From fawning over Shah Rukh Khan’s outstretched arms against the pyramids of Egypt to trying to match the beat of Kajol’s charm in her shimmery saree against the backdrop of a sunset, from watching our favourite stars stare lovestruck at each other, drenched in rain in the middle of the road to rolling around scandalously over a truck of haystack- most Indians first experience their sexual and romantic awakening through Bollywood. Infatuation over celebrities is a very common part of growing up and navigating adulthood.
Who occupies the status of a celebrity crush?
Celebrity crush is a form of infatuation that most young people experience over popular artists and television personalities. It is a detached form of an attraction that often verges on sexual and romantic fantasies. Celebrity crushes, by virtue of its definition, must involve someone unattainable but easily accessible through their work.
From obsessing over early Bollywood romantic heroes to slowly expanding our territory of pop culture knowledge and crushing on Hollywood pop stars, or Korean pop stars, the very nature of attraction has always served a similar purpose to find refuge and comfort in the arms of fantasy that the real world refuses to provide.
However, one must always remember that it is their art and their reel persona that provides us a refuge and not the person that they are in their real lives. It is important to be able to make this differentiation, since it becomes very easy to get wrapped up in the glamorous world of their lives and obsessively fixate on every aspect of it.
Exploration of Sexuality Through Celebrity Crushes
Adolescent years are a time for yearning and desiring without actually craving a tangible expression of physical love. Celebrity crushes for young people open up a space for them to grow into their sexual selves. From distant admiration to fanciful infatuation, adolescence is a time when most people come to terms with their sexuality by projecting their desires on celebrities: someone unattainable but not inaccessible.
At a time like this, celebrity crushes foster a realm of fancy with just the right amount of realism peppered in by the media. This allows young people to vicariously explore their romantic and sexual fantasies through their celebrity crushes.
While at the same time, one must be cautious that the projection of their fantasies do not interject into the lives of the celebrity as a form of harassment or gross objectification. The relationship should be contained within the realms of the art they produce and should not transcend into the artist’s life unwarranted.
A Safe Space For Young Adults
Fantasising over any celebrity from a distance can also be viewed as a form of expression of one’s sexuality but it is more socially accepted because of these celebrities’ favourable public presence and their ensured unattainability.
The patriarchal society makes young girls victims of slut-shaming and harassment if they ever try to explore or experiment with their sexuality within the public realm. The situation is even more precarious and unsafe for queer people who need to keep their identities hidden.
When children grow up in a constant state of surveillance by their parents, community, and society; their scope of self-exploration and experimentation becomes severely limited. Young people often turn to dark corners of the internet or unconventional places where they often fall prey to sexual predators.
Parents should encourage and foster a space of privacy where young people can exercise their fanciful infatuation with their celebrity crushes without being admonished or shamed for it. This space will allow them to come to terms with their sexuality, and to become more aware and sensitive towards their desires.
A place of refuge for young women frustrated with love
When young women step into their adulthood with fanciful adolescent dreams of finding a partner as sweet and caring as romantic-comedies promise in abundance, the reality often disappoints. Single young women often have to negotiate between what they desire in a partner and what they are willing to settle for when it comes to dating in modern India. Yet, the outcome is fraught with unsatisfactory, unsavoury experiences that can at best resemble a parody of their dreams.
Shrayana Bhattacharya in her book Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and The Search For Intimacy and Independence explores how young women across different social, economic, caste, and religious backgrounds turn to Bollywood celebrity Shah Rukh Khan when it comes to picturing the ideal embodiment of a romantic partner.
The author writes “While visions of Shah Rukh might serve as mere escapism in the plush homes of Lodhi Road, indulging in fandom becomes a form of assertion, even protest, amongst poor and working-class women.”
She takes a panoramic view of the act of loving Shah Rukh, in all his Bollywood glory and boy-next-door charms. “Espousing the virtues of Shah Rukh marks a woman’s enthusiasm for expressing desire rather than becoming desirable.”
In this context, Shah Rukh’s personhood as an individual becomes almost irrelevant to these women’s desire for him. The act of ‘seeking’ him finds expression in the men that these young women deem as potential partners. When disappointed or heartbroken, turning to the fantasy that he offers on the big screen, is in itself an act of empowerment and self-love. Shrayana Bhattacharya writes in the preface of her book, “These women relied on Shah Rukh when they found the real world and all its pandemics and practicalities inhospitable. Because only the deepest dissatisfaction with reality drives us to dwell in fantasy.”
It encourages women and queer folks to embrace a life of singlehood rather than struggling in unhappy relationships. It makes them hopeful that a decent partner, embodying all the virtues of their celebrity crush exists somewhere, even if it is only in their fantasy.
Debabratee (she/they) is a student of English Literature at Jadavpur University. When they are not found reading or writing, they are found running after their pet dog and cuddling with him. They are an avid binge-watcher of all kinds of OTT content and like to dissect and analyse them in their free time. They can be found on Instagram.
Featured image source: Telegraph India