Steve Waugh on Thursday did what no city celebrity has done in recent times — get down and dirty for a green cause.
The former Australian skipper stood with his gumboots deep in the muck of a canal in the Kabardanga area of Thakurpukur, and lifted clumps of garbage. A cap on his head, gloves on his hands, and a smile on his face, the Waugh cry was all of four words: “Am happy to help.”
Words Calcutta is not used to hearing from its celebrities.
“By getting his feet and hands in muck, Steve Waugh has extended the involvement quotient of a star and showed that the local celebrities are only concerned about looking pretty and getting clicked,” said green activist Mudar Patherya from the sidelines of the Thakurpukur clean-up.
It took a star foreigner with a deep Calcutta connect to walk the clean-up talk. “If Calcutta celebrities would even move the little finger of their left hand, this city would be a considerably better place to be in,” added Mudar.
Waugh, in fact, exhorted the whole city — stars and the starstruck alike — to lend a hand. “If 10 million Calcuttans can pick up one piece of plastic and one piece of paper every day, and put these in a dustbin, Calcutta could be the cleanest city in the world in 10 days!” said the cricket legend, wading through the filth in Sourav Ganguly’s backyard.
So what stops a Calcutta celebrity from lending a hand? “Most of them think only of the fees and the photos. I haven’t seen any celebrity who is ready to give his time for an environmental cause, without demanding money,” said the director of a public relations firm in town. “But these same dolled-up celebs will flock to a movie premiere because they have to be seen there.”
The “typical celeb signs” are now easily read by young Calcuttans driven by the green cause. “The city celebrities at best put in a token appearance for the flashbulbs. They are never involved with a project like Steve Waugh is,” rues Arman Sood, the Class XII student of St James School who is part of a youth movement to clean green patches and also save trees from nailed placards and banners.
“Celebrities are by nature self-conscious. For them the ‘how’ is more important than the ‘what’. Hence they choose an activity or event not for what it is about, but for how they look in it,” points out Anuttama Banerjee, a consultant psychologist.
Some celebrities at least are frank enough to admit that they should do more. “There is a certain ennui that works in us,” feels musician Bickram Ghosh. “It’s different if there’s a little to be done, but if we go clean the streets tomorrow, the next day it would be back to square one. But yes, a difference can be made and if it’s not been done, I apologise.”
The problem, some say, lies with the starstruck rather than the star. “We can’t blame the celebs alone because the common man wants to see an actress always looking pretty (and a sports star looking stylish). So the stars are always trying to live up to those expectations,” says psychologist Banerjee.
That is unlike in the West, she adds, where even the way stars are portrayed in films is “real” whereas here, an actress is rarely seen without make-up on screen.
As a Tollywood star put it: “Our biggest fear is overexposure and ordinariness. Here celebrities are idolised; the paying public does not want to see us engaging in ordinary acts like cleaning garbage.”
Try telling that to Steve Waugh, who according to Shamlu Dudeja of Calcutta Foundation that led the canal clean-up drive, “is special because he embraces what others shun”. In between dumping garbage into sacks, the Aussie do-gooder said: “It’s all about chipping in and working together.”
And would Thursday’s Waugh cry take awareness about cleaning water bodies in the city to a different level? “It definitely will, especially for the common man,” he said.
But maybe not for the city celebrity.