The SRK conundrum
November 6, 2015 Leave a comment
This famous name invokes such reactions from Indian public ranging from women who swoon over his dimples and romantic postures, to thankful producers whose riches grow more by churning movies for NRI constituency, to those who think of him as a ‘poster boy’ of secularism and of course a section that’s mad with him for whatever he does and does not.
He is an enigma, without any doubt.
He has danced at weddings, hosted award shows, done game shows on Television and romanced numerous women without too much of running around trees.
He owns a production house, a cricket team, a beach facing bungalow and several crores in bank accounts. He endorses everything, from colas, cars, shaving cream, phones and attire.
In movies, he has stalked a woman, been a don, has coached a women’s hockey team, defused bombs, danced on top of a train, led a team in a gold heist and generally entertained a vast majority of people in India and abroad.
He dances, prances and romances.
He has slapped his director’s husband, has running duels with mega stars of his generation and invokes aura from the next generation of actors.
He is a devout Muslim but he does smoke and possibly might be drinking as well.
He also has been a very steady family man with a wife belonging to a different religious faith.
Personally speaking, I am no big fan of Shahrukh Khan, but I don’t get to decide his fate at the box office. He is successful, in fact very successful.
Despite such a diversified side to his overall personality, usually, most people are interested in boxing him into two corners – Beacon of Secularism, pride of India – or – Pakistani, anti-national who needs to prove his patriotism -.
I don’t agree with either of the assessments.
Having a successful inter-religious marriage or winning the affection of a huge section of population doesn’t by itself guarantee the ‘secular’. By the same count, he cannot be castigated as a ‘Pakistani’ or an ‘anti-national’ because he chooses to speak on some subjects. Selectively of course.
Let me first address his naysayers.
The problem with a section of population, mostly Hindu, is that they measure the ‘patriotism’ of a Muslim by the extent of his Pakistan bashing. Most Muslims are not known to bash Pakistan publicly or even if they do, certainly not stridently.
Islam as a religion doesn’t recognize nationalism as it structured mostly on the notion of ‘brotherhood’. It is perhaps difficult for a Muslim to bash a country whose population shares a common faith with him. And also because the average Muslim is too busy eking his livelihood that he has no desire to pass this “litmus test”.
Shahrukh Khan is no exception. He is certainly pro-Pakistan when it comes to members of his industry or contracting players for his IPL team. He is perfectly entitled to and must not be castigated for his preferences.
The Constitution of India guarantees every citizen of this country freedom of speech, freedom to live and work wherever they want to. No one should impinge upon this right of Shahrukh Khan whatever his views about Pakistan are. The attempts to hold up his movie releases or disrupt his work otherwise are highly condemnable. It takes away whatever merit that may be there in opposing his views.
Now, to why Shahrukh isn’t exactly a beacon of Secularism as the media loves to project him.
Rabid politicians on either side of the political divide have made the singing of ‘Vande Mataram’ a communally sensitive issue. As much as a Muslim’s nationalism cannot be questioned because he doesn’t sing the ‘Vande Mataram’ , Shahrukh hasn’t come out clearly on what is his stance. Is he among the conservative elements of his community or does he resonate with the broad sentiments of his country ?
Shahrukh wrote a piece on his “Life as a Muslim in India”. Again he has every right to do so. But he failed, in my view, to communicate clearly that he is in a ‘dialogue’ with his own country and therefore strongly rejects any unsolicited advice from those quarters which are opposed to his nation’s interest. For all his pet peeve against those asking him to go to Pakistan, Shahrukh conveniently says nothing about the “invite” from Hafiz Saeed, not exactly an apostle of peace and secularism.
His recent interviews with couple of leading english electronic channels, hardly convinced me that he is “truly secular”. As much as the interviews coincided with his 50th birthday, they also ran parallel to the bitter elections in Bihar.
Shahrukh has always been circumspect about saying anything against those professing Muslim political exclusivity – namely the Muslim League and MIM – but he did shed his prudence, purposefully some could argue, when he chose to add ‘fuel to the intolerance political fire’ that was raging in the country.
It is laughable for anyone to suggest that the society has suddenly become intolerant except of course if you are suggesting it for political reasons. He is well within his rights to be critical of the Govt and a party, but he cannot, call an entire nation as ‘intolerant’. A nation that has showered him with praise, success and a huge box-office fortune.
It was an extremely poor attempt by Shahrukh to put the Govt on the back foot, both from content and timing points of view.
There are several instances where Shahrukh didn’t make his “secularism” to work with bigots of his own community. Prominent being the troubles faced by Kamal Hassan over his movie release or the fatwas issued to A R Rahman.
A person who doesn’t examine secularism within his own belief system, in my view, cannot be truly secular. So for Shahrukh to pretend that ‘secularism’ has suddenly taken a worse turn is either a political stunt or reflection of his political bias.
Shahrukh shouldn’t also make a big issue of unintelligent statements, for if he does, he dignifies those who make them and also encourages those who want to use him for political gains.
Shahrukh must be a talisman for his community, urging them to be more mainstream, shed perpetual notions of victimhood and be confident about their rights offered by the country.
While he doesn’t have to be apolitical, he shouldn’t try to provide political capital to a particular party in the garb of being a “secular”.
As a public personality, he has to reconcile to the fact that he’d be subject to some level of scrutiny. While he may not always be accepting how he gets scrutinized, he should learn to take them in his stride.
The nation too reserves it’s right to accept or reject his views.
To borrow from his movie titles, for both sides, it is ‘Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naa’