By CHIRAG MALKANI
BONO, the rockstar and activist, acknowledges the power of celebrity, saying: “It’s silly, but it’s a kind of currency, and you have to spend it wisely.” That is, if you spend it at all. Yes, there are famous personalities who, like Bono, have aligned themselves to social causes – but are there enough of them, especially in India?
News of Shah Rukh Khan winning the Crystal award for championing children’s and women’s rights at the World Economic Forum at Davos last month – alongside Cate Blanchett and Elton John – took many by surprise. Not because the Bollywood icon lacks generosity but because the fact that he is the founder of the Meer Foundation, that care for victims of acid attacks, is little known.
It is of course an individual’s prerogative to remain anonymous about their charitable work. The question is, if that individual is a star, are they doing a disservice to the cause of philanthropy by keeping mum?
A few months ago, there was a post here, in The Small Print, on the quiet altruism of the late George Michael. The millions of dollars he donated to support children, cancer victims and AIDS sufferers only came to light after his death. Perhaps he did not want to tar the charities he supported with the negative publicity his personal life attracted in the media or be associated with the kind of celebrities who brag about their giving.
Surely, there is a middle ground.
Deepika Padukone opening up and talking about her own experience with depression when she founded The Live Love Laugh Foundation has given new impetus to address mental health in a country where the subject has been taboo for too long.
Similarly, the development sector collectively applauded when Aamir Khan launched Satyamev Jayate in 2012, a show that was a real turning point in India demonstrating what a star could do with his fame, to bring issues such as female foeticide and child abuse into the living room.
The TV series over three seasons reached millions of homes and raised crores for the NGOs it featured. But most importantly, as quiz show host Siddhartha Basu, said: “I think Aamir makes for a pensive and studied Oprah. More power to him and even more power to issues he raises that affect us all. Hopefully, it will get people thinking and acting on it on a much bigger scale.”
The United Nations select so many celebrity ambassadors for a reason: they have a huge following and can use their power to influence those who love them.
Celebrities are in a privileged position to give – not only their money but also their fame to raise awareness of a cause to reach a targeted audience and move them to action. Doors open which normally wouldn’t for an activist. The issues they support are amplified and fans are won over by the persuasive power of their idols.
In India, Bollywood icons and cricket superstars have a massive, almost religious following. The same reach which is used to endorse and sell products can be used to ignite compassion and endorse giving to create positive change. In this age of social media, it has never been easier for celebrities to reach out to their followers and raise awareness of a cause they feel strongly about.
Chirag Malkani holds a boring IT job while he dabbles in a bit of writing. He cares for social change and urban sustainability and is deeply interested in human rights. Originally from Kolkata, he lives in Bengaluru and is a keen cyclist.