At a recent event to promote a bicycle brand, actor Arjun Kapoor was at his carefree best. He joked with the audience, teased the media for thronging the event for a “free buffet” and cycled inside the luxury hotel's conference hall. And, when asked to strike a pose, he told shutterbugs that he would do what he wanted with his new pair of wheels.
The Tevar star had earlier grabbed headlines for his role in the controversial All India Bakchod Knockout, a comedy gig where participants took a dig at each other. And, a few weeks later, Arjun was dancing in four-inch-high red heels at the IIFA Awards.
His antics, expectedly, found both fans and critics. But, what most of us overlooked was how the 'I don't care' (IDoC) culture was rearing its head in Bollywood. Whether it’s being candid about their personal lives, doing crazy things for fun, being easily accessible on social media or voicing their opinions, the rules of stardom, it seems, have changed. “The less you care, the more you are loved,” says singer-composer Sukh E, aka Sukhdeep Singh Dayal.
Unlike the previous generation of celebrities, which conducted itself cautiously in public, the stars of today don't seem to care about their “image” or society. They believe in being themselves and living life on their own terms. After all, a carefree life is much more spontaneous than a curated lifestyle.
“Change is inevitable,” says Arjun. “Compared with the past, actors of today don't mind being tapped into as human beings, and not just as stars or commodities. Why restrict yourself when you can meet people who write well, speak well, share your interests and understand you?”
Confident, and often brazen, celebrities know how to lead a normal life even with the spotlight on them. It may appear like we are embracing the IDoC approach but, in reality, stars are just being themselves even in full public glare, says Arjun.
Moreover, being yourself seems to be the new marketing fad. While the trend is a symbol of growing individualism in urban India, says director Shoojit Sircar, it is also a marketing gimmick. “Celebrities want a lot of attention and their carefree attitude helps them grab more eyeballs,” he says.
It also reflects the evolution of the trade and the stars, says Sukh E. “The new crop of celebrities is more mature. They realise that, like any other profession, they are doing a job, too. Fame is just a byproduct of this profession, so why should it alter how I live?”
Earlier, a star was considered a “unique unattainable species”, but that is changing now, says stand-up comedian Kanan Gill, who shot to fame with his YouTube channel Pretentious Movie Reviews.
In the past, interaction with celebrities was limited and people didn't see them very often. The advent of social media, however, has prodded celebrities to share their lives and has brought them closer to people. This, in turn, means more popularity and projects, says Kanan. “Celebrities have recognised that if people relate to them at a personal level, they will love them more than if they remain a weird, mysterious, shrouded figure that walks in the clouds.”
Agrees model-turned actor Milind Soman. “After all, any publicity is good publicity,” he says. Being candid, reckless and assertive in both reel and real life appeals to the young audience. Besides, in a highly competitive industry like Bollywood, being image-bound stunts a star’s growth, says Sukh E.
Little wonder then that actors like Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Sonakshi Sinha and Shraddha Kapoor are up to their necks in endorsement deals. Take, for instance, Ranveer’s high-energy music video for Chinese food brand Ching’s Secret, or his cheesy advertisement for undergarment brand Rupa.
The carefree attitude has also opened new revenue streams for celebrities. They are now being paid more than 01 lakh to post promotional messages for products on social media. These posts promote a brand but also have information about the star's life and routine. Recently, for instance, Sonakshi and badminton ace Saina Nehwal posted about their favourite Starbucks beverages. Actor Neha Dhupia, meanwhile, talked about fashion label Vogue and comedian Kapil Sharma wrote about Honda.
Meanwhile, the way people look at celebrities has changed, too. Nowadays, they don't think a star is a demigod. A star is one among them, someone who has shortcomings and makes mistakes, says Kanan. And, this change of perception is proving to be a boon. “Who doesn't like to crack a joke or get sloshed at parties? When a bigwig does it, it becomes a huge thing. But, when someone whom you can relate to at a personal level does it, you say 'oh! I also do that' and you forgive and forget,” he says.
Milind, however, looks at it as a larger societal change. Thanks to the socio-economic development, technological advancement and high level of education, Indian society has become more liberal. “Whether it is the film industry or the corporate world, boundaries are blurring in every sector,” he says. “That is why you have open offices where bosses don't have cabins. All these are signs of freedom. The new society is less judgmental, okay about a lot of things and curious to explore new things. The last bastion of intolerance, perhaps, is religion. I am hopeful that, in the future, that, too, will weaken.”
Ranveer's latest car ad sums it up. The actor refuses to be driven to an awards night by his chauffeur. Instead, he takes the wheel. “The rules have changed,” he says, “celebrities don’t care!”