on KBC, rough up a guy who looks wispier than his own mane? Even as SRK tries to bring a Shakespearean twist to the mess he’s bunged himself into, and also-rans like Ameesha Patel coo their praises for him, one can’t help but reflect on how much of a leveller Twitter has been.
Time was when celebrities made rare appearances with austere smiles and friendly waves, on the balconies of their houses on festival days, or at the cinemas on opening nights. Exclusive interviews made instant stars of journalists. Having a question answered one-on-one was the prerogative of media personnel thronging press conferences.
Now, Twitter’s crawling with fans whose wishes draw gracious acceptance, and taunts incite ripostes, most of which simultaneously expose the celebrity’s lack of wit and unfamiliarity with spelling.
My college student brother and his friends have made something of a career of baiting a D-list wannabe actor, who diligently posts comebacks to their barbs. But the A-list isn’t immune either – take Ram Gopal Varma’s famous Twitter war with Karan Johar.
The interactions have transcended lists in some cases. Shobhaa De, who’s slithered along red carpets for several decades, has got into catfights with the likes of Minissha Lamba, Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Malaika Arora – well, okay, Mr Malaika Arora – and even Celina Jaitley. Bollywood ganged up on De, and reactions ranged from schizophrenic to vicious.
Could we have imagined five years ago that Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar would react to a film critic calling the latter a “jackass” for making a hospital visit? Or that Abhishek Bachchan would try to defend his numerologically-bolstered production Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap by posting collection figures in response to a critic’s comment that Delhi Belly had done better? Or that Shahid Kapoor would ask a film critic to go “screw” himself?
It is perhaps the increasing accessibility of stars through Twitter that has sparked off marketing gimmicks to promote their films. Whether it’s Abhishek Bachchan riding an open double-decker bus through the streets in his Raavan avatar, or Vidya Balan accosting strangers and asking about her husband Arnab Bagchi ahead of Kahaani’s release, the Bollywood elite have obligingly dusted off their qualms about mingling with the public.
And those people who were beautiful for their dolled-up faces, styled hair and practised speeches, are now ugly, stripped of pretences, exposing petty quarrels through limited vocabulary.  And from being the “madam”s who would smile their unseeing ways from their chauffeured vintage cars into the plush interiors of premieres, they’ve become the “Vidya”s who grin, “Have you seen my husband?” as they point at sketches of men who look like unemployed journalists, sweating their ways through the taxi-choked streets of Mumbai.
Is this how we like our stars, then? As real people among us, cheapening themselves through nasty repartee and over-the-top promotion? As people who will sink way below us, as their trivial preoccupations and self-aggrandising activities grow increasingly irrelevant to our own lives? As people we can snap at directly, for making us waste three hours of our time and several hundred rupees of our earnings? As people whose true personalities stand in stark contrast to the larger-than-life personas they assume?
When even writers and sporting champions aren’t immune to the lure of gathering large “following”s, or indulging in mud-slinging contests, chances are that few people will remain sensible enough to keep their private lives and honest opinions in the realm of enigma.


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