Aishwarya Dhanush: A performance of privileged mediocrity in the capacity of ineligible candidacy for UN Mission

The much hyped news about Ms. Aishwarya’s “performance at UN” on the International Women’s Day has finally turned out to be a disgrace, since a 1.22 – minute video of the performance was released in youtube. The social media is abuzz with scorn pouring on her pathetic performance, including a scathing comment from the famed barathanatyam dancer Ms. Anita Ratnam.

Though the 1.22 – minute video released is but a fragment of her one – hour long performance, it appears that the instant “reviews” were not off the mark. The short sequence, seems to have been choreographed in the vein of dance sequences performed to the tune of movie songs – haphazard moves lacking graceful movements and transitions. She is literally enacting the verses, as in a screen performance, in utter disregard to the semiotic nuances of the “traditional” genre.

Leaving aside her disgraceful performance, and gleaning through the media reports last week, it comes as a surprise to note that, even some “prestigious” media outlets have reported blindly that she was to perform at the “UN Headquarters at New York”. The fact that she was invited by the office of India’s Permanent Representative to UN, in collaboration with the “America Tamil Sangam”- a New York based NGO was conveniently ignored by these “prestigious” media outlets.

The program schedule announced officially by the women’s organization of the UN (unwomen.org) has no mention of her performance, which simply means that Ms. Aishwarya’s performance was one organized by the Indian diplomats to UN, along with a NGO of Tamil NRIs. In spite of this plain fact, these media outlets were boasting “Performance at UN Headquarters” without any sense of propriety and responsibility, which obviously led people to assume that she performed at the “UN General Assembly”.

Anita Ratnam Tweet

Disregard to facts, disinclination to inquire into details, and lack of sustained interest in pursuing a matter to its depths have become the norms of Indian media outlets. If one pursues the case of Ms. Aishwarya further, the readers will remember that she was announced as the “UN Women’s Advocate for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in India” recently in August 2016. However, the media, sang the chorus that she was appointed as “UN Goodwill Ambassador” to India back in August and September. Again if one can do a simple fact check at the UN Women’s organization’s official website  there is no such announcement on Ms. Aishwarya. One can only find the names of Mr. Farhan Akhtar and Ms. Sania Mirza as Goodwill Ambassadors from South Asia (India).

UN’s romance with celebrity figures was systematized during the stewardship of Mr. Kofi Annan, in the hope that they would serve to propagate the organization’s alleviative missions. Over the course of time these “Goodwill Ambassador and Messengers of Peace” designations were extended to various grades – International, National, and at times, Regional. And the General Assembly has issued definitive guidelines for the selection of such Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace.

The first two basic criteria as formulated by these guidelines are as follows:

Individuals invited to serve as Goodwill Ambassadors or Messengers of Peace shall: (a) Possess widely recognized talent in the arts, sciences, literature, entertainment, sport or other fields of public life: (b) Be persons of integrity who demonstrate a strong desire to help mobilize public interest in, and support for, the purposes and principles of the United Nations, and who demonstrate the commitment and proven potential to reach out to significant audiences, including decision makers.

Does Ms. Aishwarya fall in line with the above mentioned criteria?

Even as per Kollywood box office standards, one can say an emphatic “NO”! She is neither a talented director – not to mention an accomplished one, nor has been recognized so, either by the industry or by the public at large. The movies she had directed are artistically mediocre and box office flops. She is not a celebrity, who rose to prominence in accord to her own achievements. She is a celetoid – a person thrust to prominence by the tabloid media, poaching on gossips and celebrity fanfare. (For a nuanced distinction between “celebrity” and “celetoid” refer to Chris Rojek’s work “Celebrity” available at reaktionbooks.co.uk).

And she has demonstrated nothing of a desire to help mobilize any cause of public interest. To the contrary, her sentiments are close to the likes of Cho. Ramasamy, one of the most vehement right wing ideologues in Tamil Nadu. When her sister Ms. Soundarya Rajinikanth was announced as the “co – opted member of Animal Welfare Board of India”, in addition to serve as “a Member of its Performing Animals Sub Committee (PASC)” and as the “Ambassador of AWBI to the film fraternity”, she acquiesced quietly without any qualms.  One has to remember that AWBI is one of the key players in forestalling Jallikkattu, precipitating the massive uprising in Tamil Nadu. To top it all, the “America Tamil Sangam” which co – sponsored Ms. Aishwarya’s program, had conferred “Tamil Rathna” award on Mr. Subramanian Swamy, a right wing politician infamous for his tirade in Twitter, calling Tamils as “porukkis” (meaning scoundrels or goons in Tamil according to context).

So, on both counts – celebrity status and public spirit – she is an ineligible candidate for being an “UN Ambassador” or a “Messenger” for its missions.

This raises the question, whether Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Women Deputy Executive Director, had given proper thought and consideration in selecting her to the aforementioned designation. Obviously it does not seem so, and heaven knows what transpired in her selection, which further raises the question whether Ms. Lakshmi Puri had adhered to the “Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service” as prescribed by UN. (In particular, note paragraphs 23 & 24 on conflict of interest and preferential treatment respectively).

Did the media ever probe into such basic questions required of ethical journalism? Did any “public intellectual” of any persuasion dared to raise such questions? How pathetic is the state of our public debates and discussions? Can we say, just in tune with the pathetic performance of our pitiable “Goodwill Ambassador” at the “UN Headquarters”?

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