My college friend appears regularly on TV and hosts a couple of popular reality shows. When people who are aware of our association badger me to clarify hearsay about her multiple marriages and possible pregnancies I’m reminded of her cult status. Other times, this realisation recedes to the back of my head and I can only recall the person that shared the last bench with me and proved far more entertaining than the professor in college. This is probably so because we usually meet in the comfort of our homes, Saturday evenings spreading out to Sunday mornings.
During retelling college stories, she often brings up the banes of being a celebrity. And each time, the rest of us would downplay it, or urge her to move on and tell us about the ‘good life’. This weekend, when she told me that she would turn up to a wedding reception after 10 pm (when it would all be over), I fussed and insisted that she come when the fun was still underway. She gave in and came when the hall was full; It took me just about 20 minutes to comprehend the depth of what she calls the downside of being right on top.
It starts with the whispers. “Isn’t she that one who comes on TV?”, “Is that really her?”, “Oh my god, it is her!”. The hired candid photographers turn on her, each trying to earn a public figure photograph for his own portfolio. And then the chaos ensues, as phone cameras unabashedly zoom in, wanting to capture something, anything about her. They’re all focussed on her every move, and she, battling between staying calmly in character (celeb) and letting her hair down (it’s a friend’s wedding). ‘Paparazzi get paid to do it, what do people get?’ I thought as she was followed around, phone in hand, camera switched on, clicking away. I think it’s worth mentioning, mainly because I stood behind some of these cameras, peering into the screens. The point was to get ‘some picture’ not necessarily a good one.
This is when the selfie requests start. My celeb friend took more pictures that night than my wedded friend — requests came at the rate of six per minute. I stopped keeping count at one point, but the crowd that thronged her was by all means quicker than those queuing up to take pictures with the couple. My question answered itself — people get liked and popular by showing themselves off near a celebrity of social media.
I observed four things in this slew of selfies. One is the bizarre requests. Said one woman to my friend, “My husband is a great fan of yours. Can you hold him while I click the photo?” I was stunned for a second before I burst out laughing. Second is using the selfie as an excuse for self-promotion.
“I’m a dancer. I’m a comedian. Can I have your number to send some clips?” There is the surpassing of real and reel boundaries that happens. Somehow it’s taken for granted that my friend will take a dig at her lightly because she does so on screen and this includes unwelcome, discomfiting comments on her make-up, smile, voice and body. Number four, the complete breach of her private space. ‘Sister’ they say, and stand almost on her feet, ‘Madam’ they say only an inch away from her cheek.
Now, being a celebrity, she must smile through all of this, take it with a pinch of salt, hide her horror and believe it’s all in good humour. ‘She must’ I say because she’s got no choice. If she speaks her mind or refuses the selfie deluge, she’ll be labelled too uptight, egoistic, or hostile, and given the state of the entertainment business, drop right through to the bottom before she can blink. So a person who loves her job, loves meeting people, knows how to have a laugh and makes people laugh daily, must stay silent even as her privacy is infringed upon and her boundaries are re-drawn for her.
She was shaken when few drunk men came too close to her for a picture. I wanted to scream, “Buzz off. She may be a celebrity but first she is a person who needs to have her private space respected. She is no object that you own purely on the basis of your fandom. Just let her be.” But for her sake I did not, so here I rant. The next time she expects sympathy I promise to give it to her. The next time you see a favourite celebrity, promise to remember that it’s not always fun to be one.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton