Perhaps the best way to avoid criticism is not to do anything, not to say anything, not to be anything.
A vigilant venomous snake will not attack us unless we move. This message is clear: to remain silent, to remain in the status quo, to be neutral is how you can avoid any danger.
However, this tendency does not match the nature of a hero portrayed in stories, novels and films since centuries ago. Heroes want to face hardships and challenges. They create flames against injustice. They sweat for prosperity. They punch the corrupt and the inefficient. They always voice for truth, equality and virtue. They cannot stay silent.
But, Rajesh Hamal?
He was often seen in combative roles in his movies. He continued to scare rulers and exploiters out of their wits by standing on the side of the poor and helpless. He kept protecting truth and honesty by growing up in a hut, eating dhindo-gundruk, wearing kachhad-bhoto and ploughing. Rajesh Hamal, who created such an onscreen image in the 1990s, is now revered as the ‘mahanayak’ (the great actor) of the Nepali cinema industry.
In the movies, he earned reverence by showcasing ‘heroism’. However, in real life, the role has been rare for him. He neither speaks against mismanagement nor fights for the truth. Neither does he carry a torch for mass awakening. He does not even utter a single word on issues of social concerns.
Of course, it is not necessary that movie heroes should show their filmy heroism in real life. However, it is not unreasonable to question his lack of interest in social contribution and role–because he is a celebrity and celebrities have the power to unite society. They can communicate their views on society. Also, they can guide society in the right way. They can always awaken hope and enthusiasm in society. They can continue to show their presence for the sake of a greater good. However, for Rajesh Hamal, it becomes an exception to connect with society, integrally like such.
He neither advocates for the continuity of dutiful personalities like Kul Man Ghising nor draws the attention of the government to the issues raised by virtuous people like Dr Govinda KC. He also does not discuss anything about the rape and murder of children like Samjhana Kami. Neither does he advocate for workers returning to India in search of employment in the run-up to Dashain. It seems he is not disturbed, hurt, stung or touched by all the issues of public concerns.
On the one hand, rapes, murders, violence and atrocities have overwhelmed society. On the other, the state coffers are emptied by corruption and betrayal. These things have made the heart of every Nepali tremble, and their heartbeats under more pressure. Sometimes, people are protesting in the streets with a demand to find culprits; sometimes they are feeding the hungry at Khulamanch; sometimes they are warning the state.
However, the mahanayak remains silent even during such social upheavals. For social transformation, he never joined hands with the activists. He was present neither in action nor in words.
Today, amidst the Covid-19 crisis, people in a large number who have hope and trust in him are in pain, suffering and deprivation. They are suffering due to lack of food, treatment and repatriation. The state does not listen to their pain, compassion, cries, sorrow, grievances and problems. The media do not listen. Rights activists do not listen. In such a case, society is looking for a hero who can speak their oppressed voices. However, Rajesh Hamal does not speak.
It is his right not to speak. But, speaking is his responsibility.
It is not that Rajesh Hamal’s speech will make an impossible possible. However, advocating for social issues in one way or another by such a personality who has been revered as magnificent and intellectual helps in social welfare even if it is partial. More than that, it will be the beginning of a new system, in the relationship between celebrities and society. And, the upcoming celebrities after him will be able to follow it.
In about a decade and a half, the country has undergone great ups and downs. Sometimes devastating earthquakes wreaked havoc, sometimes floods and landslides, sometimes the border blockade came in a way, and now this pandemic. However, Rajesh Hamal never left home to share the grief with society.
Many celebrities are directly involved in multiple activities for social upliftment. They are fighting against mismanagement. They are presenting themselves in the field of social responsibility in one way or another. They are spending most of the money they earn on social services. At the same time, they are showing their presence on issues related to the country and society. But, in Rajesh Hamal’s case, such an expectation could be foolish.
In the 1990s, he was at the peak of his career. The Nepali cinema industry had a hero who had special stardom. The audience was drawn to the hall to catch a glimpse of him. The filmmakers said, “Rajesh Hamal’s head sells.”
There is a large group of people who grew up watching Rajesh Hamal’s films, who like to address him as the ‘mahanayak’. As he has maintained his public personality till now: the same grand, decent, alert and intellectual ‘hero’.
But, this personality of Rajesh Hamal, this intellect, this grandeur is not going to come for any purpose other than beautifying himself–because he does not get well with society. He has cleverly kept a distance and kept himself uninvolved. Probably, he feels ignorance is bliss. That could be–if only Rajesh Hamal was not the mahanayak.