There’s Barbie, of course, and a host of others who have epitomised the glam-to-cute spectrum with their blond tresses for generations of dark-haired Indian children, but when a real-life toddler joins the doll bandwagon, the fun and games acquire a new layer of complexity, say experts and parents.
Young Taimur Ali Khan is a doll. And no, this is not just a descriptive for the cuteness quotient of the two-year-old son of Bollywood power couple Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor but an actual 54-cm plastic fact.
A Kerala-based entrepreneur recently took the step to objectify the celeb toddler into a doll dressed in a white kurta, a blue Nehru jacket and blue pants.
With role play, gender stereotypes and young girls idealising the impossibly perfect figure of Barbie or the predominantly western look of the dolls they play with, these are the toys that have long been a problematic area, often generating image troubles that often into the teenage years and beyond.
And with the Taimur doll, what was just child’s play has acquired a new layer of complexity and commodification.
According to Nimesh Desai, director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences, ethics and morality find no place in this marketplace. It works on the simple formula of “commercialisation” where anything and everything that has demand and can be sold in the market will be “manufactured” no matter what.
So, the reality is this – two-year-old Taimur comes out of the car, everyone shouts his name, he gives a quick stare at the flashing cameras and breaks into a smile just on cue, waves ‘hi and bye’ and is off.
The paparazzi’s work is done with numerous websites and social media pages eager to grab the photographs and video clips of the pint sized celeb.
The toddler, thanks to his copybook cute look, has been making fans and paparazzi go berserk since the day he was born, a fan frenzy that took the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and even Thalaiva Rajnikanth years of work.
With Brand Taimur growing by the day, parents and experts ponder troubling questions — when does fandom cross the line, what are the possible ramifications for the child growing up in the eye of the publicity storm, what is the impact on children playing with such dolls and the big one, how much is too much.
“No one can deny the fact that the kid is just too cute to be true and one cannot get enough of his photos or videos. That said, the Kerala guy probably did a bit too much by manufacturing a Taimur doll. Sorry, that is not cute. On the contrary, it seems creepy to me, said Gurgaon-based Prisha Mandavya, the mother of a six-year-old.
“I would never want my kid to play with a doll which is a lookalike of another kid. Also, I am really against someone making a business out of an innocent child. The family (Kapoors) should take action against them,” she added.
Kareena and Saif have maintained in the past that they can’t help the attention their child gets.
There is apparently a rate card for each celebrity.
“They (photographers) get 1500 bucks a photograph for this guy (Taimur),” Saif revealed during a recent episode of the chat show Koffee with Karan .
The growth of a new culture of celebrity-hood and saturation media coverage means that older ideas of privacy are no longer valid, said sociologist Sanjay Srivastava.
“Celebrities need the media and vice versa. Taimur is a victim of the coming together of celebrity culture, media culture and consumer culture. He has become a commodity,” Srivastava told PTI.
Unlike in the West, there is very little or no regard for privacy in India, Desai agreed.
“Of course, regarding Taimur it is for his parents to decide and certainly moderation is always a good idea. But then I guess the media too to be blamed for overdoing it most of the time, Desai said.
“We here simply don’t have the the culture where people respect the concept of maintaining boundaries. For example, there is paparazzi in the UK too, but I doubt if the children of the royal family (Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis) are mobbed and bothered by shutterbugs the way we see here,” the senior psychologist added.
That said, according to industry insiders, the business of encashing on famous celebrity images by having their dolls in the market has not minted much money for toy-makers in India.
There have been the occasional forays into celeb dolls, Leo Mattel made a Katrina Kaif Barbie once and film merchandising has sometimes seen star dolls like Hrithik Roshan’s superhero avatar from the “Krish” series.
“Their business is very short-lived. They just never created the demand like that you see with the likes of Avengers, Captain America, Tom and Jerry,” said Satish Sundra, from Delhi’s Ram Chander & Sons, which claims to be India’s oldest toy shop.