Of champagne wishes and caviar dreams

The lives of the rich and famous are always a fabulous source of gossip and idle chatter. And prime-time news. After all, champagne and caviar-filled lives must certainly be more exciting than the ones with housing EMIs and parent teacher meetings.

The obsessive coverage of the Mukerjea saga that is being played out on TV and newspapers has gripped middle-class India. It is mass schadenfreude: pleasure derived from watching misfortune visiting the rich and famous. Lives, which not long ago were subjects of intense envy, have been destroyed due to hedonistic lifestyles and baser desires. Murder most foul, and almost a perfect murder. Incest, broken hearts, ruined lives. Ruthless ambition and cheating. Media barons and celebrity journalists. Potent ingredients.

Many, of course, are annoyed, some even livid with the media’s minute-by-minute coverage of the Sheena Bora (left) murder case, allegedly involving her mother, Indrani Mukerjea (right). file Pic/PTI
Many, of course, are annoyed, some even livid with the media’s minute-by-minute coverage of the Sheena Bora (left) murder case, allegedly involving her mother, Indrani Mukerjea (right). file Pic/PTI

Many, of course, are annoyed, some even livid with the media’s minute-by-minute coverage of the Indrani Mukerjea-Sheena Bora-Peter Mukerjea-Sanjeev Khanna-Mikhail Bora-Rahul Mukerjea saga. Why cover this sordid whodunnit when there are larger, more pertinent issues that must deserve our attention? That Hardik Patel bloke who is stoking caste-based politics, Bihar elections, floods, India-Pakistan, communalism in Mangalore, falling rupee, economy and so on.

It’s really quite simple. We are all fascinated with the lives of celebrities, fake or real. When they sing, dance, board their private jets, clink their champagne glasses, get married in designer finery, vacation at exotic resorts, get new hair and new smiles, mingle graciously with kids of AIDS victims… everything is bold and beautiful. They are combating poverty with elegance and panache in a third world nation. Why would we not be smitten? There are no limits to the glamour quotient of India’s rich and famous.

And when they fall from grace, the news is equally exciting. It proves all those words of wisdom of the elders in our humdrum lives. That however rich and famous, they are just as susceptible to human follies as the middle class and poor. They cheat, connive, fornicate, abuse and lie to their families. Their wealth does not cushion them from blows of life. The jets in the hangar and the Porches in the garage transport them to jails and lock-ups. Why would this not fascinate us?

I mean, look at the way rich Indian men and women with faux foreign accents are talking about falling family values every day on TV. Seems like the anchors are the only ones who don’t know about the web of lies that defines the lives of these ‘experts’. And we have mythology and legends to tell us that sinning is as old as Adam and Eve or Manu and Sharada. But it is hilarious to watch socialites and swishy gentlemen with coiffered hair talk about dysfunctional families in the age of WWW. Aww!

The fall from grace of a page 3 couple is news. That is the way the cookie crumbles. Your Mehtaji next door taking on a new wife young enough to be his grand-daughter without divorcing his first wife is not news.

The line between paparazzi reporting and news has been erased globally. Stalking celebrities and reporting on their misdemeanours is mainline reporting. Almost as important or as eyeball-grabbing as reporting natural disasters. If it sells, it is news. This does not mean, however, that what does not sell is not news.

The khadi, juda and Kolhapuri chappal-wearing people who attend seminars on dangers of genetically modified seeds or the vanishing tiger population can turn up their noses at the Sheena Bora news cycle but they cannot keep away from watching the drama unfold. They are lying if they tell you they are. They are as shallow as you and I. And the people we watch on TV. They also follow the lives of ‘perfect people’ messing up their ‘perfect lives’. It is almost reassuring to know that people with privileges are susceptible to the same human frailties as common people.

Reading or watching news about celebrities is addictive. Each one of us watch with morbid fascination the cauldron of emotions: shock, horror, envy, jealousy and such. Everyone compulsively comments on their lives as if they know them intimately. The heady cocktail of fame, power and wealth can be intoxicating even if consumed virtually.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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