There are very few people in our country who are as articulate as Shah Rukh Khan. And when he says something, people listen. Not because it’s a superstar speaking. But because his words carry the heft of a common man who has had varied experience in life.
So, when the Indian Express published edited excerpts from an interview on why Indian superstars don’t take a stand against political dispensation, you can’t miss the anger of a man who has braved the knuckles of paparazzi, gossip mills, unwarranted media controversy and unceremonious hashtags. In a response to the question on why Indian actors don’t talk like Meryl Streep, he said something that Indian media hit right in its ribs and trigger some sort of serious introspection.
Here’s what he said:
We are left defenseless to questions like these. We have seen the Prime Minister being interviewed. How many tough questions was he greeted with? We have seen the leaders of the Opposition party being interviewed, and no significant questions were asked.
However, that shaking line apart, SRK’s anti-media drags don’t make much sense. SRK’s main grouse with journalists today is that they tend to editorialize facts, interviews and everything that is news. But there is hardly anything that can be done about this new phenomenon. Journalists by the dint of being journalists are highly opinionated people. Due to rigorous coverage of everyday developments, extensive traveling to report, interacting with a host of people, they do develop a knack for finding patterns in isolated events, they have the talent of reading between the lines and pitching a story to sell it the right way. He also has a strange problem with the stardom enjoyed by some present day anchors.
He also has a strange problem with the stardom enjoyed by some present day anchors. He says:
“I am waiting for mediapersons to get over their wonderful, newly-gained stardom.”
There can not be a more ironical statement that this coming from a man who is so obsessed with his superstardom that he glorifies his own old hit films in his new films. For a moment, keeping aside all that is wrong with the anchor centric news business, stardom, to begin with, is a monster created by Bollywood. Nowhere in the world do people obsess as much about their filmy heroes and characters as much in India. And Bollywood superstars have milked this obsession to the fullest. The absolutely choking hold of the Khan trinity on box office, distributors and release dates (Diwali-Eid-Christmas arrangement) works like a silent, behind the doors mafia.
The recent fiasco at Vadodara platform where a man lost his life because of the fan frenzy triggered by Raees‘ promotion is a direct product of the poisonous superstardom that he hates when worn with elan by news anchors. The fact of the matter is that indeed, as Khan grudgingly points out, all of a sudden everyone wants to “look good and lose weight”. However, he forgets to point out his obsession with looking good and young forever, even at the age of 50 is his juvenile urge to play the lover boy and romance women half his age. Stardom doesn’t belong to Bollywood alone. Anchors too can enjoy that aura. It might not be great for news and journalism but it’s a reflection of a more egalitarian society in which an unglamorous personality with a strong voice can shut politicians up on television and doesn’t have to look perpetually in awe of film stars.
His next complaint is that he cannot be asked to react to random situations at the whims and fancies of the media and a journalist shouldn’t use his bytes and quotes to fulfill his agenda or pad up their own opinion. True, he can choose to not speak on any of the existing issues. However, his argument, “after Meryl Streep’s speech, asking me why Indian actors are not doing the same is weird. It is like asking me suddenly why I am not playing golf like Tiger Woods,” is completely misplaced.
Let’s go back to what Streep said:
“This instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public … by someone powerful, it filters down into everyone’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
This is an actor speaking up against bullies and one of them has been elected as the President of the United States of America. On the other hand, what does Khan choose to do when faced with bullies. He negotiates with them. So, he definitely cannot say that asking him to comment like Meryl Streep is like asking why doesn’t he play golf like Tiger Woods. The analogy might sound nice when SRK says it with his dimpled charm but the truth is it is a stupid argument to make and the fact is he did give into his bullies, unlike Streep who chose to speak up against them.
All in all, Khan’s problem with the so-called tyranny of the star anchor is quite difficult to understand. What is it that he is complaining about? In the last one week, the kind of publicity media has provided his film is unimaginable. The media has never targeted him for casting Pakistani actors or for saying that there is rising intolerance in the country. If anything, all newspapers, blogs, magazines have only attacked the political class for trying to barge into artistic freedom and the freedom of expression guaranteed by our constitution. And then after all this, he chooses to negotiate with the Raj Thackerays of our society while trashing the media. It reflects poorly on the way politics functions and Bollywood functions. But who cares because taking a clear stand when you can afford to take one and to clean one’s own house is any day more difficult than bashing the media.