Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Miss World 1994, hit the headlines a few years back when she signed up for an eye donation. Imagine the furore when a Bollywood legend, often cited in the media as the most beautiful woman in the world and one with the most incredible eyes, becomes the face of the Eye Donation campaign in India. Sushmita Sen, who was crowned Miss Universe the same year as Rai, created history in 2000 by adopting a girl as a single woman at the age of 25, and at a time when guardianship as a single mother was not readily accepted in Indian society. Oprah Winfrey tops the Forbes 100 list for her generous donations to a school-building project in South Africa and to rebuild hurricane-hit areas. There are plenty of examples of celebrities who are dedicated to a noble cause the world over.
Celebrities are people who have a massive reach and are often idolized by audiences worldwide. Therefore, it is no wonder that they are roped in as the face of some of the world’s biggest brands. So is the case with charitable causes. Celebrities as goodwill ambassadors or change agents lobbying for a good cause captivate the attention of the masses. This draws the interest of the people towards an issue their favourite star might be associated with and helps spread awareness. And celebrities earn big, therefore they give generously. In fact, there is a whole list of celebrities who silently donate enormous funds to those in need which indeed is commendable. They get associated with a charity, become the face of it, spread the word, are very vocal about the cause and fund them generously. Many a time, the cause with which a celebrity is associated is something personal to the celebrity, which strengthens the campaign even further. Not only is it beneficial for hundreds of people who are looked after by the charitable organisations, but also helps raise awareness about something that might not be widely known. In fact, many celebs have set up their own charitable organisations.
However, over the years, celebrities and their philanthropic pursuits has become a controversial issue; setting up charitable organisations now looks more like a mandatory PR exercise, and charitable giving is the new race among the crème-de-la-crème of society. Campaigning pompously and highlighting one’s benevolent activities is absolutely fine, as long as the people concerned are really benefiting from it. Just donating whopping sums of money isn’t enough – celebrities need to demonstrate that they are genuinely concerned about humanitarian causes. Take the case of an actor who, on one hand, is worshiped by millions and donates generously, while on the other is convicted of multiple criminal activities. Such blatant examples of hypocrisy raise eyebrows to whether society really needs such ‘role-models’.
On a positive note, in any case the people in need receive funds and gather the attention of the masses, which can open more sources of income for them. There is absolutely nothing wrong in signing a big fat cheque and shelling out a fortune to help someone, or even if one sets up their own charitable organisation – as long as there are no dark truths behind the curtains. If celebrities feel that they can be the one to mobilize the masses, it is essential that they themselves understand the essence of it, for philanthropy is more than just monetary help and image-building.