As news pours in of possible new laws on surrogacy, Bollywood celebrities have again been invoked as subjects of a jibe as they provide some really easy publicity. While the film industry remains a small fraternity whose captains are barely mentioned in billionaire lists or among those that wield power, it has always found the sort of attention that no other category of work gets. There was a time when all important television debates featured someone from the film industry. Before elections, all political parties make every attempt to be seen with movie stars. Bollywood stars have been the face of almost every consumer product and even the e-commerce companies have sought them out. There was even a time when it was thought that Amitabh Bachchan will be a good candidate for the post of the President of India!
May be, surrogate children as an option would never have come in the public eye if it were not for Shahrukh Khan or Aamir Khan trying it. Bollywood also leads the titillation brigade and provides the most mainstream forum for sleaze. It may be said that before social media emerged, film personalities were the ones who were challenging the artificial boundaries of our pretentious values. Indeed, in many ways the movie industry, which is a century-old has made a big impact on society.
Today, however, Bollywood finds itself on a vulnerable cusp. On one hand, their movie stars lost their demi-god status long before the intolerance dialogues happened. The film industry that saw unprecedented money pouring in from corporate houses has not lived up to the opportunity provided to it — like in all other industries, a select few walked away with every asset on offer.
It is a mess again and few would argue with Javed Akhtar who said at a recent conclave that the demand for good writing is so low that if Sahir Ludhianvi were alive today he would be unemployed. Bollywood also has vanished from critical public debates. Television or newspapers, we don’t see quotes from Mahesh Bhatt or Akhtar anymore. Among the few times the film industry took centre stage in prime time debate was during the Udta Punjab controversy. Despite its capacity for attracting a huge user base, entertainment startups are nowhere among the most sought after. Bollywood has much to rue for the decline in its status. The problem is that they may not even want to admit that they have been surrogate leaders of society and that they are losing their sheen.
While politicians who sneer at the newly vulnerable film stars do not gain in moral status and hurt the investment prospects of the industry that has been made a part of ambitious Make In India project, Bollywood has not yet figured out why they are unable to make heroic comebacks after every jibe. May be, as film personalities under attack apply a winner-takes-it-all formula in extracting credit and money from their work, they have sidelined those who have previously seen the industry through tough times. They have made their own armies weak. What is clear is that there are operational issues within the Hindi movie industry that is threatening to snatch away the surrogate leadership status it has in society. Or had.