CINEMA HAS ALWAYS been larger than life. Its actors and actresses have been magnified, often to such an uncomfortable extent that even a tiny wart on the face appears distinctly ugly. And their mannerisms and attitudes have been open not just to public scrutiny but emulation as well. When Humphrey Bogart puffed away on the screen, the cigarette found a new ally and respectability. Hundreds of his fans had the stick between their lips, heralding the image of a hero whose aura was created by the smoke that surrounded him, rather than by his ability to act. Never mind, Bogart died of cancer. Marilyn Monroe’s lightning pace of living — which took her from nudity to sexual glory to pillpopping precarious existence — had innumerable teenage admirers who were blind to the morbidity and suicidal streak in her.
At home, Mr. Rajesh Khanna’s “Guru Kurta” set an almost crazy trend in fashion during the 19 70s. This is the kind of power—usually negative and sometimes destructive — movie men and women have exuded over the ages, and however different they might have been otherwise, their screen image was what caught people’s fancy.
It is precisely in this context that Mr. Salman Khan’s “shikar” near Jodhpur assumes disturbing proportions. Recently, he began to top the popularity charts; a couple of his films have been doing well, and, if reports are to be believed, the success seems to have gone to his head. He and Mr. Saif Ali Khan, another accused in the black buck-chinkara poaching case, were found to be trigger-happy, probably re-enacting their cinematic parts that give them superhuman strength and a demi-god status. Somewhere, these men and women (there were some actresses) appear to have lost sight of the line that divides the real world from the one that the projector sets in motion. The Bishnois on whose “sacred” territory this game was played and who filed the first complaint are also guilty a blinkered view: they have reportedly said that they are angrier with the locals, than with Mr. Khan and his group, for being part of the hunt, What do the stars know about our customs and sentiments — that we worship the black buck...”, the Bishnois have commented.
The glamour and appeal are at work all right, but can Mr. Khan and the rest feign ignorance of a very well known fact that killing endangered species is a criminal offence? In any case, ignorance of the law is no defence. One can reasonably conclude that the act had to do with a sense of (false) bravado, whose price will also have to be paid by some producers and, more important, by gullible youngsters, who want to ape their favourite heroes and heroines.
Celebrities have a lesson to learn from this unfortunate incident. Their public life will always be under the glare of bright lights. What may look innocuous to them will hardly be so once it has been blown up and copied by hundreds of fans or supporters. If thousands of men and women took up the “charka” to be one with Gandhiji, probably there are already some who would have taken to the gun to hunt down defenceless animals. In a country where poaching is a terrible problem that has led to the mass destruction of wildlife, those who rule our celluloid waves cannot afford to be so callous and set positively dangerous trends. If Mr. Khan and others are guilty, the Indian movie industry — the largest in the world must condemn such heinous activity and make a united effort to send the right message to the hundreds of thousands of viewers. Cinema should never forget that it has a great social responsibility.