A weekly magazine recently paid a visit to Rani Mukherjee to find out if she was indeed morphing into Rekha, as rumours seemed to indicate. In Bollywood, recluse is code for an out-of-work actor with weight issues. Mukherjee, who apparently looked like a million bucks, brushed away her recent absence from the movies and blamed the stories about her alleged reclusiveness on the current craze for Twitter. “Everyone has become so accessible,” Mukherjee complained about the social networking service. “To me, being exclusive and being mysterious is what makes a star.”
Twitter is many things to many people. To Bollywood stars, it’s only the latest twin-engine vehicle of self-expression and self-promotion. Marquee names such as Amitabh Bachchan, Shekhar Kapur, Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra and Karan Johar tweet with amazing—and sometimes alarming—regularity about all and sundry. Bollywood and Hollywood, football, Mumbai on a rainy day, Heathrow airport, the state of the nation—nothing escapes our stars. From the privacy of their limousines and air-conditioned trailers, the filmi gods and goddesses give their fans a New-Age style darshan. Often, though, they also inform followers of their latest movies and their newest endorsements. Some big names seem to be on Twitter only to remind the world about their desirability, but the tweets are nevertheless revealing. Some stars can’t spell. Some have a childlike view of the universe. Others have a refreshingly off-kilter view of the world, which doesn’t always emerge in interviews.
Media Savvy: Shah Rukh Khan
In the 1970s and 1980s, a spat between Amitabh Bachchan and film magazines led to a blanket ban on interviews with the star. Bachchan’s second coming in the 1990s was helped in no small part by the access that the media gained to his every move. The angry young man had grown into a sound-bite-friendly older man.
Hindi films have changed a great deal, but audiences remain as star-struck as ever. The film industry has always been obsessed with numbers. How much did the film cost? How much did it earn? How much more could it have possibly made had it been flogged some more? Enter the star, the most recognizable advertising tool for any movie. In order to ensure success, stars must participate in what advertising pundits call the “360-degree” experience. To guarantee an initial, a star can’t just loom over the public consciousness in a hoarding, but must work towards achieving a multiplier effect through as many platforms as possible. Ubiquitousness has become a sign of achievement. Exclusivity simply doesn’t pay any more.
Starting with the Big B, our stars are more easily accessible than they have ever been. Sure, you can’t just call them up on their cellphones and chat about the weather (though some journalists enjoy that privilege), but they are constantly in the limelight, more out of choice than compulsion. Apart from the films, they’re in the tabloids and society magazines and on television chat shows. They are at hand to launch jewellery stores and laptops. Shah Rukh Khan’s ascent is partly because of his expert media-savviness. Aamir Khan, who kept away from the press in the early noughties, is now a regular presence in the media.
Earlier, we had to twist our necks out of shape to spot our stars. Now, all we need to do is pick up the television remote and change the channel—or get a Twitter account. Twitter proves that in the newly liberalized India, mystique is an outdated and overrated concept.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org