It was in the beginning of the year, the Valentine’s month to be specific, that India got her most viral girl-crush and heartthrob, Priya P Varrier, the girl whose wink took the nation by storm, paving her way into not just the hearts of thousands, but also tons of meme/troll pages. With one wink, she reigned the Indian Internet for most part of the year. I had even jokingly commented that I’ve never seen anyone unite Indians across states to such an extent that she was able to with just a wink. Why the wink or Priya went viral, I don’t know. But I know that walking on the streets of Hyderabad and even at the reception of hospitals here, I have heard people talk about how pretty she is. It has brought a smile to my face too, to be honest. Not because she is a Malayali, but because it was funny and sweet at the same time.
But people, being people, can’t just leave things the way they are and think or talk positive right? So obviously, a week or two into her unsolicited stardom, the saints of the Internet decided that enough was enough and resolved to teach her a lesson – for winking, for looking pretty and for having people make her an overnight celebrity. Because hell yeah, it was her fault. They took their war against the “winker” forward step by step. First, they fished out her school pictures and ones where she wasn’t wearing any makeup to prove that her “beauty” was just a sham and she was nothing but an “ordinary” looking girl. Yes, ordinary is bad. Then they compared her to stalwarts of acting and questioned why none of them became this famous despite their amazing acting skills when all that this girl did was “wink”. For a long time I even doubted whether her only scene in the movie was this because that’s how the troll masters portrayed it. Then they tried to take on her character by making her sound like a good-for-nothing, arrogant and ignorant female. Remember that we are talking about a young girl of 18!
And then they took the war to the next level by questioning the sense of morality of the Indian crowd. Every tragedy, every news piece of national importance, every single piece of news other than Page 3 news would be compared with the coverage that “a girl who just winked” got. “A girl winked and that became news; what about our soldiers guarding the borders?” “A girl winked and that became news; what about the floods in Kerala?” “A girl winked and that became news; what about the price of dal and onion?”
It has been 6 months now since her entry into the meme world, and the dip in her goodwill and fame has been tremendous – for no fault of hers that too. People make it sound as if she was just standing outside her house and winking at strangers, and not really doing her job of following what her director asked her to do. People also make it sound as if she was begging for a celebrity status and for her pictures to go viral. She never did. But I guess some people get some kind of sadistic pleasure out of putting her down as “the girl who winked (yuck)” and stole everyone else’s thunder.
I have noticed that celebrities from the movie industry are the ones who face this unfair trolling and hatred for no reason the most. When a top Malayalam actress was abducted and sexually assaulted and lodged a formal complaint without fear, there definitely was prompt action. In hardly two days, people moved from the “How sad” camp to the “She will get prompt action because she is an actress. What about other poor girls who go through this?” camp. Most people had written comments directly and indirectly blaming her for the delay in delivering justice to other girls. What on earth was she to do about that? How on earth was it her fault? Or are you just upset about the fact that she chose to file an official complaint? Does she not have the right that you say any other girl has? Why bring her in when you criticize the police force’s or judiciary’s inefficiency in delivering justice to the others?
There was another recent instance of making a mockery of a celebrity’s misfortune when Sonali Bendre opened up about her battle with cancer and her treatment in the US. While many were inspired by her positive messages in the face of tragedy, there have been a lot of people who came out with comments like “Since she is rich, she can get treatment in the US. What about the poor people in India who aren’t privileged like her?” They forget that they are talking to a lady who is trying to fight death with a smile and inspiring so many people in the same condition. So what if she is rich and can afford treatment in the US? Should she have turned down the option to express her solidarity with other cancer patients? This ‘rich’ lady might have worked so much towards the plight of the poor and needy in the country like a lot of other celebrities, while you take on the “holier than thou” role for free, sitting behind a computer.
Even in the last few days I have been seeing posts of this kind doing the rounds during the Kerala floods rescue and relief operations. A famous actor from Malayalam, Tovino Thomas, has been working with other volunteers on the ground for the entire duration of the operations. Him being a celebrity, naturally, people clicked photos of him involved in the operations and shared them online. And immediately others started sharing posts saying “It’s not Tovino getting himself clicked for publicity that we need to see. The real heroes are the fishermen.” And I was thinking, “If you guys want to appreciate the heroic efforts of the fishermen, why can’t you do that without belittling the efforts of another person” How was he at fault here? He did as much as any other volunteer did instead of visiting a camp, clicking a picture and posting it online himself. (Please check the post from our dearest Minister of State from Kerala)
Tovino did not ask for publicity any more than Priya Varrier did. But if a celebrity does something, it HAS to be a publicity stunt. If you really want to question publicity stunts, question Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and countless other actors who write ‘touching’ open letters (Aghhh! I can’t take another one) and appear on stages of social activism, exactly a month or a week before the release of their movies. I don’t see anyone do that ever.
And if you really want to talk about double standards, stop trying to drag in celebrities and for God’s sake, don’t bring in victims of major misfortunes, only so that your post becomes more viral, and you become a saint working for the poor and the downtrodden in the eyes of all who see your stupid post. Talk to all those blind political followers and religious fanatics who will so loudly criticize any bad in all other political parties and religions and act as if they don’t even know about the very same things happening in their own parties and religions. The question of “Why this? Why not this?” really makes sense there.
Also published on Medium.