Thursday, August 23, 2012

An open letter to Dr. Chiranjeevi

Dear Dr. Chiranjeevi,

Happy Birthday!

My whole generation has grown up watching your films, and for us, you are the undisputed superstar. Every dialogue you spoke on the screen went into our vocabulary, and every dance move you made (and there were quite a few brilliant ones) were practiced for hours in front of mirrors. Almost every actor who came into the industry over the last few decades wanted to become a Chiranjeevi, and even today, your fan base remains legendary.

And not just in movies, your success story inspired millions to follow their dreams, and hundreds of them landed up in Hyderabad every week wanting to walk in your footsteps. You set a precedent by doing them all - negative roles, comedy films (which I think were your best), pot-boiler actions, and of course, evergreen romances. We stood for hours in queues to get tickets for your films, and if we were lucky enough to get a first-day seat, we were heroes in our own circles!

The way you came back after a false start to your second innings is a lesson to all actors. You moved effortlessly into characters which respected your age, without losing the sheen of a hero, and we all love you for it. There were a few bad film decisions you took before coming back strongly, but you did not lose it there.

Your entry into politics was well timed too, and I was part of the vote bank that thought you could repeat what NTR did in the 80s. In fact, we wished that with all our heart. And you even spoke about a Fourth Front at the center! But that was not to happen. It is painfully obvious that you did not have the best of counsel, and even I did not vote for your candidate when the elections came around. You've always set an example, and in politics also, you showed people how to throw it all away. Even the most politically unlettered would know that you've sort of lost your way after winning only those 18. Throughout your career, you've come back after being written off. You played bit roles in large films and large roles in bit films before taking the Telugu film industry to new heights. You've never given up; but then politics was probably a different ballgame. 

Losing the elections and throwing all our dreams away (which you gave wings to in your election speeches and through your manifesto) is pardonable. What is unforgivable is your giving in to temptation and power.

Somewhere along the way, you've lost sight of what you planned to accomplish - provided you were given the reins of the state. Or you probably never had a vision and were just reading out a speech. When a normal politician, who's made politics his career, changes allegiances and joins the same people he was mercilessly flaying till yesterday, we take it in our stride, and laugh it away as 'politics'. But then when you floated a party, we did not want another politician! We have too many of those. The state wanted someone like NTR who would change the entire playing field, and work genuinely for the good of the people atleast for a few years. How did you miss that? And thanks to your joining your erstwhile enemy, all those poor fellas who betted their all on your party became proper politicians too. 

But then that isn't the crux of this letter. It is to invite you back into what you do best. The biscuit you've been thrown will expire in a few years, and it is obvious that there's no more coming. Come back into films and look to serve the society through it! The industry always has place for Chiranjeevi. It gave you a Padma Bhushan, it gave you a Doctorate, it rewarded you with 9 Filmfare awards and 4 Nandis. Your fans are loyal. They'll all come flocking back. And you anyway have a few careers to mould. Leave politics, sir. You tried, but it is evident that you did not fit in. And don't contest the next elections - on any banner. Instead, float a different banner this time, and make a few good films! There are many voices waiting to be heard - great storytellers that are waiting to be discovered. Put them up on the screen. There is three decades of experience you've got in this - you can't lose! And come back to entertaining people. Give us another Chantabbai. Make another Rudraveena. Do another Indra.

You've come back several times in your career. Do it once again - it is time to leave that non-starter behind. We're sure there's a few good years left in you yet. Put it to good use. We're absolutely not interested in seeing you wave from a tricolored touring van. Give us back the Chiru we all love and respect. Please accept that this political journey of yours is a flop. Don't look to re-release it with new screenplay. This year's birthday has been a real damp squib. Let the next one bring us greater joy.

Jai Hind.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Heroes are made!

Recently, CNN-IBN ran a marathon campaign to identify and recognize the Greatest Indian since Mahatma Gandhi. There were a lot of names in the fray, most of them ones we expected to be on the list. Cutting a long story short, the finale decided that the Greatest Indian since 1947 had to be Dr B R Ambedkar, and that is where this article starts.

How many of us really know Dr Ambedkar? I'm not passing judgement on whether he's deserving of the sobriquet in this article. But then really, what I know of the man is only what I heard or read of him, and from the speeches people give each year on his birthday and gave a while ago for his centenary. The same is true of most people who were on that list. How many of us really know Sam Manekshaw, or for that matter, the real Sunil Gavaskar? The show had about 2 crore votes cast, and considering the stats that about 50% of our country is below the age of 35, at least half those votes would have been cast by people who did not really know the above mentioned people, including the winner. Honestly, we don't even really 'know' Lata Mangeshkar, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Milkha Singh, DhyanChand. What we know of the political class (which make up the bulk of the list obviously) is only what we studies in the Civics text books of school. Most of the voters in the fray wouldn't have gained any direct inspiration from these people. Yet they voted!

Ok, i'm getting ahead of myself here. Coming back to what I wanted to say, this brings to the fore an issue which is quite contradicting in itself. Most of the 'heroes' we've had growing up are ones who've been fostered on us by our earlier generation. We've got our own generation's heroes, and i'm sure we'll feed them to our next gen. This cycle will continue, and the world will live happily ever after. 

So does that mean i'm right in saying that heroes are made? And not consciously either! There is a game played by communication skill trainers the world over, called Chinese Whispers. The game involves a passing of messages from person to person, and the end result is often hilarious and the message they start with is entirely different by the time it reaches the last guy in line. The same is probably true of hero-making too. A great-grandfather, who probably did nothing more than to stand among thousands at a train station while the Mahatma waved from a passing train, becomes a close associate of Gandhiji by the time the story reaches today's kids as a bed-time story, and yet another anecdote becomes a legend. And a hero is born - much after the real person has left this world!

It is logical, right? And there is nothing wrong in it either. Just a way to ascertain our position in the world of today, as we are what we perceive ourselves to be. Malcolm Gladwell would probably have a thought point and a term for this phenomenon. Our past is our identity, and our future stems from the inspiration we derive of our bygone eras. Legends are what hold our past together, and there is always space for heroes in our past.

Meanwhile, we've crowned a legend from our grandparents' generation as the greatest Indian. I'm certain that when this same exercise is repeated for India's centenary of independence, some icon from our generation - probably a Sachin Tendulkar or an Amitabh Bachchan, or god forbid, some politician from today - will be crowned as the next legend. And the story goes on :)