If you have been reading your local newspapers and especially their Sunday supplements, you would have noticed that private colleges and universities in particular regularly invite film stars, starlets and wannabes to their campuses. So much so that this has become the USP of such institutions. The website of Chandigarh University, for example, has a whole page dedicated to the so-called “Bollywood celebrities” who have performed at the place.
The huge list includes Jahnvi Kapoor and Ishan Khattar; Tiger Shroff and Remo d’Souza; Parineeti Chopra and Siddharth Malhotra; Sonkashi Sinha and Jassie Gill; Arjun Kapoor; John Abraham; Bahubali 2 star cast; Abhishek Bachchan; Madhavan and Kangana Ranaut; Taapsee Pannu; Farhan Akhtar and Gippy Grewal; Sanjay Dutt; Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapoor; Katrina Kaif; Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani; Sonam Bajwa; Ranbit Kapoor and Ananya Pandey et al. The so-called ‘celebrities’ who were invited to ITS Engineering College, Greater Noida, as per its own website, include Sharman Joshi, Arjun Rampal, Tamannaah Bhatia, Shraddha Kapoor, Kunal Khemu and Hina Khan. Phew! I wonder, why do we need them at a university?
Recently, Rana Daggubati, Surveen Chawla and Karan Anshuman were invited to Bennett University to promote their series, Rana Naidu. Loud cheers welcomed the team and chants of Bhallaladeva (Rana’s character from Bahubali) echoed the grounds. It was followed by an interactive session, lots of selfies with the team and autographs. Verve, the dance club of the students, presented a dance performance for the team. I have yet to figure out what do the students learn from interactive sessions with such people.
When recently Farhan Akhtar and some others were invited to Poornima University, Jaipur (for promoting a Telugu film Dasara, amongst other things), the students were allowed to reside on the university campus for three consecutive days—the university’s excuse was that it fostered teamwork, sportsmanship, and other essential skills! My God, what an excuse!
I fail to understand, why colleges have to have such fests in the first place. Are their students bored otherwise? If they are bored, why they are bored? Don’t they like their studies? If they really need entertainment, why don’t they have it at their homes? Remember, a great deal of time in college is wasted in preparation and rehearsals also for such fests. Are their students so brilliant that they are left with so much spare time after completing their syllabi? When do these students study?
The film personalities are invited to colleges on various pretexts like annual sports and cultural fests, etc. They are also invited to promote their upcoming films and, given the huge, compulsive viewership from students seeking cheap titillation, the colleges do an excellent job of promoting films. The Times of India pointed out in July 2016 that film producers had cleverly figured out that, college campuses, with their highly gullible, star-struck and excitable student crowd melting at mere selfies or shaking a leg with celebrities, provided the ideal platform for trailer launches to releasing title tracks at zero cost. These people hold such sway over the minds of the dumb students that singer Kanika Kapoor felt free to go to Lady Shri Ram College for Women to launch a cosmetic product!
I regard visits of film stars to colleges an outrageous insult to education itself, which they are supposed to impart. Are colleges meant to provide cheap entertainment to students? Are colleges supposed to provide platforms for the promotion of films for their commercial benefit? Are colleges supposed to showcase women who, in the perception of millions upon millions of viewers, are nothing more than eye candy, if not downright sex symbols?
A unique Indian obsession – colleges abroad don’t do it
This disgusting phenomenon is unique to India and is one of the reasons for the poor academic performance of our private colleges in terms of research output or academic excellence. Have you ever heard of such a thing happening in the USA, Canada, UK or any country in Europe; in institutions that are renowned for their educational achievements? Educational institutions are treated as hallowed places. They do not ‘pollute’ them by inviting riff-raff there for patently non-academic activities. The top 10 Hollywood actors and actresses of 2022 include Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Lawrence, Alexandra Daddario, Scarlett Johansson, Emma Watson and Elizabeth Olsen. They have made great money alright and are popular too. But their popularity is not allowed to seep into academic institutions. You can run a Google check yourself and confirm that there was not even a single occasion when they were ‘invited’ by a college or university of repute to ‘entertain’ the students there or to promote their films.
The institutions draw a clear Lakshman Rekha in this regard. Colleges are for imparting education and serious academic activity; if students want entertainment, there are hundreds of thousands of avenues outside the campuses and they are absolutely free to enjoy themselves. However, the college campus shall not be allowed to be used for promoting Bollywood’s commercial interests or to entertain students—as simple as that. That is how those nations produce great thinkers, scientists and inventors, whereas we, at best, produce techno-coolies, not innovators. They produce designers of cars; we produce car mechanics. They produce computer hardware and software; we produce coders. We have some 33 crore vehicles in the country but it was only in 1998 that Tata Motors could produce the first indigenously designed car, the Tata Indica, which, incidentally was not successful!
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Colleges must educate students, not entertain
Let us get it straight. Why does a society open colleges and universities? To impart education, of course; isn’t it? Then why do they waste so much of the limited academic time of the students in such extra-curricular activities, particularly when their curricular activity, that is, academics is weak anyway? There is no running away from the fact that the academic credentials of such colleges, which spend a great deal of time and resources on such extra-curricular activities, are highly dubious. There is absolutely no research worth its name by their faculty members. Usually, not a single research paper in a peer-reviewed journal is ever published by them. As such, there are purely degree-awarding factories.
However, they have reduced the standard of even those run-of-the-mill degrees so much that they have become merely places for entertainment for kids from rich families who could not secure admissions to colleges, which demanded higher percentages or had admission tests. Such colleges exist mainly to make their students pass their prescribed time happily and comfortably. They take their degrees essentially for societal acceptance so that they are not derided as dropouts; they never acquire any knowledge or academic skills. College life has been made into fun life, with academics being an unavoidable burden on the side.
For God’s sake, let no one give a stupid argument that by such extra-curricular activities, they are trying for the all-round development of the students. What all-around development they are talking about? Their primary and only task is to impart education in the specific field on which the student has enrolled. There is no such agreement with the students or their parents that the colleges shall also undertake giving ‘informal training’ to the students through such fests from performers in the entertainment industry.
Students, who take admitted there, do not sign a contract with the colleges for their “grooming” or all-around development that includes dancing, singing, acting or whatever. The development of every student as a responsible citizen is his or her own responsibility in the first place. If they are considered worthy enough by society to cast their votes and elect governments, they are, by definition, worthy enough to be responsible citizens also. If they want to learn acting, singing, dancing, or whatever, they are free to do so, but they must do it in their private time from their homes or join appropriate institutes like the NSD or FTII. The time in an academic institution cannot be allowed to be wasted on such things.
Entertainers must not be allowed to become role models for students
If you read the title carefully, you will notice that I have qualified it by saying ‘for students’. The logic is simple. A citizen is free to become or aspire to become anything in life, including an entertainer or, for that matter, a porn star. Since a student is also a citizen, he or she is also free to aspire to become an entertainer. It is their life anyway. However, they should strive for becoming whatever they want to become during their time after school or college. The school or college exists to provide them with education. They must pursue their hobbies, passions, or whatever in their own time and with their own resources. The school or college may also have students who, due to sheer bad luck or whatever, could not get admission to other institutions and their parents might be of limited means. Why should the college or the other (better off) students force them to waste their time and money in the name of such fests and extra-curricular activities?
Let me return to my basic question, what are the students supposed to gain from these film stars, starlets or wannabes? The poor intellectual standard of the students (or should I say epic dumbness?) can be easily judged from the answers they gave to this question in a survey by The Telegraph in December 2022. Let us have a sampling. I must warn you, the answers could qualify as abetment to banging your head on the wall!
- Film stars can be good role models because they can inspire many to take action.
- Some of them believe in an environment-friendly life and leverage their fame to influence others.
- Preity Zinta received an honorary doctorate from the University of East London for her humanitarian work. Her acceptance speech is inspirational.
- Film stars teach us to be positive and deal with criticism the right way.
- Their fit bodies are a reminder that staying healthy is as important as doing well in their studies.
- Film stars have had to struggle long and hard to reach the pedestal they are now on. They have gone from broke to rich. The story of such a life can be an inspiration for students.
To be fair, I must mention that some students, howsoever few, did speak disapprovingly of some film stars endorsing pan masala, keeping illegal weapons, poaching antelope, and driving drunk. You can easily see, however, how they miss the basic problems of idolizing film stars or taking them as role models.
The reality of entertainers called film stars
I have been a student myself and, in my life, have also interacted with hundreds of thousands of students. They watch films mainly for the sex appeal of female actors or the action scenes of male actors. No boy, I repeat no boy, watches a film for the so-called acting skills of a female actor. Let us have a modicum of intellectual honesty. For young male viewers, a female actor is nothing more than a sex object—one who gives flight to their sexual fantasies and effectively serves as a ‘masturbatory aid’. Any claim to the contrary is pure chicanery. It has been demonstrated thousands of times that the portrayal of women in most (emphasis is on most) films of India is utterly stereotyped—more often than not, their roles are limited to dancing half-naked and as much as possible for no apparent reason; being found in very few provocative clothes in ‘justifiable’ situations such as by the poolside or taking a shower under a waterfall; playing seductress to the hero and appear sexually ‘sizzling’ in the process of wooing him or being wooed by him; being the object of lust for the villain or getting raped by him (which provides an excellent opportunity for scenes that lead to whistles and catcalls from the audience); getting in trouble with the villain; and finally getting rescued by the hero. Let us face it, awards or no awards; the sexual desirability or the ‘hotness quotient’ of a female actor is virtually synonymous with her success in the profession.
The educational qualifications of practically every Bollywood actor are available on the Internet. While some of them do have some useless college degrees for the name of it, most of them are half-educated. In any case, even those who have degrees are not known for any cerebral qualities. For all practical purposes, they are nothing more than their bodies and histrionic skills.
Entertainers serve only a limited purpose in society; they are not essential for the existence and survival of society. Amongst its people, the three vital pillars of a society are those who defend it from its enemies (the soldiers); those who produce things essential for its sustenance (the farmers and the industrial workers); and those who think (that is, the intellectuals who create or invent things). This is precisely what the ancient Greeks also believed in. No wonder, it very aptly finds an echo in this era also in our nation in the slogan of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan’.
Now, let no one argue that acting is an art and actors are artists. Fine, we know that. Point is, they are not essential. Nothing would happen to the nation if all the actors, singers or dancers of the country cease to exist one fine night. However, if the soldiers, farmers or scientists were to disappear, the nation would collapse in no time.
Misplaced priorities and value systems of the colleges
The question is why don’t these colleges ever invite somebody whose intellectual contributions have rendered yeoman service to the nation? Everybody is aware of the contributions of the ISRO, DRDO, BARC and even some private sector manufacturing concerns like Larsen and Toubro towards the development of weapon systems very critical for the defence of the country, including all of our Agni series and Prithvi missiles, artillery systems, and the nuclear submarine, besides the battery of our satellites. Do these colleges think that the scientists from such places are not good role models for students?
Talking of women achievers, we have outstanding scientists like Dr Tessy Thomas (Director General, Aeronautical Systems, DRDO); Suma Varughese (Director General, Micro Electronic Devices, Computational Systems & Cyber Systems, DRDO); Anuradha T. K. (former satellite project director at ISRO); Ritu Karidhal (Deputy Operations Director to India’s Mars orbital mission, Mangalyaan) and many others. These colleges invite women who earn their living by dancing half-naked on-screen but not such cerebral women.
It is utterly disappointing that colleges have been reduced to playschools for adult boys and girls. Look around yourself from morning until bedtime and find out for yourself—how many things that you use from brushing your teeth to the air-conditioner that you use in the bedroom, have been invented in India? Not one, I repeat not one. Your laptop might have fifty programs on it—how many of them have been invented in India by our software coolies? Not one. A large part of the blame for this pathetic situation goes to these playschools for adults that go by the name of colleges.