Exactly what is it that compelled Aamir Khan to do what he did, particularly when there was no run up of any kind, and no association with any cause in the past? Be that as it may, there is no denying that his landing up at Jantar Mantar with the entire team of Rang De Basanti did create space for sceptics and fence-sitters to wonder whether this was an attempt to use the Narmada issue to breathe new vitality into his product. This perception comes from a stereotype that is created in the minds of people that celebs don’t support a cause without a motive. Such cynicism exists because the image of an actor is that he’s apathetic--or stupid--about real issues.
I feel that there is no need for a man like Aamir to require a certificate from anyone. If he is sincerely concerned, if his heart is in the right place and he was motivated by the concerns of the people, why does he require a certificate? This whole desperation to look for certificates and repeatedly explain his stand to the world makes him look pathetic. It’s not essential, it’s not necessary and it’s absurd. It just completely demeans him and whatever he wants to do.
His credibility will only be demonstrated to the world after he consistently and persistently articulates his position. for the cause. Till then he will have to live with these demons which will keep on questioning him. There is no denying that celebs need to understand that when they are supporting a cause, they can't just wade in and recite lines given by a director or writer and hope to have an impact as it would in a film.
This is real life, not reel life. The issues are not black and white and they are far too complicated even for experts to understand, leave alone the rank newcomers. There is no denying that there should have have been an attempt on his part to have done his homework. I think the actors, when they turn activists, should arm themselves with facts and have the humility and the intelligence to understand that they don’t know it all -- even the experts don’t know it all. See how much trouble the poor souls are having wondering how to tackle the issue -- the PMO is having problems, all the states are having a problem.
Unfortunately, this time Narendar Modi was one up on everyone because he was articulating a very sane rationale - the greater common good - that the dam affects the life of lakhs of people in Gujarat, and is progress-oriented and you can't just descend there and not look at the wider picture and only take what seems to be a very popular stand. This is unfortunately what Aamir ended up communicating to the world at large. I have no love for Modi and his politics at all. I have personally stood up against him for what happened in Gujarat, but you can't say that even in this issue he is wrong.
This should be treated as a wake up call. You remember the Diana effect -- she achieved much more by holding an AIDS patient than all the billboards could achieve in the entire HIV campaign. A celebrity does certainly introduce an issue to the larger world that is apathetic. But the issue here is: Does the celeb help the cause or is the cause being used by the celebrity to add a new halo to his persona? This whole celebratisation of activism, is this going to be the new phenomenon? The need to be politically correct, and the need to be seen not merely as an entertainer may be another issue that, people think, Aamir might have been motivated by.
And then there was the more important Coca Cola angle. Now Aamir endorses Coke. When he goes to the Narmada protest, heis told that the Coke manufacturing units are a menace to UP and Kerala, that Coke is a threat to the water-level which is being eroded by sucking away all the water from the wells and the farmers are having a tough time as a result, and so, he is asked: whose side are you on? I knew a young guy from Varanasi who was working with Coke but left the job and joined the activists when he was told about this problem . But where Aamir is concerned, people will necessarily ask him questions and he must have a response not in words but in action. You are what you do not what you say. And action defines character, not words. Politicians too keep on saying so many things, so what would be the difference between politicians and celebrities? I feel if Aamir is interested in walking his talk, he should be more there at the protests, he needs to act on the ground, not just talk about it.
When he makes statements like "I don’t have the bandwidth to do more" etcetera, it would seem that he’s using the event as a photo-op and provides an opportunity to people to say, "I told you so". I’d ask, are you willing to say, "I will take responsibility for my words and fight till the end as the activists of the Narmada andolan have"?. If you will, nobody will ask questions. If no, then it’ll show your tone and tenor. It was heartbreaking to see him duck and avoid questions. Every pore in his body was apologetic. Most of us want life’s wrongs to be corrected but are willing to do precious little for it. That's the affliction of our times.
In the virtual world, the celebrity sees a 6-foot man magnified to 60-foot man, and gets used to looking for fairy tale endings. He can't deal with the monotony, the drudgery or with the realisation that almost nothing is done right. A celebrity's life is structured around black and white so he forgets that life resides in the greys. You may have great views opposing Modi’s fundamentalism, but at this instance you can't fault him because he’s concerned about the lives of lakhs of people who will get water. So you have to step out of your pet biases, and that’s when life becomes very complicated.
As told to Lata Khubchandani. This piece did not appear in print.