By Lakshmi Chaudhry and Sandip Roy
So Shahrukh Khan shot his mouth off about Baba Ramdev, accusing him of harbouring "an agenda." Now why would a major Bollywood star go looking for trouble at such a politically fraught moment? In other words, what's his "agenda"?
The more interesting question about the SRK brouhaha is not what he said but why.
A great number of our commenters seems to think SRK's comments were motivated by his own vast—but unverified— reserves of black money. Still others suspect him of being a Congresswala. But as those 140-plus Facebook 'likes' indicate, there are just as many who sympathise with his cynical take on the baba. Or as one Twitter fan put it: "If you like Shahrukh Khan, raise your hand! If you don't like Shahrukh Khan, raise your standard!"
Whether he is right or wrong— and conspiracy theories aside—here are our top five reasons why King Khan put foot in that big, wide, sexy mouth:
One, it's a publicity stunt. Yes, let's get the obvious out of the way. He made the comments in Indore promoting the trailer of his new movie, RA.One. So, duh! And this is a guy who has made box office hay out of political controversies in the past.
It worked spectacularly well for him with My Name is Khan. First, he made headlines for being stopped at US immigration, and then took on the Thackerays and won. When Bal Thackeray labeled him a foreign agent for saying Pakistani cricketers ought to be allowed in the IPL, SRK stood strong and tall, "I have not said anything that is anti-national or anti-Indian. I stand by what I said and I would like to say that may be the group has misunderstood me. There is no other reason because I have not said anything I should feel sorry about."
The whole furore helped jack up the box office both among the multiplex audience and the diaspora, with whom it suddenly became a way to vote your conscience, albeit with popcorn and medium Coke on the side. It grossed $25 million in its first ten days. And thence the great Khan thrived. No wonder SRK thinks that this time around he can put his hand in the bee-hive and come away with PR honey.
Two, he truly has a problem with leaders who smack of Hindutva aspirations. Baba Ramdev's political ideology—exemplified by his coziness with the RSS—represents everything that SRK loathes. Khan represents a Brand India that’s Nehruvian-secular but in trendy ripped jeans and designer shades. Ramdev is exactly that combustible mixture of god and politics that the "new Indian" in Khan fears about "old India." Like a good secularist, he's always kept his faith private, and his commitment to secular ideals is clear in his own personal life [See: Gauri Khan]. Like it or not, SRK is being entirely honest when he expresses an instinctive distrust for god-men looking for political power.
Three, he knows his multiplex audience is already on his side. As he told reporters at the very same Indore event, “I am a selfish person who wants to be admired by his fans and well-wishers in Bollywood.” Shahrukh Khan knows a lot of the middle and upper middle class who flock to his films have deep misgivings about Baba Ramdev and his satyagraha circus. They are nervous when a bearded man in saffron robes declares, "I will end corruption and save the nation."
Despite the bricks and bats, the anti-Muslim hate mail, and plenty of snide comments about his own kala paisa, his core audience won’t desert him for speaking out. And he’ll even get some extra kudos from the intelligentsia who usually prefer the oh-so-caring and intellectual Aamir Khan.
Four, he said it because no one else in B-town will. Ramdev may not have evoked a big flurry of celeb support, but most VIPs, political or otherwise, have preferred to maintain a diplomatic Twitter silence. Even the goddess of secular things, Shabana Azmi, chose to duck the fight, issuing instead a token statement of support: "What Baba Ramdev has done by raising the issue (of corruption) again is a very good thing."
Amitabh Bachchan, the only star with the gravitas to take on Ramdev has little appetite for political controversy. Besides, who wants to revive all those unpleasant memories of Bofor? With politicians kowtowing to the baba, Bollywood staying quiet, the door was wide open for King Khan, who walked right in, thinking "Hey! Why not?"
This is the guy who refused to jump in line when all of Bollywood was singing praises of Anna Hazare. Clearly, SRK likes playing lone wolf when it comes to his political causes. It's always nice when there's no one else to share the spotlight.
Five, it has done wonders to his power ranking. For months now, the chatter in Bollywood has been about SRK's declining fortunes and star power. How better to re-assert his clout than take on the man who has even the Indian prime minister placating him on bended knee.
When SRK took on Thackeray, India Today waxed eloquent: "[H]e stared down the bullying Shiv Sena, emerged as the voice of the liberal Indian, and showed courage to a city that lives in fear of paper tigers." And as that Bollywood axiom goes: where there's a hit, there's got to be a bigger, badder sequel.
Baba Ramdev is just an excuse for King Khan to show all of India that he’s still number one. With balls.