Friday, July 15, 2011

Our conflicted relationship with film stars: Masala Zindabad on Koffee with Karan

Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma on Koffee with Karan

Masala Zindabad—the wonderful Bollywood blog/podcast (blogcast?)—has devoted its latest post to Season 3 of Karan Johar's talk show Koffee with Karan. Beth Loves Bollywood, Maria of Filmiholic and Amrita of Indiequill choose the most pleasantly surprising guest, the cattiest comments, most eye-roll-inducing episodes, the most adolescent behavior, the worst-dressed male and female guests, and the most cringe-worthy moment.

These are three women you'd love to meet for dinner or to have at your party. They're thoughtful, knowledgeable, articulate, funny, and unafraid to say exactly what they think. Their conversation is highly entertaining—far more so, I'd guess, than the show they're dissecting.

But I have to ask, what is the fascination with the off-screen lives of movie stars? Our favorite stars' performances on film are compelling because of a combination of their personal attributes (a highly individual judgment of how attractive and sympathetic and graceful and sincere they appear to be on camera) and the skills of the writers, directors, composers, playback singers, choreographers, costumers, and other crew members who craft the world in which the stars enact our fantasies.

The stars themselves realize this, if they think about it at all. Shah Rukh Khan has said, "I am an employee of the myth of Shah Rukh Khan." And Cary Grant said, "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant."

But off-screen, stars have to make up their own lines and choose their own clothes, and sometimes they fail—spectacularly—to meet our (extremely high) expectations. I want to continue to be entertained by John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra and Shahid Kapoor and Anushka Sharma and Abhishek Bachchan; I don't want to have their awkwardness, insecurity, vanity, pettiness, self-involvement and surgical enhancements paraded in front of me.

I'm anything but deluded. I understand that most actors are narcissistic monsters. They have to be in order to succeed in a savagely cut-throat business that is focussed on the highly unstable commodity of personal appeal. But the next time I watch a movie I want to be able to suspend my disbelief and enter into the world of the characters. Of course, I appreciate opportunities for analysis as well. But if there's no emotional engagement, analysis can be a pretty empty exercise.

It seems to me that an obsession with the offscreen lives of the stars is an indication of how powerfully they can affect us. But to watch a show like KwK, or to obsessively follow Bollywood gossip, is to deliberately set yourself up for present and future disillusionment. In fact, it is to actively seek out disillusionment.

And I have to ask myself, why? Is it that we can't bear to experience the powerful emotions evoked by these performers? Do we look for ways to demonstrate to ourselves that our feelings are misplaced, that the performers who bring out these feelings in us are not worthy of our emotional investment?

Whatever the impulse, for some reason I don't share it. I couldn't care less who is dating whom, who is feuding with whom, who earns what. If an actor's next performance isn't compelling, none of that stuff matters. And if it is, none of that stuff matters either.

Your thoughts?


  1. Every time I watch a actor offscreen, he/she comes across as so vapid and arrogant that I loose some interest in his/her movies and can't really believe and empathize with any character they portray. That's why I don't get this KwK fascination. Why would Bollywood consumers set themselves up for disappointment as you put it so eloquently? Is it that they see a totally different view offscreen than I do? Does the
    "regular consumer" have different expectations from the stars?

  2. Anonymous, you've perfectly captured why I avoid the seemingly endless interviews of and gossip about actors. The only way I can understand the appeal of shows like KwK to others is as deliberate disenchantment. Perhaps those who follow the offscreen lives of movie actors like to see these extremely privileged people taken down a notch or two by their own "vapid and arrogant" utterances and behavior. Or, as I suggest in the post, perhaps they can't face their own emotional investment in actors' performances onscreen.

    Either way, it's a bit of a mystery. Like you, I want to be able to continue to enjoy actors' performances onscreen, something which too much information about their offscreen selves has already rendered impossible in the case of one or two I could name.

    Thanks for your comment!