“Are you kidding me? In what world is this okay and allowed?” Alia Bhatt’s question, unfortunately, has a non-palatable answer.
In the social media-verse where it is all about getting clicks, reels and instant gratification, privacy is collateral damage. The word ‘privacy’ is not in the lexicon of that entitled bunch called the paparazzi.
Boundaries have been crossed quicker than a Suryakumar Yadav’s blink-and-miss hit to the fence, and everything is fine, until it’s not.
What happened with Alia is not just an invasion of her privacy but also terrifying. Imagine relaxing in the safe space of your own living room and realising, suddenly, that you are exposed, being watched. “I was at my house having a perfectly normal afternoon sitting in my living room when I felt something watching me… I looked up and saw two men on the terrace of my neighbouring building with a camera right at me!” she posted, clearly shaken. Who would not be?
25 years after the British paparazzi chased Lady Diana to her death, their Indian versions have come into their own and that is not a compliment.
They are bloodthirsty. They are relentless. They may even be unhinged in the hunt for “exclusive” shots. Their disdain for an individual’s privacy is remarkable.
Alia has a baby daughter at home, and she rightfully shields her from the cameras. When does the pursuit become an obsession, crossing the line? What next? Celebrity home invasion using our cameras? They are closing in and, some may argue, have crossed into stalker territory.
It is not just the camera. On most days, only a phone will do. Even for a so-called ‘influencer’ or an ordinary citizen on the street, celebrities are fair game. Click, upload, post. Wait for the likes.
Even ChatGPT will have no answer for this interplay of roles – a fan or a camera person one moment and a stalker the next. Social media, the world where non-entities become celebrities, is a gift that keeps on giving.
When cricketer Prithvi Shaw reportedly refused a selfie with a social media influencer, she took it so badly that not only was the cricketer manhandled by her group but they also attacked his car with a baseball bat. Also over a selfie, singer Sonu Nigam was pushed by a man on stage during a show.
In India, privacy debates have by and large centred around data protection, and individuals are left to fight their own battles. The lines may be blurred but there are some unwritten rules. Children, for one. Anushka Sharma says repeated requests to not click her and cricketer Virat Kohli’s daughter have gone unheard and ignored. The paparazzi think nothing of zooming in on little Vamika in her mother’s arms, watching her father play. Much like Alia, this couple was also clicked unguarded at home. But two years after they called it out, the rot is spreading.
There are some like Kareena Kapoor who pop up on our timelines almost daily and clearly don’t mind the cameras. Quite a few actors solicit the attention. Their PR agencies share “tip-offs” and the paparazzi just happen to catch them outside gyms, salons, and the airport.
But how does the search for content lead to someone’s living room?
If there is even a fraction of voyeurism involved in all this – as it certainly appears to be – then let’s just call it like it is. They are not even the paparazzi, just a bunch of sleazy men.
Many Bollywood stars have come out in support of Alia and have slammed the publication that posted the photos.
In the name of content, social media has taken tabloid journalism and shredded it even more. Anyone with a smartphone and ambition can start chasing stars.
But the buck doesn’t stop with the paparazzi. Editors who sanction these photos and allow them to be posted cannot shrug off responsibility.
Consent is absent and silence is implied consent. Tomayto, tomahto for paps.
Truth be told, Bollywood itself has not championed the concept of consent, unless the impact is personal.
Sushmita Sen isn’t wrong when she says privacy is a myth. But look around you, it is not just the celebs who suffer intrusions into their daily lives. Standing in a queue, whether at the airport or at a supermarket, people and their armpits breath down your neck, tech companies mine personal data as though it is their right, and personal space – er, what is that?
Privacy, then, is subjective. It depends on how badly we want it. For now, it seems, not badly enough. Will the noise over Alia’s privacy violation inspire a course correction? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
(Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava worked with NDTV for more than a decade and now writes on a variety of topics for several news organisations. She is the author of ‘Stoned, Shamed, Depressed’.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
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