February 25, 2018, was an unusual Sunday. Our pre-Monday blues and daily humdrum were replaced by a profound shock and gloom as we struggled hard to absorb the fact that Sridevi, one of Bollywood’s most proficient matinee idols, was no more.
But how could that be? She was there – just there – asserting her presence on our social media feeds and TV screens, happily posing for photographs at a big fat Indian wedding in Dubai. Ethereal she looked as we sighed at that gorgeous face. Yet she moved on, leaving legions of fans in mourning and disbelief.
The reaction Sridevi’s death has evoked is unprecedented as it should be. After all, she is a megastar and 54 was no age for her to die. She had many more years of acting left in her. The body of work she left behind is both awe-inspiring and difficult to achieve. As our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social handles filled with RIPs, we too dwelled on drafting something eloquent, befitting a star of her stature.
TV channels beamed images of devoted fans outside her residence awaiting her homecoming, and camera angles zoomed in on the galaxy of stars who descended to meet the grieving family. In her tragic death, our grief was collective – or so I thought. Within hours, conspiracy theories were being spun faster than the speed of light. Suddenly her incredible reputation as an artist was set aside to make way for speculations and allegations.
A viral social media post by one Piyali Ganguly offered an expert view on what had cost the actress her life. It squarely blamed Sridevi’s apparent penchant to remain young through plastic surgeries and Botox injections. Clearly, this post was meant as a warning to the perils of defying nature through artificial means. But again, we can agree that there is a time and place for everything – and such pearls of wisdom could have been saved for a later date.
As Sridevi’s death became the national obsession, the wave of sympathy changed its nature to slanderous details. Everything was dug up – her past affairs, present lifestyle, her marriage, her net worth, her daughters, the strained relation with her stepson etc. Theories indicting her husband are making rounds after the post-mortem said it was a case of ‘accidental drowning’ and not cardiac arrest, as had been stated earlier.
The tremendous public and media curiosity surrounding such a high profile case is understandable and it is difficult to stop social media users from contemplating. But in this case, curiosity has been laced with dollops of insensitivity – so much so that even traditional modes of media, like the TV channels, actually had elaborate panel discussions on “how did Sridevi actually die?”, “how inebriated was the actress before drowning in the bathtub?”, “did she lose consciousness before drowning? If so, what was the choice of her beverage?”, etc. A barrage of such insinuating questions was aired on almost every news channels – and it was sick to the point of being nauseating.
Conveniently, these channels seemed to forget that the matter is under investigation. Conducting their own media trial only adds to more gossip fodder. It is, in my opinion, not conducive at all to the ongoing investigative process, not to mention its effect on bereaved family and how insulting it actually is to the memory of an actor who entertained us for almost five decades.
But perhaps, someone really foolish will expect the journalistic spirit of neutrality to prevail in today’s era. The search for truth at all costs often overlooks the ethical codes of impartiality and fairness in journalism. Yes, the truth must prevail – but you cannot expect to accomplish too much through lung-exploding media debates. Under the garb of ‘finding the truth’, the real battle here is for the TRPs – and since Bollywood sells like no other commodity, the emphasis is to create the story as scintillating as possible with no room for empathy. Certain sections of the print media have also proved to be no different in this case.
Public figures are always under media scrutiny – and more so, when they die tragically and in an untimely manner. But the pain of death is always personal and the mental crisis her family is going through is probably unimaginable.
Still, in such a negative environment of maliciousness, the power of choice ultimately lies with us. As audience, readers and active members of social media, it is ultimately our decision to actively participate in encourage/discourage, ignore and stop such petty speculations. Let her truly rest in peace!