Celebrity Social Responsibilty

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I was invited by Screen ( an Express group publication) to a panel discussion on Celebrity social responsibility: does it go beyond lip service? . My co panelists were Imran Khan, Diya Mirza, Raju Hirani, Priyanka Sinha(editor of Screen Weekly) and Radhika Bajaj from UTVi. Panel discussion. Here are some (not all) of my thoughts on the subject.

I think any change good or bad is the result of effective leadership. When one has the opportunity or power to influence someone , that person by default finds himself in a position of leadersip. And the greatest quality of leadership is to be able to lead by example.People should not be unfair by expecting celebreties to take on more than an average citizen can or should. However in the realm of that, the single greatest contribution every celebrity- film sport or any other kind can make is to lead by example. What they choose to do in addition to serve society is their choice and and up to their discretion, and certainly not a compulsion

Often celebrities are accused of using social causes to gain publicity. That may be true in some instances, and even if it is as long as the cause gets awareness its not too bad a trade off. In times when most people are apathetic to what’s going on around them, its commendable that some celebrities take out time to support various causes and use their position to give a platform to issues they feel for.

In defense of the indifference of some , I feel it’s important to understand the changing structure of our society to understand what some describe as apathy. From a nation on which socialism was virtually enforced after independence to the rise of individualism in the 90s, we swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. And are now finding balance which is why one sees extremely successful people from different fields , giving up lucrative salaries to step into the murky world of public life.

Would love to hear your thoughts to take this forward.


20 Comments on “Celebrity Social Responsibilty”

  1. pushpinder

    A celebrity is a no different than just another someone to anyone who is goofed up in a scenario… why celebrities are being pulled into this is just because people who should are not doing their part of the work themselves… now if there was something else than a celebrity with equivalent charm and power … it would have been roped in too…

    …oh ji saanu apna apna kamm karna chahida…

    a celebrity decided to entertain not by force but by choice…. so let him to what he decides and dont force work on him/her

    what I am trying to say is that instead to roping celebs in some even why not rope commoners + celebs + bureaucrats + professors + students to make a nation wide panel to identify leaders…

    if leaders are good… decisions are good… things slowly start working… people slowly become satisfied… celebs start routine work lol…

    sorry if I played the first comment in the back foot lol

  2. Ashish Gourav

    Celebrity in India…you have a huge responsibility to do things is respectable and admirable way because most of the citizens are young and they follow celebrities….

  3. Archit

    Great power comes with great responsibilities. In a country like India where cinema is closely associated with peoples’ life and has greater impact on their minds, I think responsibilities of cine stars increases a lot and I don’t think our cine stars realize this fact.

    For example when Health minister pointed out Shahrukh for smoking in public, he had not given the kind of response expected from him. Minister was right as many of his fans could have thought smoking as a cool thing to follow – as there fav. Star is showing off it so stylishly. I know as an individual he was allowed to smoke at that time (smoking is banned now at public places) but he should have realized the impact of message what he was sending indirectly to his fans.

    If you are an unknown face in crowd than u are free to follow your heart but if you are a public figure than u should start listening to your mind also. Your each and every act should portray a good example for people to follow.

    Personally speaking still I am unable to see the kind of movement required by celebs for improving our social ecosystem. They have the fan following, they have media following, they have connections in Gov. and they have money. I cant see any obstacle if they really want to do something for society then it won’t be a thorny way.

    The main problem is most of the Celebs are doing social services just to stay in limelight and get there due piece of media attention. (no offense to anyone, specially not with you, you are a darling :), at least you are giving a serious voice to such sensitive subject)

  4. Pratish

    Hey Gul,

    Nice to hear from you on a such a relevant topic!
    wish the discussion was shown live or at least recorded on TV…

    India basically lacks strong political leadership…. {We lack somebody who is a La …Obama}
    This is our current day crisis… so celebrities from different walks of life say sports, business, film industry etc are providing leadership and the Youth is looking upto ’em…. take Ratan Tata for example!!!

    So celebrities have leadership thrown on ’em by default. I wish there were more sensible celebrities who would understand this and act & behave responsibly. ..Think of their actions…Think before they speak..
    I do adore one such celebrity.. without second thoughts.. the person comes to mind is only & only ……….. Aaamir Khan.!!!!

    That is what one can call leadership.. He has even made the slum dewellers sit up & take notice of what he says in ads.

    Gul.. You are leading the way here and are truly a leader in great sense!!

    Keep up the great work 🙂


  5. HOBO(nickname)

    Whoever has/have support of hundreds/thoursand people is a celebrity. And celebrity has/have the same.
    It is obvious to expect social responsibility because the social message is conveyed fast towards thousands of people, much faster than an ordinary citizen do.
    I wish celebrities to come forward but not to gain more popularity but to spread awareness among people for the betterment of the society.

  6. NiMaL

    hi gul…

    you have touched upon a very interesting topic and here are some of my thoughts.

    I think “lead by example” makes more sense than “serve society” in plain. Because celebrities influence the society more indirectly than they do directly, and by leading as an example they could do more influence. But having said that, this influence should be a positive one in a social sense. With the fan following and other influences they have in the society, they could make a real change in the society, which does not stop only with “they doing social service”.

    specially you have been an example for this, where i see you have raised your voice on some major social issues, and as a results many of your fans and other look into the issue more closely. and this would not happen when its me or some other normal person doing the same. that is the power celebrities have got and we all do expect “with great power come great responsibilities…” 🙂

    good luck…

  7. Dreamworkers

    Hi Gul,

    I agree with the points you talked about. And let me grab the opportunity to take this discussion forward with my view.

    The do’s and dont’s of a citizen’s action list can fall in two categories – what she must do and what she should do. The ‘must’ is largely related to legal duties such as paying taxes, abiding to civil and criminal laws, following traffic rules, respecting the liberty of fellow citizens, and so on. The ‘should’ list includes what a citizen does beyond the ‘must’ list.

    The ‘must’ list appears very important because we, the Indians, mostly donot understand the difference between freedom and liberty, and also rights vs duties and what others should do vs what we should do. We are very intelligent and rational as individuals but pathetic while collaborating and cooperating. If each of Indians only take care of this ‘must’ list, the country will change and see its pinnacles. The interesting part is that the ‘must’ list doesnt require us to sacrifice much of our resources, money, or time. This is a part of the daily life chores and only ‘self regulation’ can make this possible.

    The ‘should’ list is optional, depending on one’s own choice or discretion – by not doing which one’s not legally or morally wrong/irresponsible. This list is not even required to discussed if everybody is self-regulated and takes care of ‘must’ list for oneself. This list is being discussed only because ‘must’ list is ignored by one part of the inhibitants and the apathy of those who sould have taken care of the ‘must’ list. And thats where the celebrities, corporate, or somehow privilaged section of citizens come into the picture.

    A celebrity can be anybody because, according to me, a celebrity is a person who has ‘an area of influence”. A common man can influence herself, however a celebrity can influence a group of people. The larger the area (of influence), the bigger the stature of the celebrity. When a common man starts this mission (in the form of social or political activism), she has to first work towards increasing her reach and the area of influence. A celebrity gets this by default, so, when a celebrity enters in the arena of activism, she starts with the immediate action. And when a bigger celebrity comes in picture, she can immediately make many people acting on that task. So, the celebrity stature gives a person an edge, which is mostly the power to influence and width of her reach. Gul, I agree with you when you talk about the trade off because it still helps a lot.

    I think this is the reason people raise their heads towards celebrities. But that doesn’t mean a celebrity must do it, definitely not. In this sense, everybody fall in the same pool, hence it is pretty senseless to criticize a celebrity (or for that matter, anybody) if she doesn’t do it. If she takes care of the ‘must’ list, doesn’t influence others to go against it using her reach, she is already a responsible citizen. What more, she is an excellent professional which is already somehow contributing to the development of the country. If somebody leaves her profession (no matters how lucrative or profitable it is), then it is way too great; if she doesn’t, it is still great. I founded one such organization called ‘Dream India Project’ two years before, many of my (online and offline) friends joined DIP and helped it growing, and during last 2 years, much more people joined DIP and involved in debates and activities. Most of us are excellent professionals and are contributing to our professions very well. I am running my own company and when I spend my time, effort, and money with DIP, it is totally my choice and interest. Same goes with fellow DIPians. Even if we don’t do this, we are responsible citizens and contributing to the development of the country with our works in our professions (and this is already beyond the ‘must’ list). Cribs never help, acts do. And I have found that most of the cribs and complains come from those who don’t act. I feel very great that these kinds of topic are being discussed very widely nowadays.

    Shall be looking forward to your comments. Cheers!

  8. Sandip

    Change can not come without taking a stand. Its fine to care about poverty and help 2-3 poor guys so that then can stand up. But what about attacking the root cause. No body dares to question the system? e.g. how many want to question the mid day meal system and its efficiency?

    And what about empowering people? How many of us will encourage our driver or maid to learn so that he/she can go to next level. To give another statistics how much salary we pay to drivers? Average salary in Mumbai for a drivers is 5-7 thousand rupees. Now how can some one survive with this? One fine day he turns a criminal then you blame his caste / community or his region. I just can control my self when celebrities talk about ethical treatment for animals. Come on give me a break…people ..human beings are dying here.. lets care about them.

    To conclude best “celebrity or corporate” social responsibility is one which focuses on immediate turnaround e.g.education or empowerment etc.


  9. Sumit Garg

    Leading by example, Giving back to the society, Social responsibility are all fine but let’s face it – How many people are really going to donate or work for a charity or support a cause just because someone they admire is doing so.

    There aren’t many celebrities left in this country whom the people consider as true role models – sure they might admire them, talk about them, follow them around, gossip about them but at the final moment when they have to make a choice, the most important factor is always going to be the upbringing of the person. Not necessarily what they have been taught in school or by their parents but their whole life’s experience will culminate to help them make a decision. And that’s because the people in this country are slowly and surely coming out of the age where blindly led on by the pied pipers(first politicians and then celebrities).

    I will quote my own example – everyone’s taught that it is very important to help those in need, right. But over the years I have come across so many fake charities and bogus fund raisers – that only fill the coffers of the rich, that my trust in this whole system was shattered. Still what I do now is volunteer for physical work or donating commodities not money as such. This is not because someone else is doing so but because I feel so in my heart.

    If a celebrity feels that its his/her responsibility to give back to the society then it’s fine – even if for the sake of some publicity. People may start admiring them more, loving them more but they shouldn’t be led on by the illusion that people are going to follow whatever they do.

  10. midhun

    Dear Gul,

    Yes, it’s admirable that there are celebrities who stand for a cause – and not merely chase more money. However, is it their “responsibility”? I think it is alright if they feel responsible and committed to some cause out of their own volition. And if their messages reach far and wide, which every cause needs, publicity is but natural. But, when celebrities openly declare sums they donate to various charity funds, it is undoubtedly only to buy publicity.

    However, it is the people who finally decide whether to act on receiving a social mesage – be it from a celebrity or not. It serves no purpose if a celebrity supports a cause, and people admire his/her social work without contributing to the cause. Social awareness campaigns require not just a celebrity, they need a factor which makes the viewer watch the whole campaign and respond – say if it is an ad, instead of just preaching, it should be interesting.

    And Prateesh, I too can think of only Aamir Khan on this front.


  11. Ankit Mittal

    I like amir khan. He does support whatever he feels strongly about an issue.

  12. Gul Panag

    Very interesting thoughts Sumit and Midhun and Sandipa and dreamworkers.

    Pratish, Nimal thank you for your kind words about me. I think there comes a stage in everyone’s life when they feel content and grateful enough in their personal lives and start looking outward to see how best they can serve society. In a majority of cases, this happens very late in in life ,say, 50s by when physically they are draining out. We , who are young and are already looking to reach out ,are blessed and must do whatever we can to contribute to society( it could mean something as small as getting after the BMC to clean up one’s locality). WE must encourage a system of volunteerism from a young age. (In all IVY league colleges , 100 hours of community service is mandatory to get admission in an under grad course. ) Only then will social responsibility be instilled in us from a young age.

  13. Avinash

    I have to empathise with the celebs here firstly, coz they are always in the public glare and obviously do not have enough freedom to do certain things like an average hyderabadi like me can do!!

    But yes, the celebrities too have a strong responsibility towards the society, even more than the other of the homo sapiens type, coz they are demi gods in the public eyes, and a lot of them actually look up to them. We need to be holistically looking at a dimension that is much beyond that of the monetary kind-something which would permeate into actual ground work than just raising the finances. I am sure you would agree with me Gul.


  14. Jimmy

    Hi Gul,
    Hearty wishes from me. I think you are one of the most beautiful girls. You are intelligent too. I have a question for you. I hope you will take time to answer it.
    Since you have done movies like straight, you are an apt person to answer my question. What is your opineon about gays and lesbians. I dont mind them living together or marrying. Infact it is perfectly fine if they marry and live together. But my bigger concern is them adopting children. We all know that for the proper psycological development of a child, both the mother and father are essential.What worries me is the children adopted by such couples have a tendency to become like them.This can result against the propagation of civilization. The basic principle of a male getting attracted to a female and vice versa in every spicies is to sustain them by reproducing. If something like this is promoted heavily, this can really create a big backlash to human civilization.
    On the other hand if you say single parents raise children, we know that the child really misses the other parent and moreover there is a lesser probability for him to becom gay or lesbian than the one living with gays or lesbians. According to me, if you look at the majority cases the gays and lesbians have suffered abuse from the other sex wich plays a bigger part in them getting faith and interest in the same sex.

  15. Praveen

    It seems to me that when we talk about social responsibility we talk about things like feeding the poor, educating the poor and so on. While these are without a doubt things that should be done, I’d like to expand the definition of social responsibility to add paying taxes. How many of us actually declare our complete income? How much of our income is unaccounted for so we don’t pay taxes on those, how about buying stuff without a reciept so we don’t pay sales tax. All these taxes are part of the social programs infrastructure. By subverting these for our personal monetary gain we are all being socially irresponsible.

    Just my two cents.

  16. Amish


    You should checkout justmeans.com to see how to participate in social responsibility.

    BTW, what years were you at ISL Lusaka? I was there in the 80s, probably before you. Just wondering when you were there.

    Good luck!

  17. sankalp

    First of all let me confess i am great fan of yours because of rare combination of beauty and brain.
    But it anyway dont affect my views about different subject you post.
    Because i have very strong view on many.
    Your point of celebrity social responsibily is politically correct thing to write.
    But fact is most of people world over doing so called social work to stay in limelight.
    One can count on fingers celebirty who are really doing something social for long time.
    Although nothing is compulsory in our social millieu but as human being its always good to keep example of someone like warrent buffet.
    More importantly having worked in lowest economic strata of india and having watched so many celebrity in real life.I can tell u that working for real needy people gives huge satisfaction.
    So if someone is good human being then even if he or she becomes celebrity he or she will keep doing social work.
    For others it is just for camera.

  18. sankalp

    First of all let me confess i am great fan of yours because of rare combination of beauty and brain.
    But it anyway doesn’t affect my views about different subject you post.
    Because I have very strong view on many.
    Your point of celebrity social responsibly is politically correct thing to write.
    But fact is most of people world over doing so called social work to stay in limelight.
    One can count on fingers celebrity who is really doing something social for long time.
    Although nothing is compulsory in our social milieu but as human being its always good to keep example of someone like warrent buffet.
    More importantly having worked in lowest economic strata of India and having watched so many celebrities in real life. I can tell u that working for real needy people gives huge satisfaction.
    So if someone is good human being then even if he or she becomes celebrity he or she will keep doing social work.
    For others it is just for camera.

  19. ashish134

    Everyone is responsible for nation’s development and ofcourse celebrities are proudly more responsible as they get a lot of love from people, if they initiate any good work then public will follow them and In this way people can be motivated toward growth of the nation. Everybody whether you are from corporate world or from Bollywood or from cricket,hockey sports game or from administrative background…each one of us is responsible for development of nation . It may be that someone’s work is at very large scale and someone’s work at grass root level !!!

  20. Samudra

    While I agree with most of the points mentioned above, I also have a contrarian point of view.

    Celebrities in India are not “average citizens”. They are not even considered human! They have been deified by a large section of the society. (Remember “Billu Barber”, anyone?) The causes have been varied, but that doesn’t affect the final result. I am not saying this is a good thing. But it IS true.

    A vast majority of people ape the celebrities concerned. Not only for smoking, doing drugs or whatever, but also for good causes, such as voting (Aamir Khan), cleaning their localities / speaking the truth in courts (Preity Zinta), religious tolerance (Shah Rukh Khan). THIS is why celebrities have a power that non-celebrities do not have.

    That power can be used to do good. That power SHOULD be used to do good.

    If the celebrities themselves are doing it to stay in the limelight, then so be it. In this day and age when to be a “celebrity”, all you need is a “leaked” MMS, they are at least improving many lives, directly and indirectly. They deserve their news-space.

    But the true celebrities are not only consistently active with their CSR, they are also who get more news-space, easily. Their honest conviction in their cause is palpable. They are also the ones who inspire more people. They are the real heroes.

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