In the seventies and eighties, it was not a great feeling to be portrayed as rich in movies. More often than not, it was the rich guy who was also the bad guy, who schemed hard to make the life of the hero miserable. He was invariably against the nobler values of love, equality and freedom. The poor guy, on the other hand, toiled hard against miseries bestowed upon him generously by the populist director. The integrity of the poor guy was always unquestionable and he was the epitome of all things good. The movies, of course were in some ways a reflection of the times. The middle class often aspired to public sector jobs and the rich guys, the business men were at best looked upon through a suspicious lens. The bigger businesses were family owned and there were very few first generation entrepreneurs. Much has changed since then. Post liberalization, many from the lower strata of India’s economic classes have started or joined private companies and being rich was no longer as much of a taboo as earlier. In the late nineties, the films started reflecting this and it was not uncommon for the hero to travel in personal helicopters or be the scion of a multi crore business empire. The simmering hatred for rich people in earlier times was slowly but surely changing.
The Forbes list of richest people has more and more billionaires from India every passing year. Some of the ones included in this exclusive list, like Mukesh Ambani and Azim Premji are among the richest in the world. It is not so difficult to imagine a time, when we have a much more disproportionate number of billionaires in the list from India, much like the number of Indian beauty queens in early part of the new millennium. It is somewhat of an uneasy laurel for a country like India, which by many accounts is also one of the poorest countries of the world. A majority of Indians depend on agricultural incomes, many a times dependent on uncontrollable factors like the monsoon. The urban employment rate still lags behind most developed and developing countries. India’s Human development index measure is appalling at best. Urban poverty is so palpable in cities that even the capital has to go through a makeover to hide its poor for showcase events like the commonwealth. In terms of sheer number of people, India is the poorest country in the world.
So, as citizens of one of the fastest growing economies of the world, should we feel proud of the burgeoning number of billionaires in our country? Or should we reserve the suspicion if not hatred of the seventies and the eighties. The answer to this rather divided question is probably somewhere in between. Let’s look at what the billionaires of the first world are up to. Bill Gates, for long the richest man on earth, has transformed himself from a software mogul to a modern day saint. His enormous riches have enabled him to create one of the largest charitable organizations in the world and he has changed the lives of millions around the world. Warren Buffet, the legendary investor is not very far behind. He has pledged a large part and in time, plans to pledge almost all of his wealth to philanthropic purposes. It is quite amazing that Gates and Buffet, born in the world’s most developed country, which hardly get to see the extreme poverty in countries like India are able to look beyond individual greed and are able to display such generosity. Some of India’s richest have started participating in what is known as creative capitalism in very small ways, but the majority of them still come across as ones who spend most of their time living extravagant lives, building billion dollar homes or buying IPL teams. The richest in India have the opportunity to show their large heart and complete the transformation to heroes, much like their western counterparts have so successfully done.