Learn to be non-judgmental and un-opinionated – especially if you don’t know the full story.
I didn’t quite want to write a post on Kabali. Already there is so much virtual real estate in social media that’s consumed by the pre- and post-release frenzy over the movie. But my friend Bishwanath Ghosh’s (BG) column in today’s Hindu Melange titled “Why Rajnikanth Rocks” got me thinking.
BG points out that the greatness of Rajnikanth lies in the fact that the man separates himself from his work and resultant superstardom. “He is perhaps the only actor in the country who takes his work — and not himself — seriously,” writes BG. And almost anyone who knows anything about Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, the man, will agree that BG is bang on there. I have met Rajnikanth as a journalist when I was working for India Today more than 25 years ago. From what I hear of him from people who know him closely now, he hasn’t changed at all from the impression I have of him – simple, humble, genuinely amazed by how insanely popular he is and never considering himself to be an actor of substance at all. In fact, in a pre-release interview that Kabali’s director Pa.Ranjith gave Vishal Menon of The Hindu, Ranjith says that Rajnikanth often told him this: “I am not at all an actor.” So, in the wake of who Rajnikanth really is, and how he treats his superstardom, I believe, the frenzied pre- and post-release reactions to Kabali, tell us more about ourselves than serve as a denouement of the movie’s fate at the box office.
The #nerruppuda hashtag changing to #verruppuda, #kaduppuda, #serruppuda, or whatever, tells the story of a virulent audience response after first-day first-show viewings. But that’s the way audiences are worldwide. As Rajesh Khanna would often famously quote from the Kishore Kumar song (Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Anand Bakshi) from his own film Roti (1974): ‘Yeh Jo Public Hai, Yeh Sab Jaanti Hai’. As we all know audiences have little respect or patience for the processes and the emotions behind any creative work. And, in an instant gratification environment, marketers, who want to milk anything and everything, are quick to build hype even over fluffy offering. This past month everyone – from Air Asia to jewelers to Uber to pickle brands – has been milking Rajnikanth’s popularity. Now, there’s nothing wrong with marketing. But to expect a product to live up to marketing hype is always a tall ask. A movie is but a director’s way of telling a story. Some may like it. Some may not like it. To passionately associate with an actor, and make him or her a star or superstar, and unceremoniously disassociate and dump him or her later, is every fan’s birthright. But let’s pause for a moment to ask ourselves this question: What are you and I really doing here? You are saying that if someone is this way or that way then I like that person. And if that person does not live up to my expectation of him or her, I don’t want to have anything to do with him or her. So, essentially, it is what you expect that has begun to matter. Not who this person, that you claim you are a fan of, really is and what he or she wants.
I am not holding a brief for Rajnikanth here. I am not even saying what is the right way or what is the wrong way of being a fan or a superstar. All I am saying is that let’s not rush to judge people without having been in their shoes.
To be sure, none of us knows what it means to be Rajnikanth. Or for that matter what it means to be a Virat Kohli today. We don’t know what it means to carry the burden of having to live up to the expectations of millions of customers or fans – every single time you step up to do something, or simply, go to work! At the end of the day, what a Rajnikanth does is, he works for a living – it is a business like any other. And Kabali is a product like any other movie is. If the product is bad, like some sections of the audience are reporting it is, then we must simply remember the age old wisdom that “no amount of good advertising can sell a bad product.” But the product being bad does not necessarily mean its makers don’t have good intentions or that they have no talent or potential. Besides, we have a right as consumers to reject a product if it does not appeal to us. But let us stop with this. Let us not pass judgment – the unkindest comment I read somewhere is that “Soundarya is intent on making her father (Rajnikanth) bankrupt” – or opinionate on what kind of films Rajnikanth must act in or what characters he must play. The shooting-from-the-hip attitude we are seeing on display on social media over the past 24 hours is an important reminder for all of us to revisit a significant principle of intelligent living: In situations where we know little about a person or the space they work in or the Life they lead, passing judgment or opinionating, is totally avoidable.
Just as you work for joy and profits, so does someone like Rajnikanth or Pa.Ranjith. The most ideal situation is when someone can get both joy and profits out of what they are doing. And sometimes, as in the movies business, even if the audiences reject the product, the people who made it may have enjoyed the process of creation. We will never know. Because we are neither Rajnikanth nor Pa.Ranjith. So, the best we can do is to watch the movie, if we really want to, we can like it or dislike it, and move on. Let’s not pass judgment on people whose lives we have not lived and so whose lives we can never understand.
PS: I am not a fan of Rajnikanth, the Superstar, but I believe he is a great actor and a greater human being!