Do movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan need celebrities to make their case? Evidently they do, because a day after Aamir Khan spoke out the issue has moved centrestage.
Narmada, SC verdict, Medha's fast, Modi's fast - suddenly yesterday's 'who wants to hear gaon waalon ka dukhda' story becomes a cool news opera with characters, drama, action.
Now of course it would not have been the same had someone like say, Akshay Kumar come out and said "I support Narmada". You could easily dismiss him as "Chha - publicity seeker."
It's the perfect fit of Aamir - the guy who generally cultivates a private persona - coming out and making a strong statement for a cause, in a reasonably well informed manner that has caught attention. Rang de Basanti effect? Well, he says, maybe. But it's not that simple.
Yes celebrities are human beings and may feel strongly about any issue. But most would prefer to air their views privately, or keep quiet.
Actors rarely get involved in causes that involve any kind of lafda. It's one thing to exhort parents to ask their kids to take polio drops or 'donate eyes after death'. Quite another to take up for something which will ruffle feathers in the government and political circles.
So Aamir Khan is either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. This action cements his "I'm different from the rest of Bollywood" persona. And what's the worst that can happen - people threaten to boycott his films?
The next one - Fanaa - was destined to be a hit from the day it went on the floor. Who wouldn't want to see Kajol making her comeback - and the first time on-screen with Aamir. In a Yashraj production.
Considering the care that Aamir takes to pick and choose his film roles, I'm pretty sure the same applies to anything else he chooses to do. Including supporting the NBA cause.
Why Aamir makes sense
The reason Aamir's line will find support is that he isn't opposing the dam per se. He admits, Kutch has a water problem (that's where he spent 6 months shooting Lagaan). So a dam is required. And it will displace some villages and families.
Aamir's appeal is "rehabilitate them properly". Which is what the Supreme Court has decreed. It is what the NBA of 2006 is also asking for, although in the past it opposed big dams on principle. Now perhaps this opposition was based on sound reasons but as far as the thirsty people of 4 Gujarat and city dwellers like me were concerned, NBA appeared to be 'anti progress'.
And therefore, as time went by, Medha Patkar got embedded into our consciousness as a 'troublemaker'. What she was making trouble about - exactly - was never completely clear. Again it could be the complexity of the issue or my lack of receptiveness or the inability of NBA to communicate it effectively.
Then, Arundhati Roy came on the scene and although she did raise the profile of the cause significantly, she was again a 'leftist' type as far as I was concerned. By leftist type I mean people who raise question marks but do not provide alternative solutions. People who seem to be principally against change and 'progress' of any sort.
So Aamir Khan may be less committed and less well informed than Roy but his words echo a stand that any citizen of this country would agree with. Resettle the affected families. Not just with cash but by giving them 'land for land'.
If there is not enough land, I say we should look for out-of-the-box solutions. Retrain and reskill the oustees to set up cottage industries. Or team up with industrial houses to set up new townships. Yes, some may lose their traditional way of life but this could be a new way of life. Not necessarily worse than the old one.
That's the 'let's be positive about this' side of the story. But it doesn't really work given that the government's intentions appear far from honourable. All available reports so far suggest it's an utter and complete mess out there.
Due to this hue and cry, a lone TV camera finally made its way to a 'rehabilitated village' in Madhya Pradesh. There, NDTV found 62 plots of land carved out for a proposed resettlement of 800 families.
The Supreme Court has asked all 4 governments to submit a report on the rehabilitation status within a week. But who knows if anyone will care about this issue in a week's time? Last week this time it was 'reservation', now it's rehabilitation. By next week, there will be something new.
So it looks like Aamir can't just 'voice his opinion' and step back. He will have to keep the issue alive.
Now that a large enough number of people have accepted Aamir speaking out as 'sincere' they're going to expect him to carry on the fight. Maybe this is unfair. After all, so many of us sent an sms to 'fight for Jessica' or simply signed an online petition against reservation and felt we had 'done our bit'.
In that sense Aamir has done enough. It's unfair to expect him to be like Bono. The rocker who "charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world’s richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest".
But as they keep on saying - "Rang de Basanti effect". Once the characters made certain choices the film had to lead to a certain logical end. Although it kept emphasising that violence is not the answer. "We all must do something to make this country a better place."
Is 'doing' restricted to voicing our opinions? Or is there some more concrete way for those who "feel" to participate? Whether celebrity or ordinary citizen - that is the question.