Contrary to what the headline may suggest, this is an article on marketing and not cinema. As we must wish the actor a speedy recovery for reasons beyond just the duly humanitarian. He is a rare if not the only mainstream celebrity to be vilified by a socio-legal system and yet permitted to make a socio-professional comeback. This makes him a uniquely valuable role model for our hugely judgemental nation.
When it comes to our public figures, with the exception of politicians, we are a hugely black and white species. It comes possibly from a blend of mythology and family where villains and heroes are clearly demarcated in daily narratives and dealings. Usually there is no room for course alteration and paths once created become the default GPS of destiny. Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja never quite regained their first-class stature while Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya will endure a similar, albeit more painful, flight path. Chanda Kochchar and Rhea Chakrabarty are awaiting the jury’s verdict and their future will be certainly unidimensional, whether positive or negative; other such proven felons in corporate or adjacent professions have slid into oblivion even after fair sentences have been duly served.
Now, this is very different in the West where the role of emotions is perhaps less overpowering and there are many instances. After the insider trading sentence, Rajat Gupta was hastily removed from the ISB Board, the IIT Alumni hall of fame and sundry Indian privileges. Yet in the USA, in spite of being stripped of Mckinsey credentials, he gets a second chance to create meaningful impact and rejoin mainline society. Hansie Cronje was given a similar licence as were the many leaders of states who routinely fall into the sex scandal trap and you know who they are. Perhaps this is a function of imperialistic origins as the journey to acquiring colonies was laced with criminal actions and thus the tolerance for comebacks is an act of empathy and not sympathy.
Now, this is exactly where Sanju Baba is a fascinating aberration as it would be otherwise unthinkable for an alleged Bombay Riots ‘collaborator’ to get a serious next chance. If true, it was an offence way above the mowing down of pavement dwellers or hunting black bucks, which were either accidents or profligaties of wealth. Did we love him so much that we were willing to ignore a potential act of sedition or is this also a strange manifestation of entitlement that reversely affects the beholder? To me the answer lies in a unique concoction of vulnerability and honesty that has always defined his appearance and personality, egged on by a string of personal failures that made him so endearing. Unlike the other villains of our age who came across as confident and in total control, thus leading to a hasty diminishing of the sympathy quotient. Even at the prime of his downfall, in every press conference or media photo, he seemed to be on the verge of volcanic repentance and not gallantly defending a slippery turf. Each of us secretly witnessed a bit of him in a part of us and that is why we smoothly accepted him as one of us.
Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a significant departure in our assessment of fallen ladies and gentlemen, provoked by their frailties to perform acts of disrepute, whether unethical or illegal. We live in a very ambitious and demanding society and circumstances connected to survival, growth or sheer greed may lead to questionable actions. While certainly not condoning such deviations it is important to note that people deserve a second chance if they have been sufficiently penalised for their first debacle and show reasonable evidence of turning the corner. Jessica’s assassin is a classic case in point as Manu Sharma had been responsible for creating a business model in Tihar while losing the best years of his life in a dark and dreary cell. Surely this is not an endorsement of his crime but simply a resolution that a solitary life deserves a second opportunity and who are we to deny anybody this lease. Mythological legend suggests that Maharishi Valmiki was a dacoit before he became a saint and surely this is the finest endorsement of this school of thought.
On Sanjay Dutt, it must be said that his acting potential has been reasonably fulfilled courtesy appropriate scripts and motivating directors. Which in turn was accepted by audiences in a candid spirit not subverted by any past associations, however counter-intuitive this action might have been. Maybe those villains of the present day seeking a sequel in their life trajectory can earn a lesson or two from the film actor, largely in the arena of being truthful about their defects, in private and public. The India of today would thus view them with due respect and empathy opening frontiers for redemption and fulfilment.
On the current cancer crisis, I am certain that he will take the nearest flight to Sloan Kettering in New York, where his mother battled, or a suitable peer. This is not the subject matter for a mere MBBS and we must wish Munnabhai loads of luck in his toughest battle.
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