Shah Rukh Khan in the hilarious AIB Podcast also rekindles the ‘intolerance’ debate
The sense you get from the AIB podcast is that one of the wealthiest, most popular and recognisable Indian celebrities, Shah Rukh Khan, is nearly as powerless as the common man, when it comes to expressing an opinion.
In the opening minutes of Part 1 of the AIB Podcast with Shah Rukh Khan, the moment the AIB Roast is mentioned, SRK goes into a playful disclaimer about how he was not a part of the Roast. “I wasn’t in the country, I wasn’t even on the planet. The only roast I know is roast chicken, which I love.” And in the same breath, he mirthfully directs a line to PETA, about how he actually doesn’t eat at all.
As funny as his helplessness seems, it goes on to set the tone for an exercise in how to make people laugh while playing it safe. And therein lies the great paradox of AIB’s podcast with SRK. How, at the same time, it manages to be outrageously funny as well as significantly depressing; because the sense you get is that one of the wealthiest, most popular and recognisable Indian celebrities is nearly as powerless as the common man, when it comes to something as basic as respectfully expressing an opinion. Forget about ever being able to share your own point of view, dear reader, because you are most certainly going to offend someone and bring out their intolerant side. The media – both, actual and social – usually has a field day talking about how Indian stars can’t take a stand. There's enough written and said about how India just doesn’t have an atmosphere that lets a public figure express themselves without the danger of facing repercussions, which can sometimes even turn violent.
Today, it seems like fringe groups, particularly those sharing ideologies with the BJP-led Right Wing government, are competing about how inane their reasons for violent protest can be.
Remember Raj Thackeray, a goon in politician’s clothing, holding Karan Johar to ransom over Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, threatening the same with SRK over Raees? Or the Right Wing soc-med troll army targeting Snapdeal because of Aamir Khan’s statements about intolerance? Or just a few days ago, when a fringe group called the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS, would you believe) roughed up the unit of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati? Yes, as Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. So it becomes imperative for those with any sort of privilege or power to step out and make use of it, to improve the quality of discourse and to plainly express their views on what plagues society. Also read: Shah Rukh Khan’s criticism of media makes sense, but he must speak out more often But what does one do when every word of yours is analysed, sometimes published out of context, usually leading to some sort of controversy? And what do you do when the government of the day turns a blind eye to hooliganism, sometimes even surreptitiously encouraging it? It is most telling, the fact that in an episode where Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t take any names, he manages to make a slight dig against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is perhaps the softest political target in the country. This, when SRK didn’t even take Bhansali’s name while referring to the vile attack by SRKS on the sets of Padmavati. In his Indian Express article, Shah Rukh Khan openly tells the media that if he is given a platform to speak and there is something to speak about, then he will gladly speak out. Yet, in the same article, he also says that currently there actually is no situation that needs him speak out. That, we know to be patently untrue. For never before have we been so morally and culturally policed at every step of our existence. Yes, we’ve had books and works of art being banned by previous governments as well, but what we’re witnessing today is something that should truly worry us. Indian democracy isn’t as mature as Western democracy, because maturity in our polity can only come when we as people and society evolve first – and this is a process that will take time. However, the current air of fear and silence is an impediment to that process of growth and evolution, something that can clearly be seen with how intelligent, outspoken people like Shah Rukh Khan are now conducting themselves at various public platforms.
As citizens, we have the right to expect people like Shah Rukh Khan to take a firm public stance. But simultaneously, we lose the right to expect that from our public figures if we fail to assure them that their words will not be twisted out of context, and that any protest against their words will not take a violent turn.
Until then, let’s just make do with heavily-veiled allusions of the kind SRK made with AIB, or perhaps not even that. Because, as a society, if we take away his power to speak, then we also lose our right to expect him to shoulder any responsibility.
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