The day Samantha Akkineni dropped her surname from her social media account, speculation began that her marriage to Naga Chaitanya had ended. Within a day, “Exclusive” reports claimed that the two were planning a baby. Within another day, anonymous sources said it was disagreement over progeny that had ended the marriage. But then, others opined it was Samantha’s interest in taking up “bold roles” that had prompted the breakup.
Finally, the two posted identical announcements on their respective Instagram accounts, confirming their divorce and referring to each other as “Sam” and “Chay”, as if to indicate they were parting on good terms. Telugu film star Akkineni Nagarjuna made an announcement on his Twitter account, speaking of his sorrow at the breakup of his son’s marriage, and asking for privacy for the family.
However, fans believe they have a right to know what went wrong, and the media is busy analysing every possible clue, from Samantha’s Instagram stories to changes in Naga Chaitanya’s list of followers.
After seven years of feeding and denying rumours, the two married in a grand ceremony in 2017, complete with hashtags and photographs that lasted nearly a week. When that marriage ends, it is perhaps natural for fans to want as much information about its cause as they had about the wedding itself.
Which begs the question—are celebrities entitled to privacy?
One might say that personal and professional lives should be separated. However, we live in an era when celebrities make more money off endorsements, particularly on social media, than they do from their careers. Endorsements have been lucrative for sportsmen and film personalities for decades, but never more than now, when every second post is in “paid partnership”. In fact, social media has prompted the rise of “influencers” with no claim to fame except for a social media following.
Even in the Nineties, celebrities have sold exclusive rights of wedding photographs to tabloids for astronomical sums and other tabloids have tried to get sneak peeks of the forbidden. This might have been among the reasons for the rise of the paparazzi, who—having chased Princess Diana to her death in 1997—fought over capturing her final moments.
One would think the reaction to the accident which killed her might have shamed the paparazzi into keeping their distance from the royal family. But a decade and a half later, Kate Middleton who had been newly coined the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed topless on her honeymoon, thanks to persistent stalking and the availability of powerful zoom lenses.
Births, deaths, marriages, and divorces of celebrities and their kin remain fodder for the media. When famous couples announce that they will not be sharing photographs of their newborns, fans tend to feel cheated. Recently, Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli were snapped boarding a flight with their baby, the side of whose face was momentarily disclosed when Anushka Sharma was adjusting the baby carrier. Kohli was photographed glaring at the camera. Saif Ali Khan’s son with Kareena Kapoor was a sensation partly for his parentage and partly for his name, Taimur. While Taimur’s latest sibling leads a relatively less public existence, the former may have been the most photographed baby in the world for months. Aaradhya Bachchan, who now accompanies her mother Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the red carpet and poses as if in preparation for a future in the family profession, was initially shielded from the press and her mother received her share of flak for covering the baby’s face when the flashbulbs began to go off.
As technology improves and as social media renders exclusives harder to get, it is natural for tabloid reportage to get increasingly desperate and invasive.
However, when celebrities stand to gain so much from being in the news, what with the number of “followers” being a decisive factor in endorsement rates, and when “leaks” are often carefully arranged, can we actually segregate personal and professional lives?
Perhaps we must acknowledge that fans have a right to ask, and celebrities have a right not to answer.
Or perhaps we must re-examine the idea of celebrity. Does what someone is famous for determine whether that person is entitled to a private life without intrusion from the media? Traditionally, sportsmen were in focus on the field alone, while actors’ personal lives were always alluring. However, that too has changed. A case in point is the media criticism of Michael Schumacher’s family’s silence about his condition since his skiing accident in 2013.
Perhaps it all comes down to this—consent. Ideally, a child should not be a celebrity, not even with the parents’ consent, because the child has no agency. The media and fans get to decide whether they want to “follow” a celebrity, or make box office hits of their films or attend their matches. The brands get to decide whether they want to hire that celebrity for endorsements. And the celebrity gets to decide how much of his or her personal life he or she wants to share.
Also by the author:
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India’s Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com
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