[dropcap]F[/dropcap]an is an above-average film. But not only did it bomb right on the second day of its release, but also the few who went to watch the movie were not as gung-ho about it as were some movie critics desperately trying to promote the film with ratings of three stars or more.
This is a resounding slap on the face of Shah Rukh Khan and his ilk that have unnecessarily been issuing political statements for the past few years. One may ask whether, in the capacity of a citizen, a celebrity does not have the right to express his/her views on the state of affairs of the country. Tough luck! This is not how the celebrity status works. We recall two stories — one from real life and another from a reel story — to make the point.
Amitabh Bachchan was then the MP from Allahabad, representing the Congress. During a tour to his constituency, a young man approached him and said that his entire family was a fan of the star, but they all hated the Congress. Bachchan’s endorsement of the party had left them in a state of dilemma, the young voter said, which was affecting both Big B’s fan following and his fans’ varied ideologies and political affiliations. After retiring ‘hurt’ from politics, Bachchan spoke of this incident as one of the lingering thoughts that would bother him so much that he could not stay in the vocation he had forayed into at the insistence of his friend Rajiv Gandhi in 1985.
In the film Hulla Bol, the character Ashfaq alias Sameer Khan played by Ajay Devgn witnesses a murder and goes silent on it in the fear that the politics involved in the crime would affect his career. While he finally emerges a hero in the story, he indeed has to go through a lot of hardship to arrive there.
Shah Rukh Khan’s case is worse. On the one hand, he is not upfront about his proximity to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra, who are his buddies. He does not contest elections on a Congress ticket. But the discomfiture of his ilk in Bollywood (Mahesh Bhatt is another character of the type) at the sight of Narendra Modi as the country’s Prime Minister is all but evident.
Khan’s case is not like Ashfaq’s in Hulla Bol either. The National Crime Research Bureau’s data do not bear with his assertion that incidents of hate have risen in Modi raj. On the contrary, further investigations into every case that the media played up to project the Modi regime in poor light have revealed that they were hoax calls.
For example, no element of the Sangh Parivar was involved in the vandalism of a church in west Delhi; they were two Sikh youths who had had a bet that the one who would vandalise the neighbourhood church would prove himself to be a better Sikh! The burglary in a convent in the same city turned out to be an act of petty thieves who left all the religious icons in the place of worship untouched. Then some Bangladeshi infiltrators were found to be responsible for the rape of an old nun in West Bengal.
More of SRK’s ilk
So, finally the media latched on to Dadri, where one of the accused happened to be a son of a local BJP leader. It should have been common sense though that it is humanely impossible for any party to monitor and check the activities of all its individual leaders and members, more so when the accused was hardly ever heard of before. It was equally obvious that the party must not have instructed him to break the law, neither did it try to shield him when his name surfaced in the news from a State not ruled by the BJP. But the media got away with wanton character assassination of the party ruling at the Centre, aided further by sound-bytes from the Khan of this story and another, Aamir, whose wife had reportedly confided in him that this country was no longer livable! If Aamir had managed to correct his wife at home, as the subsequent part of his statement made in course of the Indian Express event suggested, why did he have to still bring the matter to public knowledge, if not for a political reason?
By the way, I hold no brief for an ambiguous BJP whose eminent leaders like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu sat through the session, listening to Aamir Khan’s nonsense and did not protest the odd statement that came from the actor.
Aamir’s politics had by then left nothing to imagination due to the film PK where he had targeted the trust that a large section of Hindus repose in gurus. Never mind that he had tried to balance the commentary with a fleeting glimpse of a mosque. Why were the Muslim characters in the film angry with him? Because the alien played by Aamir had entered their premises with alcohol! Not many would say the Muslims were angry for a wrong reason. But the Hindu guru portrayed by Saurabh Shukla came across as a dubious player. That is, Aamir told us that Muslims in this country get angry for valid reasons while Hindus do so for questionable reasons!
Making an industry out of insecurity
Back in the story of Shah Rukh Khan, from tele-series Fauji and Circus to the range of films between Deewana and Don 2, no movie buff held Khan’s religious identity against him. Then he suddenly started portraying apologetic characters in films like Chak De! India and My Name Is Khan. While a film actor like Shabana Azmi wears her communal identity on her sleeve during interviews and stints of activism, Khan used the silver screen to depict his unfounded insecurity. If that was not enough to make his fans uneasy, he finally branded the country that had raised him to the height of stardom as intolerant. The people of India decided not to take it lying down anymore. Ergo, his super-hit pair with Kajol could not rekindle the magic of the mid-1990s in 2015’s Dilwale. And now a better-scripted Fan has tanked.
It’s not his age
The other causes that one may look for in the slump in Shah Rukh’s career may not be that convincing. For more than a decade, his face has been showing signs of Botox and other surgical procedures almost making him come across as an androgyne. Well, some actresses have sustained their entire careers on plastic eyes, nose, cheeks, jawline, lips, chin… you name it! What about age? However patriarchal or misogynist it may sound, the Indian audience has happily lived with 40-year-old men as university level students; they have a problem only when actresses age [On a lighter note, one may say that now some institutions like the JNU are giving the male hags in tinsel town a run for their money!]
So, neither the cosmetic looks nor his 50+ status accounts for the foreseeable end of Shah Rukh’s career. The all-India box office reports of Day 2 and the near-empty hall I was sitting in last evening tell a deeper story. You have hurt India, Shah Rukh. When you issued a clarification, almost apologizing for defaming the nation, it looked like a commercial compulsion. India has rejected your apology as much as it has begun to reject your films.