A piece published online, titled “King of Victimhood: Shah Rukh Khan bites the hand that fed him” basically accuses Shah Rukh of being dented and painted. The rhetorical maneuvers of the piece could have done Abhijit Mukherjee proud. Unpack the bluster and you arrive at core: Shah Rukh Khan is not man enough; he is a whiner; there are no legitimate grounds for “Muslim victimhood”; and, Hafiz Saeed’s social media etiquette is Shah Rukh Khan’s fault.
Full disclosure here, I agree with the thrust of the piece on two counts – firstly, My Name is Khan is a terrible film; and secondly, class-rage against celebrities is healthy.
Here are some quick unconnected thoughts:
1) The actual quote at the heart of the controversy is sadly lacking in potency (or bite, as the metaphor goes). Instead, it reads like a factual recounting for the uninitiated:
“I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India.”
Khan even uses circumspect language like “inadvertent”, where I would have happily said “advertent”, because his Muslimness is used very knowingly by the right wing. The nation-image-issues people who decried Slumdog Millionaire for showing poverty (and therefore India in a bad light) are back to have blood, their gazes again turned firmly westward. I could write a flowery human-rights laden diatribe on Shah Rukh Khan’s right to criticize the Indian state, but I suspect he has very little interest in doing so.
2) This “Shah Rukh Khan bites the hand that fed him” logic is incredibly shoddy. If anything, it is the other way around. Shah Rukh Khan is firmly at the centre of what the film scholar Ashish Rajadhyaksha calls Bollywoodization – the commodification and marketing of a whole set of products surrounding the Indian film industry to markets in India and abroad. Exporting Shah Rukh Khan (often a squeaky clean Rahul era SRK) has helped the Indian state market itself abroad. Keep in mind all the Destination Bollywood tourism the Indian state increasingly receives revenues through such marketing.
3) I have no idea why Shah Rukh’s Muslimness takes up so much media airtime when there are other candidates. Shohini Ghosh has written here about the connection between lower-class Muslim audiences, Eid releases, plotlines and Salman Khan. Perhaps, it’s also harder to accuse Salman Khan of being effeminate.