Columns, Tehelka

Enforcing rules meant for mere mortals on a celebrity is outside the script

IT’S THE kind of thing that happens 50 times a day in Delhi, or for that matter in any town in India. A war of words flares up when someone brushes up against another’s ego. Abuses that involve relatives of the female kind are exchanged with lusty freedom. Dire threats of a bodily kind are given without anyone actually doing anything physical. Mediators enter the fray with wholesome relish, and after a decent interval of time, during which all the onlookers have got their money’s worth, everyone goes home. Even when cops get involved, in most cases, no complaints are lodged and certainly no one is tested for how drunk they are. By and large, barring some exceptional cases where things go completely out of hand, the wisdom of the city kicks in, acknowledging that such minor territorial squabbles are an inevitable part of the urbanscape where everyone is somebody or at least his cousin twice removed. It is thus clear that the Shah Rukh Khan non-incident at the Wankhede Stadium made headlines largely because it involved Shah Rukh Khan.

What is noteworthy about what happened is that abruptly the unwritten rules relating to celebrities in India, and particularly in the IPL, were overturned. Nothing in the history of the tournament had prepared a celebrity franchise owner for being asked to follow rules. It is possible that the manner in which this was done, especially as it allegedly involved children, might have been irksome, but the fact that someone said no to a celebrity was by itself startlingly unexpected. After all, the same Wankhede Stadium has seen its franchise owner on the field more than once, as indeed have others in different grounds across India. In fact, the very next day, we saw children of another franchise owners cavorting on the ground after the match was over. On one occasion, a film star franchise owner entered the ground to argue with the umpire without being reprimanded. Given this, the sudden desire to enforce rules meant for mere mortals to a celebrity franchise owner does seem a bit outside the script.

THE IPL has been constructed around celebrities; designed to accommodate their larger-than-life needs. Everything from the overstuffed sofas that are placed outside the seating area, making it very clear that the people concerned are too special to mingle with the ordinary ticket bearers, to the ceaseless scrutiny of the television camera and the class divide at the after-party, points to the fact that they live in an exalted world with its own laws.

 Outside the IPL too, the celebrity pass has tended to be an all-access one. Given the crucial dependence that the nation has on their dimpled charms, no event of any note, a programme espousing social cause, political discussion, or a literary festival is complete without them. If earlier it was the celebrity that sought the attention of the media, today it is media that chases them, and conjures up devious ways to include them in any programme.

Celebrity transgressions make for the best programming, for here media can be both self-righteous and salacious at the same time. The celebrity is, after all, both the object of all our attention as well as its product. The periodic beatification and dismantling of celebrities, the rhythmic alternating between awestruck worship and vitriolic castigation is a game we play with the toy called the celebrity — a reason why what happened at Wankhede Stadium was a non-event regardless of the fact that it evoked banner headlines, investigations, anguished admonitions, political sabre-rattling and, yes, pieces like this one attempting to analyse its larger meaning.

Tehelka 2 June 2012