Date : 23-02-2010, Tuesday | 7 Comments
My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist…but I am a bloody good actor, on and off-screen.”
It has been both amusing and disappointing to watch the drama unfold over the past 2 weeks over an actor’s ‘innocent’ expressions and his freedom of speech. And the origin for this piece of writing was actually a scene that I saw on a prominent national news channel that showed people pouring milk over posters of Mr. Shah Rukh Khan—a traditional ‘Hindu’ ritual, giving thumbs up to Mr. Khan and the constitution of India and a thumbs down to the coercive politics of the Shiv Sena. And it struck me as regards to the pedestal that Indians place their icons on and the rights and responsibilities that celebrities need to match to this worshipping by their followers. They are literally demi-gods for the people and fans worship them IRRESPECTIVE of their idols’ religion, caste, community, and state. Mr. Shah Rukh Khan made a comment that India has always been a country with excellent ‘hospitality’ record and hence no matter how low the relations between India and Pakistan, Pakistani players should be allowed to play on Indian soil and earn thousands of USD. It is the ‘talent’ of players that matters, not their nationality. And, and, he adds, sports, arts, culture, should NOT be allowed to be affected by politics. Does Mr. Khan, an otherwise well-read individual and a sharp talker, realize that he was spouting thin-air words when he made such statements?
Throughout world history, arts, culture, sports have never been able to separate themselves from politics and international relations. Does he not know this? Does he not know that South Africa was banned from IOC for 20 years because of the policy of apartheid? It was not a reflection on the country’s each and every individual per se. It was a reflection on the fact that majority of people in decision-making positions were being hand-in-glove with the abominable act of apartheid. Was every South African athlete a racist and a supporter of apartheid? Weren’t there sane-minded sportsmen and women who had to bear the brunt because of the acts of a certain chunk of their fellow countrymen?
Germany was banned from Olympics from 1920 to 1925 because the Paris peace conference of 1919 majorly held Germany responsible for the outbreak of World War I. It was also made to pay financial penalty to the victors. Was the committee headed by the ‘3 great powers’ of US, UK, and France so dumb that it could not differentiate between the ‘subjects’ of Germany and its government? Were they not aware that the financial penalty would put millions of ordinary German citizens to hardship? Why are such embargos or penalties imposed? They are imposed mainly because the ‘decision-making’ bodies of the states that are initiators of such policies realize that their actions are of consequences not only to the public offices but also to the ordinary citizens who—in the true sense of the word—don’t have much input into such decisions. And when the state heads see the plight that the ordinary citizen goes through because of their policies and actions, somewhere, their ‘conscience’ awakens and makes them think hard the next time they put pen to paper endorsing any anti-civil and anti-human agendas. They should realize that however rich the country’s art, culture, or sports arenas, they are bound to suffer because of the actions of the state. The decision is NOT a reflection on the cultural or humanistic aspects of the country; it is a decision to make the decision-making offices of the country more conscientious.
Mr. Khan mixes words and creates confusion in the minds of the people who are privy to those words. He says Pakistan is a ‘good’ neighbor and that not all people should be made to pay the price for the acts of a few. It doesn’t matter that the ‘non-state’ actors that carried out the war on Bombay on 26/11 are actually Oscar-worthy actors from the state of Pakistan. Somehow the theatrical stage for all these non-state actors ends up in Pakistan. It doesn’t matter that the highest official of the country goes on record to say that they cannot assure that another 26/11 wouldn’t take place in India! Mr. Khan clearly is either disapproving of world history with regard to the triangle of administration, sports, and arts or is unaware of history. I would not veer toward the latter since I do have an impression that Mr. Khan is a person whose awareness quotient on current affairs and world history is quite good. The problem is when stalwarts like these, who KNOW that whatever they utter are sound-bytes for, primarily, the ENTIRE English-language media across the country of 1 billion, utter ridiculously inane statements and then cry foul when they fall prey to the extremist tactics—not ideologies, since in a democracy, one can be as leftist or rightist to the extent imaginable—of parties. Did Mr. Khan really think he would get away with making vacuous statements about friendship with our ‘good’ neighbor? Did he not imagine even in his wildest dreams that the hawks would be waiting gleefully for any instances of such utterances by one of—oh hell, let’s do away with the semantics—the most popular celebrity in India of India and the India away (read US, UK, the middle east, Pakistan, etc….) from India? Please do note that he did not use the social networking tool to just post in a ‘line’ about what he felt about the IPL selection fiasco. He uttered this in public for the press so that each and every word of his could be caught in all its glory.
Going by the trail of this incident and timing, is it completely far-fetched to think that Mr. Shah Rukh Khan evoked the ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ (the guest is equivalent to God) sentiment of India and Indians to garner eyeballs for his film? Now, before anyone draws out the daggers sharpened with statements that a celebrity of the stature of Mr. Shah Rukh Khan hardly needs ‘cheap’ publicity, let me expand on it. The inherent success of the past two weeks of drama is that it brought together his fans (who vouch for his ‘versatility’ in the acting arena) and his opponents (who vouch for his ‘non-versatility’ in the acting arena) under the same umbrella; that cinema-lovers who were never really keen about his movie ended up proclaiming on television that they would watch the movie just to ‘teach’ a lesson to the right-winged Shiv Sainiks. That the movie would open to packed houses WITHOUT the help of any controversy was a foregone conclusion. The actor’s million fans spanning from the East to the West of this globe would ensure that the film would turn out to be a hit. The film had to be REALLY, REALLY bad to turn out a loser. But this controversy has ensured that even that slight window of doubt is shut closed tight.
The cricketer Mr. Sohail Tanvir of Pakistan has gone on record on a Pakistani national television program (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iFiWmKYisw&feature=related) and said that the reason for Pakistani cricketers’ non-inclusion is because of the basic ‘zeheniyat’ (characteristic) of Hindus. He has branded the non-inclusion of Pakistani players as a conspiracy of the Indian ‘Hindus’ and tainted the entire episode with a religious stench. And Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, who was so vocal about non-inclusion of Pakistani players in IPL, has uttered NOT a single word about this player’s disgusting utterance. That this is the same cricketer who played in Indian Premier League 1 and earned thousands of dollars because of IPL that originated in India is not really a newsworthy piece for Mr. Khan. That the same player did not mind the ‘zeheniyat’ of Hindus when he played IPL 1 happily and enjoyed the hospitality of Indians to the hilt and that now his super-active brain cells are able to piece conspiracy theories together because of the ‘Hindus’ of India does not really bother Mr. Khan. Why is that? Let me be clear that this is not the case of Muslims of India having to go that ‘extra’ length to prove their patriotism. This is the case of Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, a celebrity, whose every word would have the media drooling at his feet, uttering irresponsible statements and trying to get away from the weight of those statements. This is about the responsibility that these celebrities owe to the people of India since their utterances constitute fifteen days of newsprint and newsbytes and bombard the people. These celebrities owe it to the country to help the beleaguered citizen of this country to give a proper answer as to why 15 days of their normal routine were held to ransom. Mr. Khan did not stop at that. He continued in the same vein and mentioned that his ancestry is from Pakistan. Excuse me? How does it matter where his ancestry is from? Who cares two hoots whether his ancestry is from Pakistan or Mars? Why did he think his statement is relevant to this controversy? Doesn’t Mr. Khan realize that his star-status is completely INDEPENDENT of his ancestry? Mr. Khan is the idol of millions of Indians IRRESPECTIVE of his background and his ancestry. Did he forget that? None of his admirers in India is actually concerned about his religion or his ancestry. What they know is that he is a screen-God to them. And he could have been from Aruba or Ambala. Nobody is concerned. And Mr. Khan is not naïve enough to realize that the true religions of Indian are only two; movies and cricket.
The same is the case with Mr. Aamir Khan, the other ‘superstar’ the perfectionist who ‘thinks’ a thousand times before he agrees on a script. Unfortunately, all his ‘perfectionism’ and pain-staking ‘method’ acting and thinking go out the window and he decides to sit in a ‘dharna’ supporting Ms. Medha Patkar without bothering to study the history of ‘NARMADA BACHAO AANDOLAN.’ He doesn’t bother to try to spend time to understand (http://www.ecoindia.com/education/narmada-bachao-andolan.html) the two sides of the coin. And till date, he hasn’t done that. BUT, the ‘dharna’ that he chooses to sit in of course gathers the entire press and Mr. Aamir Khan manages to make it national headlines and heckle the feathers of the anti-Narmada party and the ruling party in the state of Gujarat. Suddenly the ‘extremist’ ruling party of Gujarat—oh my! what a surprise—decides to ban the screening of his movie to be released in a week and lo behold, he is the victim since he ‘spoke’ out his mind! And the result of this controversy? The producer and the actor laugh all the way to the bank. And the citizens and movie-lovers of Gujarat are caught in the cross-fire and worry about their safety if they ever decided to watch a movie starring Mr. Aamir Khan. This was in 2006, and in 2009, he again repeated a similar act by commenting on the ethics of crediting authors in a movie and commenting on plagiarism without even actually reading the original source for his block-buster movie ‘3 IDIOTS.’
Mr. Shah Rukh Khan has, for the past few years, been close to wearing his religion on his sleeve. If one notices, it is only during the past few years that he has been greeting public, be it in Germany or India or the US, with a ‘salaam.’ He doesn’t take the neutral route of saying ‘Hello’ to the public or the audience. He first starts with a ‘Salaam’ and then retorts to other greeting formalities. He didn’t do this during the 1990s. He started doing this when his superstardom and numero-uno status got sealed after the cult-success of the movie ‘DDLJ.’ He became a known face internationally and in 2008, got ranked in the US edition of NEWSWEEK as the 40th most influential person of the world beating the likes of Mr. Brad Pitt and Mr. Clooney—and mind you, without a SINGLE English language movie or any association of the sort with the west. His usage of ‘salaam’ (or whether he decides to walk out everytime with a skull cap and a beard) is ABSOLUTELY his right and his alone and is NOT/should not be a matter of concern to anybody. That is a right that the constitution of India guarantees. Maybe he is doing this because post 9/11, he feels the need to be aggressive about his religious standing. If Mr. Bachchan has a right to wear ‘tilak’ on his forehead for any function, so does Mr. Khan to greet anybody and everybody with a salaam first. The issue here is that Mr. Shah Rukh Khan REALIZES the clout he has on society in general and the press in particular. So when he can use the press to clear any mis-conception people might have about Islam post 9/11, what is to stop him from making ridiculous statements just days before his movie releases and then to play the ‘victim?’ The Shiv Sena called him a traitor and told him to go to Pakistan. Really? Wow. That sure surprises me. In all its years of existence, the SHIV SENA has NEVER ever called anyone that does not agree with its ideology a traitor. This is the first time. And poor Mr. Khan and his film had to be victims of that. We really missed that one. This truly was out of the blue.
I do not even want to dwell over the Shiv Sena’s role in this matter because they have done what is EXACTLY expected of them. Mr. Shah Rukh Khan now says that he is ready to clear any ‘mis-understanding’ the Shiv Sena has with him and his statements. Why? There never was any misunderstanding! Everyone knows what Mr. Shah Rukh Khan said and everyone knows why and how the Sena reacted! There is nothing to clear! Now that the movie is a super-hit and people are safely thronging to the theaters in Bombay (will never be Mumbai to me), ‘all izz well’ that ends well huh? Contrast this to the west where the conservative Mr. Bill O’ Reilly of Fox news decides and publicly announces on the David Letterman Show (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDAae2MozGs&feature=related) that he would henceforth, boycott any Sean Penn movie because of Mr. Penn’s association with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. And Mr. Penn goes all out against President Bush and the Iraq war in 2003 and takes an ideological stand against the US government’s decision. And he sticks by it, till date. So does Mr. O’Reilly on his stand against Mr. Penn. Of course, it does help that the US doesn’t have the extreme leftist or rightists coming down to hooliganism as in India.
The final tally is that the winners are Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, the producers of ‘My Name is Khan’ and the Shiv Sena; and the loser is that fool called Indian who toils hard and pays taxes and wants some peace and enjoyment watching a piece of entertainment called cinema.