Star struck

Salman Khan and scandal – an eternal love story

Controversy has actually aided the Bollywood star’s career, not hindered it.

Bollywood star Salman Khan was sentenced to a five-year prison term on Thursday for killing endangered blackbuck in Rajasthan in 1998 during the shoot of the movie Hum Saath Saath Hain. While actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam, who were also accused in the case, have been let off, Khan was indicted under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. In 2017, the actor had been acquitted by the Bombay High Court of the charge of running over a man while allegedly driving drunk in Mumbai in 2002, but the blackbuck poaching case has proved to be a bigger legal hurdle for the star and his minders.

Khan’s arrest has put a halt to his movie projects, including Race 3 and Dabanng 3, and his television shows. Race 3 is targetting a mid-June release during the lucrative Id holiday weekend – a prospect that will become reality only if Khan posts bail. The film trade will wait for Khan, as they have in the past.

Khan has been nailed to the cross and resurrected more frequently than any deity. Scandal and notoriety have invariably eased his path to box office domination. Indeed, commentators who have tried to analyse the maniac appeal of the man who is one of Hindi cinema’s most limited actors and biggest stars agree only on one thing: the more controversial Salman Khan becomes, the greater his popularity.

As the justice system catches up with him, Khan’s image as a wronged celebrity who has been targetted more for his fame than for his crimes has gained strength. Like politicians accused of rioting, businessmen of swindling banks and athletes of breaking the rules, Salman Khan is sought to be forgiven each time with the explanation that it is perfectly valid to take short-cuts or detours in a broken-down system.

Khan’s alleged assaults on his various girlfriends? They used him to get ahead and dumped him when their goals had been achieved. His reported alcoholic binges and violent behaviour? Mischief created by moralists who do not understand the pressures of stardom. He is only human, his supporters say – a belief brilliantly captured by the name of his foundation and fashion label, Being Human.

As his troubles have escalated, the ticket-buying public and filmmakers invested in Khan’s success have grown even more protective of him. They have neatly separated the star from the human being. His numerous acts of charity are cited as proof that he has reformed himself. His ability to draw crowds is evidence that he is an unstoppable force of nature, a phenomenon that can only be experienced rather than understood.

Khan’s box office appeal powered one of 2017’s most mediocre movies, Tiger Zinda Hai, into the record books. His magic touch did nothing for his other 2017 release, Tubelight, but its relative failure was blamed on the character that he played: a child-man who believes he can perform miracles.

Khan’s lack of interest in media interviews – possibly because he wants to dodge tough questions – and his naive remarks are held up as evidence that he is beyond hyperbole and above conventional thinking. The pleasure that Khan’s movie antics give his devotees is balanced with the pain at seeing him suffer for his troubles. How can one so loved, so successful, and so awesome be punished in this way?

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Tiger Zinda Hai (2017).

It is telling that Salman Khan and Hindi cinema’s other consistent scandal-monger, Sanjay Dutt, are referred to the “bad boys of Bollywood”. Did these Hindi movie stars, both now in their 50s, ever grow up?

Dutt is set to be mythologised by the film industry that sustained him in Rajkumar Hirani’s upcoming biopic Sanju. Dutt and Khan are spiritual cousins in some ways: their screen personas have eclipsed their achievements and aided their acceptance. Before Khan, Dutt was the prodigal son forever in search of redemption, “the template, the pioneer” of Bollywood entitlement, Yasser Usman writes in his recent biography.

“He was a model of masculinity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and perhaps the only star in the Hindi film industry to have become synonymous with drugs, guns, leather jackets, rippling muscles, long hair, drinking, smoking and partying,” Usman writes in Sanjay Dutt The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy. “He was open about his many girlfriends and was extremely popular in small-town India. His staunchest fans were men who imitated his macho personality. Sanjay’s image inspired directors to cast him in roles that mirrored his real-life personality. If you scrutinise his most iconic films – Naam, Sadak, Saajan, Hathyar, Khalnayak, Vaastav and Munna Bhai MBBS – you see that the characters he was playing on screen were actually an extension of himself.”

Khan’s childhood and adulthood are by no means the stuff of tragedy. He was immensely popular right from his first movie as a hero, Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). Despite suffering his share of flops and failures, Khan has always lingered somewhere at the top of the table, weathering the ascent of Shah Rukh Khan in the 1990s, the reinvention of Aamir Khan in the 2000s, and the rise of various second- and third-generation film family members over the past two decades.

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Dabangg (2010).

Khan has far surpassed Dutt in his ability to convince audiences of his innocence, fearlessness and sincerity. Journalists, petitioners and police officials have been cast as the villains seeking to derail Khan’s true destiny. His valourisation is on par with the sneaking admiration for the scamster and the glamourisation of the gangster. Khan’s acting talent is immense enough to perhaps fill a thimble. But the perverse admiration for his disregard for the rules that bind mere mortals could fill a bathtub. Scandal helped Dutt last longer than he should have. In Khan’s case, his undeniable charisma and popularity have helped him weather the worst storms. What can a slain blackbuck or a dead human being do to tarnish his greatness?

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.