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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On December 20, 2004

    By Karan Thapar

      If you think about it, we are an odd lot. The silliest things can fill us with righteous indignation. Without pausing to consider we become hot under the collar, bubble over with sound and fury and then give vent to our spleen. The only mercy is that once it's spent it’s also forgotten about. Well, we're probably at the end of the recent kissing spat but now that I've read and heard so much gibberish about it I can't resist adding my own tuppence worth. My excuse is that I, at least, know what I'm writing about.

    Permit me to therefore reduce the subject to eleven essential questions and try and answer them. The principles that I rely upon should be apparent if not also unmistakeable.

    When film stars - or any other public figures - kiss in public can the press photograph them and publish the pictures? The answer is yes. If they wished for privacy the kissing would have happened behind closed doors. Since it did not one can only presume they were either angling for publicity or, at least, not averse to it.

    For these purposes what constitutes a public place? The simple answer is any place to which the general public has free - or easy - access. A private party is obviously excluded but a restaurant most certainly is not.

    Does it matter if the pictures were acquired from secondary sources and not shot by accredited press photographers? No, provided they were not photographed by deception or breach of trust. Many of the best photographs in a newspaper are by outside photographers.

    Should the decision to publish be influenced by the fact that to do so would hurt the feelings of the concerned couple or their family or their friends? Perhaps, but it all depends upon the consideration of the publisher. This is not a legal point, it’s a moral one. And the counter to it is shouldn't the kissers have thought about this before kissing in public?

    What about the fact that the newspaper or television channel is only publishing the picture to boost sales? Doesn't the mercenary commercialisation of the photograph change everything? Quite frankly, no. And the reason is equally straightforward. Celebrities depend on the press to "sell" themselves. Most of the time they do it very successfully. But that, in turn, gives the media the right to "cash-in" as well.

    But isn't it bad taste to publish such photographs? That, actually, depends on your taste. Judges of the Supreme Court in their sixties may think so but would their children in their twenties and thirties agree? And, anyway, taste can't be legislated for. Bad taste is as legal and legitimate as good.

    What happens when everyone who matters thinks the press was wrong? Surely the majority has to be right? Quite honestly, I would ignore them. In such cases might is not right so much as irresistible social prejudice. True valour lies in dissent and standing up for the difference. More importantly, in such situations I'd rather think for myself.

    Even if you don't buy the majority argument, what about the view that such photographs offend Indian sensitivities and go against our culture? Hmmm! I would argue that the people who created the Kama Sutra, Khajuraho and Konarak - not to mention the world's second biggest population and fast catching up - aren't frightened by a little kiss. Not even a French one. Prudery is a western import; real Indians are more understanding.

    Ah, but suppose the pictures were fraudulent, created by morphing or some form of trick photography? Well, that would change everything. They would then be lies and the "victims" would have the right to sue for damages. The only thing is they would have to prove their case, not simply assert it.

    In this instance Kareena and Shahid say the pictures are false and Bollywood believes them and distrusts the newspaper. So what do you say about that? Good for Bollywood. Loyalty is an invaluable sentiment but it is fallible. And it certainly isn't a legal arguement leave aside proof.

    Finally, what does this whole saga tell us about ourselves? Three things, I would say. That we're as prone as anyone else to be swept off our feet by nonsense. That we want to be high-minded but can't help being hypocritical. And when it comes to sex and emotion we are confused and human. We think we are better than the rest of the world but we're not!

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