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Celebspeak in a crisis: Some help out any way they can, others leave it to the gods

As the country grapples with a public health emergency, a cursory look at some recent posts on social media by some celebrities of Hindi cinema is instructive.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Some are calling it a war, others a catastrophe, or a tsunami. Whatever word is used seems inadequate to describe the state of India today as it struggles to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 continues to wreak havoc as health institutions crumble in the face of the seemingly never-ending flow of patients. Every statistic, despite the fudging media reports say some states have been focused on, shows numbers galloping. Every count is only becoming more horrific than the previous one.

In the midst of this devastation, it is essential to remember what makes us human, and ordinary citizens have risen up to do their bit, from circulating pleas for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and helpline numbers to creating free food services for those affected.

In such a scenario, the role of celebrities becomes crucial. In India, there is, in general, over-reliance on film stars. Governments, too, deploy them strategically in their campaigns. But it cannot be denied that they have mass appeal. In fact, the ability of film celebrities to create an image of authenticity and connect with people is the reason they so often segue into political careers.

Film celebrities have made productive contributions to society in the past, raising awareness about important issues. To take recent examples, several filmmakers and artistes spoke out against the controversial and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The farmers’ protests, too, witnessed some of them engaging with the cause. And several celebrities criticized the harassment of women in the  Malayalam film industry, leading to the formation of the Women in Cinema Collective.

In the current crisis, several film stars like Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Farhan Akhtar, Richa Chadha, Taapsee Pannu and Dia Mirza have lent their support to calls for help by retweeting and reposting such requests. Though a bit late to the initiative, Alia Bhatt, Katrina Kaif and Twinkle Khanna, too, have been posting helpline numbers and useful information.

The likes of Sonu Sood, Ajay Devgn, Bhumi Pednekar and Sushmita Sen have been lending a helping hand with information, oxygen cylinders and even hospital beds.

Even Shilpa Shetty took time out from her routine yoga and wellness spiel to post a rambling video seeking donations for the Khaana Chahiye initiative, which provides food to the hungry in Mumbai.

Kangana Ranaut, too, posted a video in her typically admonishing, self-aggrandizing style, asking people to suck it up with the current situation and get in line to get vaccinated.

However, while the country seems to have come to a standstill, grappling with the pandemic, it has been business as usual for some of the biggest names in the film industry. Shah Rukh Khan, it seems, cannot get over his Indian Premier League cricket team, Kolkata Knight Riders, while Ranveer Singh and Disha Patani have been too busy promoting themselves.

Salman Khan currently is chanting Radhe, his long-delayed follow-up to Wanted (2009), with reverence, but a recent report also said his foundation had been organizing food packets for frontline workers. The newly devout Akshay Kumar wished everyone for Ram Navami and expressed condolences at the passing of music director Shravan. He also contributed Rs1 crore to a Delhi MP's foundation.

The biggest brand amongst film celebrities, Amitabh Bachchan, too seems to have taken to the path of devotion, with his recent posts on Hanuman Jayanti, Ram Navami and Mahavir Jayanti. Given that citizens of the country have been largely left to fend for themselves, maybe there is a message in there somewhere, that god alone can help us now.

Anupam Kher, that indefatigable defender of prime minister Narendra Modi, however, blamed humankind for the crisis. Quoting his mother, he said, "God is angry with the world." He didn't say why, though. Perhaps because we chose the wrong people to lead us?

All said and done, the current situation simply brings to mind that clichéd line from so many Hindi films of yore: "Inhein dawa ki nahi dua ki zaroorat hai." Clearly, we are winging it on hope and a prayer now.

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