We are a country teeming with people who are by and large good as also distinctive, quirky and argumentative. We certainly like to wear our hearts on our sleeves. When the gargantuan mass of emotional Indians discovered social media, heavens and earth began resounding with our opinions, discussions, debates and emotions. Recently, when a much loved and popular celebrity died, we went through the all-consuming emotional process of dealing with the loss.
Why did we pour out our anguish, question and speculate and bicker bitterly on social media?
We grieved, our sorrow spilling into the social media. We watched old movies and searched the internet for favourite songs, movie clips and interviews. The death being sudden, unexpected and untimely, we also searched for answers, hoping to make some sense of the senseless death. We looked for closure.
While we were united in our shock, we were deeply fragmented in our reactions and opinions. Shock and disbelief gave way to uncomfortable questions. Once the news broke there was no holding back the discussions and debates despite the fact that we all knew that answers take time. We were an impatient lot! While some of us mourned the demise, others dissected her life. While some were kind to her memory, others were ready to tear it apart.
Social media turned into a war zone of judgment, accusations and counter accusations. Many times decency and dignity of debate were thrown out of the window with vicious personal attacks being the order of the day. The attitude was holier than thou, straining at the reins of decency to judge the celebrity and one another.
India's mighty large online populace loosely fell into five types:
Karma is a bitch
This segment, devoid of any sympathy for the actor, openly condemned her for breaking up her husband’s earlier family and forcing him to abandon his wife and little children. Caught up in a web of sanctimoniousness, they attributed her early death to the negative karma she had accumulated due to her horrible deeds.
Her personal life was dissected in sordid detail.
Karma, the universal causal law by which good or bad actions determine the future modes of an individual’s existence, was decoded and reinvented many times over. You reap what you sow and all that jazz. Good riddance!
Plastic surgery and diets ahoy!
This analytical section of people with a questioning mindset sought explanations for her death. While theories like suicide, murder and poor health swirled within their minds, they looked into the reasons for a cardiac arrest, initially said to be the official cause of death.
Suddenly everyone was an expert on botox.
They sometimes questioned her lifestyle, speculating about her innumerable surgical procedures and faulty diet methodology. While many tried to raise a red flag about this alarming trend, others criticised the actor for being self-obsessed. There were those who were concerned about the spread of harmful fads and there were those who were bitterly angry at her for propagating them.
Some were empathetic while others believed that a woman chasing the futile dream of eternal youth needed no sympathy. Moderates and extremists.
Let it be
These were fans who celebrated only her life and talent. Ignoring all negative comments, hate articles or speculations, they spoke about her glorious life and their sweet memories of her. They watched her movies and songs hoping to ingrain into their memory a brilliant actor and a beautiful woman. They went about their business of paying tribute to a great actor they adored, unhindered by unfavourable and uncomplimentary comments, discussions and debates. Live and let live.
Stop the world
This sensitive section of people, overcome by emotion over a life lost too soon and a family grieving the sudden irreplaceable loss, wished for the media circus to stop. They wished for the social media to stop buzzing incessantly with detrimental and damaging write-ups and speculations. They wished that people would respect the family’s loss and allow them to grieve privately. And they poured their hearts out into the social media questioning the need for all the negativity, requesting media and public to abstain and sometimes took hard stances in their writings. Stand on your dignity.
My way or the highway
Then there was this aggressive set that attacked everything that was wrong “in their opinion”. They were the moral brigade shrieking about decency at those who dared to speculate about Sridevi’s death, plastic surgeries, diet pills or her personal life. Their vicious attacks were unrelenting as they took it upon themselves to police anyone who wrote something they did not agree with.
Freedom of expression and respect for other peoples’ opinions be damned! They wanted to Padmaavat-ise everything they believed was incorrect, undignified or disrespectful. The sheer vitriol they poured into the cyber space was mind-numbing, their rants interspersed generously with expletives seeming like an outpouring of crazed minds. Social media bullies!
Freedom of expression is still alive and kicking, I hope! We are a democratic country where freedom of speech is a fundamental right. The hard truth is that different people do think and react differently. That is the foundation of freedom of expression. While it is important to express and state one’s point of view, is it correct to browbeat others into agreeing with it?
She was able to rouse so many kinds of fierce and ardent emotions in so many people.
While it is acceptable to disagree with someone’s opinion is it right to launch vicious personal attacks on them for the very reason? Is it really possible for all humans to think alike? Is it possible that only one point of view is correct? When we call someone judgmental for their opinions about a deceased actor, are we not judging them too for being judgmental? Where does judgement stop and freedom of thought, opinion and expression begin?
We are basically good people. We were so good when Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna, all big superstars, died. We were mostly dignified and restrained when Om Puri died. And we gracefully accepted the sudden death of Rima Lagoo at the age of 58. So what happened to us now? Why was the intensity of feelings, both positive and negative, so powerful? Why did we pour out our anguish, question and speculate and bicker bitterly on social media?
Did it have something to do with her being a stunningly beautiful superstar, an icon, much loved and adored? Was it because she was still in the limelight for her movies and her glamorous appearances? Was it because of dissatisfactory explanations for her death? Probably, all the reasons hold good. This kind of media and fan frenzy was witnessed when Jim Morrison, John Lennon, JF Kennedy, Princess Diana and Michael Jackson died, to name a few.
So maybe we need to see this as a huge compliment to the deceased actor. She was able to rouse so many kinds of fierce and ardent emotions in so many people. She was able to turn the whole nation into an impassioned crowd. If that’s not a compliment, nothing is!