Opinion: Media went berserk over Sridevi's death but who is to be blamed?

Written By: Mansi Sharma
New York, NY, USA Published: Mar 05, 2018, 06:48 AM(IST)

Sridevi's mortal remains were carried to the cremation ground in a carriage adorned with flowers. Photograph:( ANI )

On Sunday, February 19, as my friends and I returned from brunch in lower Manhattan, I was met with a flurry of WhatsApp messages containing what I thought was just another hoax. 'Sridevi Passes Away in a Severe Cardiac Arrest' it said in an obnoxiously large font. I was waiting for the fake news alert and a clarification from Sridevi’s publicist hours later. But alas, that was delusional and the pain of what actually happened began to sink in very quickly. 

As a late millennial, I was born years after the phenomenon of Mr. India, Chandni and Lamhe - films in which Sridevi single-handedly redefined what a woman can do on the silver screen. With her dreamy eyes and disarming aura, Sridevi captivated audiences across the country, cultivating a rare appeal that cut across linguistic and regional barriers.  

When she passed, the news exploded and RIP tweets came in by the barrel. It was a collectively cathartic moment when we remembered her for all that she gave us until, of course, like with all major events in the world, it turned ugly.

From blaming Sridevi’s death on her face surgeries (thereby blaming ‘ideal beauty norms’ because this was the only moment we could think of to bring up the ethics of plastic surgery) to claiming that she overdosed on drugs, to describing her corpse in vulgar terms with graphic animations of bathtubs (yes Aaj Tak, I’m talking right at you), the term Rest In Peace soon became just that - a term.

 Some called it Karma, referring to her marital controversies, and others made speculations that are far too repulsive to even dignify with a description, but regardless of what kind of theory we came up with, instead of ‘getting to the bottom of it’, we arrived at a far more haunting reality about ourselves and the world at large. As digital creatures who express more through emojis than facial expressions, our instant reactions and obsessive curiosity toward major celebrity related events are no surprise (and even acceptable when the event is good i.e. Virat and Anushka’s wedding). Operative word being good. 

On the internet at least, we are okay with being nothing but a pair of eyes, ten fingers and a working credit card. But somehow, when a megastar in our country passes, something in our psyche shifts so dramatically that it unleashes the beast within us who knows no discretion or empathy and multiplies our appetite for updates and creative angles by tenfold.

It’s uncomfortable to admit because it is the invisible elephant that has been cloaked in the garb of ‘curiosity’, ‘truth-seeking’ and my favourite of all - ‘fan-dom.’ We somehow have collectively decided that because we invested decades in watching this wonderful woman on the silver screen, and cheered in awe every time she has shined during her performances, we own a part of her. Even if not outwardly, subconsciously we believe that the end of her magnificent story is something we are all entitled to and must consume so it enables us to beat the subject to a pulp at brunch the following Sunday. 

While this embarrassing and horrific practice is revolting in and of itself, it’s not even half the problem. The real problem lies in the aftermath of the insensitive outrage over her death - starting with her kids who will eventually log back into Twitter and watch animations of their mother’s photo being drowned in a bathtub. On a grander scale, it extends to our kids, who will realise that it is acceptable to discuss someone’s death in bulletproof 280-charactered statements that sit in the cloud and morph our moral compasses on a daily basis. 

On the most intimate level, the darkest part of how we have dealt with the passing of Sridevi sits in the depths of our own greatest fear - how we will be remembered and handled once we go and are no longer an agent of our own life. As individuals who lead relatively private lives, we don’t enjoy the luxuries of being known and revered wherever we go. But we also don’t share the burdens of being belittled by the rest of the world for our marital choices, artistic endeavours and most of all - the cause of our very own passing. When we go, the hope is that people will come to our families, shed a tear or two in silence, and leave to get on with their lives until their day comes. This is the hope because it is the only decent thing for a fellow human being to do. No more, no less.  

Without ever having been in the same room as the stunning actress, I can safely assume that it was not her last wish to have her death certificate go viral and her corpse to be hounded down by the nation for one last look to feed the digital starvation of consumers with an image, statement or video.

We give the media flak for its insensitivity without recognising that it is our demand which drives their ruthlessness to get what we currently prize most - gossip (as ugly as that sounds). A journalist’s ability to do it without any real moral grounds is a whole other debate, but our audacity to even ask for it is what I question most. We aren’t just shooting the messenger, we’re shooting the messenger at the expense of facing who we truly are; a bunch of barbaric, snoopy and unempathetic film consumers who have hypocritically idolised yet also just objectified public figures simply because we can. 

It is tragic when anyone dies - famous or not, beautiful or not, talented or not. But it is an even greater tragedy when those surrounding the death kill the deceased twice by preventing them from leaving with the dignity they deserve. The folks who call Sridevi’s death a result of ‘Karma’ while tuning into TV channels that have a minute-by-minute speculation of the whole incident seemed to have missed the part about Karma which says that it applies to everyone. 

As a 22-year-old who is about the same age as Sridevi’s oldest daughter, I spent last Sunday in denial, disappointment and finally disgust. I denied the fact that she died, was disappointed that I never got enough of her, and most of all were disgusted by the way my fellow countrymen dealt with the whole incident. My hope is that our behaviour doesn’t become who we are and moreover that those surrounding her brave this storm with the kind of strength she did with every adversity that was thrown at her.

With a heavy heart, I salute her existence and thank her for the absolute gift she was to the world. 


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL) 

Read in App