December 03, 2007

indian stars worshiped -part 2

we learned in the first part about the stories of the goddess santoshi maa & the demigod rajkumar, let's continue, first with actor amitabh bachchan then actress shilpa shetty ...

a temple for superstar amitabh bechchan

amitabh bachchan is probably the biggest bollywood and india's star, he appeared in more than 100 films in three decades. he made his name in the seventies and eighties as an action hero. particularly in the 1970s he became known for his violent anti-heroes roles, and was admired by women for his handsome looks and deep voice.

to give you an idea about his popularity even outside india, in 1999 the bbc news online opened a survey to elect the greatest star of stage or screen of the last millennium & amitabh was voted in first by a large margin, pushing sir laurence olivier into second place, followed by sir alec guinness in third.

amitabh like rajkumar is worshiped by his fans, for example when he was seriously injured during the filming of coolie (1983), thousands of fans kept vigil outside his hospital. much later in 2001 for his 59 anniversary, bachchan was promoted from demigod to the status of god, this transition for his fans across the world was as smooth as their idol's metamorphosis from the idolized "angry young man" of the 1970s to a new dignified and fatherly image in his latest movies., described a ceremony in which started the traditional hindu way of worship at 8:30 a.m. first worshiping lord ganesh (the elephant god), then lord narayan and finally god amitabh bachchan. the ceremony was conducted by six qualified priests chanting hymns from scriptures in front of a huge garlanded framed photograph of young bachchan, at the amitabh bachchan fans association (abfa) club in the dumdum neighborhood, added to bachchan photograph , photographs of hindu gods ganesh & narayan, part of the pantheon as well. a sculptor even built a bust plaster of bachchan for the ceremony.

a diehard bachchan fan formulated the following question: "a person who has touched so many lives, can he be any less than a god?"

the day maked the beginning of amitabh utsav, a festival that lasted four months, in which, among other things, the abfa organized philanthropic activities in honor of bachchan, treated 1,000 patients at four microsurgery eye camps & undertook a campaign of eyes donation, the festival ended by feeding the poor people from the area in a community feast sponsored by the club.

a temple for amitabh bachchan in the dumdum area where an idol of the cine star has been installed. the "rules" for entering the temple are unique. a devotee wishing to pray before bachchan's idol would first have to recite dialogues from some of his famous films. also instead of religious hymns, bachchan's dialogues from his films would be chanted during prayer sessions.

shilpa shetty: a bollywood actress worshiped outside india

ok, as an introduction let's answer this question: are indians really special for worshiping their stars? in fact the answer is no! the act of idolizing movies & music stars & other celebrities is common everywhere, in india it's just characterized by its ceremonial & strictly religious dimension.

sadhavi sharma, a writer based in bombay, wrote an interesting article on denouncing the hypocrisy of the west when mocking indians for turning their favorite actors & actresses into gods & goddesses:
Many in the West view the wonderfully idiosyncratic world of Bollywood as bizarre. It is true that in Bombay [...], ardent fans will wait for hours outside the gates of certain film stars’ homes, hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols – though that happens in Hollywood, too. [...] Perhaps – but let’s not forget that some locks of Britney Spears’ hair are reportedly up for sale for around £500,000. It is not only in apparently weird India where celebs are treated as oracles these days, and their possessions passed around like pseudo-religious relics.

the article titled "worshipping a bollywood actress? how backward", talks mainly about actress & model shilpa shetty who was transformed to a divinity, not in india but in britain!

shetty participated in the reality tv show "celebrity big brother 2007" on british "channel 4", first she was victim of racism by some housemates which was followed by a wide indignation in & outside britain, then the growing popularity of shetty turned her nearly to a goddess not only in the eyes of the masses but at the highest echelons of british society; politicians, journalists and community activists in britain have elevated shetty to the role of "high priestess of unity"; a potential saviour whose grace under fire should be a lesson, and whose values might help to fix a "broken nation" and unite the masses.

shitty finally was the winner of the show, a daily mail newspaper reader declared: "shilpa won because of her inner beauty. she is so forgiving and a wonderful human being.". after so she attended a reception at the house of commons, to meet with then-british prime minister tony blair. she was also invited to meet with queen elizabeth II. she was also the subject of a documentary entitled "the real shilpa shetty".

the british political class according to sadhavi sharma seemed "to be clinging to shetty in the hope that she will inject new meaning and purpose into british politics.". he also doesn't understand how a little argument in a reality show could have such a impact in the media & politics:
The British have transformed a rather boring incident (two celebrities arguing about Oxo cubes on a rubbish reality show) into a melodrama involving forces of good and evil, slags and a dignified Indian; in its fairytale simplicity, it is a match for anything produced by Bollywood in recent years.

sharma finishes his article with these words:
The Indians who ‘worship’ their screen gods and goddesses for taking them on three-hour fantastical journeys in the local cinema look perfectly rational in comparison to a British elite that believes a fading Bollywood actress can save Britain and unite the nation.