Chaalbaaz, there’s a scene where the heroine, Sridevi, does a few smooth, rubber-necked dance steps. And the hero, Rajnikanth, who plays a taxi-driver, comments, “Arrey, Michaeli Jacksoni lagti hai (You look like a female Michael Jackson)”.
That was the magic of MJ. Millions of people, across genders, across nations, across class or colour or creed, many who had never before or since shown any inclination for ‘English muzik’ knew him, knew his dance moves, knew his status as the ‘King of Pop’. Like my ‘bai’ (the lady who looks after my children and home). She has never heard of Madonna, or the Beatles, or Presley. She does not know English. But she has heard about MJ.
When we were schoolgirls, in the long ago 1980s, whenever we wore jeans in our Bengali backwater-suburb of Barrackpore, we risked being eve-teased by the local parar dadas (neighbourhood rowdies), who would catcall, “Oi jachchhe Michael Jackson sheje (There she goes, dressed as Michael Jackson)”. Jackson’s post-plastic-surgery androgynous looks and high-pitched signature ‘Aooww’ shriek had them confused about his gender. But they identified him with all that was posh and westernized. He was their reference point for American popular culture.
The first MJ-album that I saw was BAD, when Doordarshan aired the Grammy nominees for that particular year. I saw the THRILLER video long after 1982. The never-seen-before dance moves blew my mind, and I liked the foot-tapping music, although, not being too tuned to American accents, I could not make out much of the lyrics. It didn’t matter, actually. The dance, for me, made up for all that.
Over the years, as the newspapers and videos showcased the facial changes and the court cases and the weird lifestyle, I wondered. Why a man, who could make millions feel so happy just by performing his moves and music, would obviously be so unhappy about his self-image as to keep on attempting to obliterate and recreate his own face? Why a man who had the world at his feet since he was a kid, refuse resolutely to grow up? Why a man who sang ‘Heal the world’ continue to exhibit bizarre behaviour in public and private? Why a man who was so confident on stage, be so bewildered and confused off it?
In an interview with Martin Bashir, MJ had said, “All I know of people is the applause.” Just goes to reveal how completely lonely and cut off from reality he was. For him, the stage was the reality. And now, the show is over. The eulogies have been written, the net has crashed, fans have mourned, the songs are being re-played, the mystery of the debts and death is being discussed and debated. But the wide-eyed, lost-misunderstood, tragic-pathetic, vain-pained, talented-tormented Peter Pan has forever left his Neverland to go and moonwalk among the stars.