Shah Rukh Khan’s criticism of media makes sense, but he must speak out more often

Pradeep Menon

January 25, 2017 17:21:21 IST

On Friday, the 13th of January, Rana Ayyub wrote an article about how Shah Rukh Khan playing Muslim characters in three successive films – Dear Zindagi, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and now Raees – is a rebellion on the actor’s part; a ‘big, brave messsage’, was what the headline of the piece called it.

Shah Rukh brought in his 51st birthday in Alibaug

Shah Rukh Khan.

And on the day of his film’s release, the Indian Express has come forth with a piece by Shah Rukh Khan himself, in which he refers to, among other things, Rana Ayyub’s article, as well as to Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech and why no Indian actors speak out the way she did.

Let’s keep aside right away the fact that his piece has come out on the day Raees releases.

Of course actors seem to have a lot to say when their films are around the corner. But that cynical desperation we have, to pull a star down just because they also happen to be promoting a film, must be relegated to the same dusty bookshelf where we’ve left most of our collective common sense.

What an influence like Shah Rukh Khan says matters for its text as well as subtext, no matter when and where he expresses his opinion.

While SRK outright denies that essaying three Muslim characters in successive films was meant to be any kind of statement – he apparently didn’t even know his character’s name in Ae Dil, and Raees is a film that has been delayed considerably – he goes on to berate the media for creating a point of view. This, perhaps, is the cue that media persons should be taking, to ensure that they are serving the interests of the public and the nation in the way that they are meant to – fairly, objectively, and with a sense of purpose.

Rana Ayyub’s article would have gotten its share of hits and haters, but it also runs the risk of adding to the noise, if it expresses an unsubstantiated opinion without asking the stance of the actor himself. There is a huge case for a course correction in the way the Indian media functions, and Shah Rukh Khan has pointed it out without any ambiguity. We need a more responsible media that is willing to battle their corporate masters while serving the news and informed opinion to the public.

The English language media, for the most, seems to be on a witch-hunt against the BJP-led government, while the regional language media seems largely biased in favour of Narendra Modi, almost acting as a mouthpiece for him. Who, then, does a free-thinking, neutral citizen trust?

Why would a celebrity like Shah Rukh Khan bother to express an opinion, when everything will be seen as an ideological statement as opposed to the views of a respected individual? Literally and metaphorically, the Indian media needs to cut out the noise.

Shah Rukh Khan as Raees Aslam in a still from Rahul Dholakia, Excel Entertainment and Red Chillies Entertainments' 'Raees'

Shah Rukh Khan as Raees Aslam in a still from Rahul Dholakia, Excel Entertainment and Red Chillies Entertainments' 'Raees'

There is, however, something else SRK spoke about, which needs our attention. Indian actors don’t speak the way Meryl Streep did, he says, because right now there is no situation that needs to be spoken about. This, perhaps, needs further analysis. Because there is no doubt that we’re at a point where people like him do need to speak out.

Shah Rukh Khan probably wrote his piece before BJP National General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya decide to paint religion and nationalism unto 2017’s two big Republic Day weekend releases. Back when Dil and Ghayal clashed, or when Lagaan and Gadar clashed, or when Asoka and Indian clashed, they weren’t Hindu films and Muslim films, they weren’t national and anti-national. They did or didn’t do well based on how the films were, nothing else.

Today, a man like Mr Vijayvargiya, who should be concerned with upholding the honour of the historic mandate that India gave his party and leader, is instead targeting films based on the religion of the lead actor. He hasn’t, for instance, thought about all those technicians and daily-wage workers who would’ve worked on both films; those who don’t care about the religion of the lead actor as they’re dabbing his face with make-up or moving a light to just the perfect spot to give the cinematographer the shot he wants.

Yes, we don’t have the same immediacy of crisis that the US has. They have a crass megalomaniac as their elected leader, one who hasn’t even taken a week in power to start handing out executive orders that could change so many fundamental things about the way the world functions. 

In India, the situation isn’t yet that extreme.

But we do need voices like Shah Rukh Khan to speak more often, speak more decisively, against men like Vijayvargiya, who try to obfuscate issues by tying art and culture with their own political agenda.

Yes, if he speaks out, SRK will be trolled and vilified; his love for his country will be questioned and he may even be told to go to Pakistan; but it is a battle that we need him to face head-on nonetheless.

Updated Date: Jan 25, 2017 17:32 PM