Salman Khan on Being Human

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WHile people (read Sallufans) rage against the 5-yr jail handed out to Salmanbhai and whimper at how unfair was this decision. It went against how large-hearted a man such as bhai is…

He’s the one who sets the goons right with just a flick of his wrist (should it worry us that this happens only in movies? Absolutely not. For Indian fans, a hero in reel life is a hero in real life too), one who paints, walks the ramp, does roles absolutely unworthy of him simply to support his friends in the industry, the actor who has launched a thousand actresses, the man whose ‘being human’ initiative has been selling like hot cakes, both in terms of appreciation for its charity as well as in terms of fashion, has family values, and more than anything else, is hailed by all of Bollywood as one of the best hearts around… well, that’s the Salman Khan we all know.

He has had at least one prior run-in with the law (remember the blackbuck shooting case?), at least a few controversies (Aishwarya Rai!!) and all that. Through all of this, one thing has never changed – his popularity, the fellow feeling he inspires among the people of this movie-crazy country. I daresay it’s his antics and blatantly blatant one-liners – ‘Maine jab ek baar commitment kar di toh phir main apne aap ki bhi nahin sunta’.

‘If only a man could spit his past out so easily’ – The White Tiger

However, today, as Jolly-LLB was invoked in real life, the mind goes back to a literary reference: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. The Man Booker Prize winner story has an eerily similar setting. Of course, if you looked at this case from the book’s perspective, it is the driver who’d be the hero, no. Check that. He’d be the protagonist. The hero is Salman Khan. ūüôā

Sample this: The Trustworthiness of Servants is the Entire Basis of the Indian Economy.

And it rings true, isn’t it? Pay people off. Buy witnesses. Flip testimonies inside out. Because you have the money and they don’t. Money, the magic spinner.

Do we loathe our masters behind a facade of love or do we love them behind a facade of loathing?

If this feels bitter, it shouldn’t. We are quick to come Khan’s rescue – he’s powerful, with so much money riding on his future – they put the figure around Rs. 250 crore, that if he’s in the jug, share prices dive, people lose money, some even their jobs. Yes, it’d be awesome nice to have him around. He’d dance and shake around like he usually does, entertaining all of us and making a lot of money for himself and his stakeholders. He’d probably also do a lot of humanitarian work – a redemption we’re quick to offer in advance and almost as a blank cheque.
The argument is very persuasive that he’s a star and that he poses no threat to the society (although if you’ve watched a couple of his earlier movies, or some even now, that could be challenged ūüôā ) and therefore, a jail term would be excessive. If I were Salman, I would certainly think so. Since a lot of us would like to be Salman, a lot of us think so too. That he’s more valuable outside of jail than inside of it. Yes, also true.

But isn’t it likely, that everyone in this world, has killed someone or other on their way to the top?… All I wanted was a chance to be a man– and for that one murder is enough?

So, when we try to place a value on Salman’s future whether inside or out, we’re actually talking about privilege – The real force behind that push and pull for money. We all want him to have that privilege of walking tall and walking free because it is aspirational. As aspirational as his stardom – no wait, even more so. His stardom is only a means with which he has acquired this privilege. It’s what gave him this ability to bestow on the less lucky, a few moments of star-filled happiness; this privilege is at work when he has the means to act in so large-hearted a manner as to splash about his generosity among industry friends as well as the few, extremely lucky common people. It is a privilege. Not his property. If all his status does not afford him this privilege, what do all of us have to hope for?

After all, when a family once shared with me their meal during an overnight train journey after I found out there was no pantry to order from, and me being a single woman travelling, wouldn’t want to get off… I didn’t label them humanitarians! They shared their limited supplies. In my daily walk of life I am helped by innumerable people, some with their kind, generous assistance with their time, their information, their knowledge, their concern for me, and many with just their gesture of letting me go forth first. They’re humanitarians too, aren’t they? So have I been, to a few people, I imagine. It’s a privilege. Not a badge of honour. Because, at the same time, I don’t do anything that would hurt me for certain. Then, it’s be heroic.

In Salman’s case too, he wants to protect his privilege. He’s a star because we want his privilege protected too. The difference is this. Few people want to protect the privilege of someone like Ramalinga Raju or Mr. Mallya… but Salman, how could we not!

And this is where the law draws the line. Its job is to level this privilege. Because it belongs to one and all. Equally. I am not siding with the verdict, mind you. This deterrent is not needed here. It’s unlikely that Salman would ever commit such a crime again (drunk driving), I recognise that his running people over was most likely a case of losing control and judgment while driving a vehicle. It happens. It was a mistake and an error of judgement.

What’s important though, is what you do afterwards – do you run away? do you deny? do you let someone pay with his life what you should with yours? The law has taken its course and I don’t know if punishment serves its purpose. In my head, the jury is certainly out on that one.

What I see today is a Salman revealed. A human being. The truth – that all the herogiri is strictly for the camera, and why not! He wants to be allowed to continue his silver streak and will try anything to do so. Even attempt something so inane as “it wasn’t me, it was my driver”, with its moral and ethical grey areas firmly set across.

His advertisers are now planning to pull the plug on his endorsements – on the day of his conviction – rather than the day of the accident; It’s a case of punishing someone who was dumb enough to get caught. That’s pop culture for you. I don’t know what they’ll get out of this. You and I know that this is just as opportunistic as you and I would be in such situations.

Salman has a lot of support and well-wishers. I wish him the best. Look forward to a true blue hero on the screen at least!

An Entire Spectrum of Insensitivity – From Sweta to Parineeti

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Before I¬†editorialise what I am about to, let me first laud a verse penned by Sweta¬†Basu Prasad, which she says she did on¬†the fifth night of her stay at a remand home – I take the liberty to reproduce ‘The Cliff’ as it is called, here:

Click here for Mumbai Mirror’s cover story (Nov 4, 2014) on Sweta Basu Prasad – her side of the story

Thunderstruck, all alone, I stand here at the edge of the cliff
 I crawled the dense forest to get here, 
 The tribes and wild and strays
 They say 'jump, jump from the cliff.'
 As I look down, naked, cold and trembling,
 The ferocious sea I see with its mouth open
 It's ready to swallow me.
 The noises are unbearable, the place so dark. 
 As I decided to jump in the sea I saw the North Star.
 I remembered how it shone above my blessed home
 where singing, hugging, and laughter awaited me
 I said, 'Wait, I want to go home'.
 The voices murmured, 'End the journey.'
 'Jump! Jump you ugly thing.'
 I smiled to them and pitied them, 
 They don't know I have wings.

Sweta¬†is a child actor, a National Award winner, and most importantly, a girl who, when arrested under the charged of prostitution (sub judice) in a much-publicized ‘sting’ operation and put in a remand home for two months, got busy teaching other children and youngsters living under similar circumstances but having seen less privilege, education, and certainly¬†no¬†fame. Fame, is probably, what Sweta has seen both sides of now: her story drew every¬†type of reaction from the society – pity to sympathy to disapproval to a¬†strong feeling of solidarity – noted TV actress Sakshi Tanwar wrote a beautiful letter on Sweta’s plight¬†‘My On-screen daughter’, Sakshi Tanwar’s act of courage in speaking out for Sweta Basu Prasad. Let her case be what it is, let the¬†law take its own course, one thing is certain: in the sheer noise and mayhem of her world, Sweta’s verse shows she is still the master of her talents, her mind, and most of all, her dignity. Her poise, the absolute absence of rancor in her narrative of her story stands testimony to her strength – it tells us she has wings, and jump, she will not off the cliff.

On the other end of the very same spectrum – and 24 hours after Sweta’s version hitting the news-stands, comes a star’s (okay, a rising star’s) lame apology and explanation: “Did not mean to offend; it was the show’s creative team that asked us to do it”. Yes, the Parineeti Chopra who had a young journalist (male) schooled at a press conference on the subject of menstruation, the same young woman who has spoken out time and again about gender inequality and bias, was facing flak for playing a “prank” on a reality TV show contestant that entailed her accusing him of touching her inappropriately.

Of course, the Bigg Boss, Salman Khan, was in on it all and for all his Bhai-dom (on the screen and off it), allowed it, not without carrying on with the playacting for a while. The social media went viral with reservations about the prank’s trivializing impact on an issue that is rampant in India – that of sexual harassment. Not only that, Parineeti’s Kill Dill co-star Ranveer Singh who had made a big show of support during the Deepika Padukone “cleavage” controversy, talking about dignity and respect, stood aside during the “prank”. This behaviour somehow gives¬†credence to the cynicism expressed by many over the Deepika controversy with the idea that it wasn’t because the pictures were taken and published that DP was furious, it was that she was not being paid for it. If that sounds distasteful, so is the media voyuerism that I think DP rightfully made an issue about. Alas! words are words, money is money. And promoting a film, well that overrides all concerns about the impact of the exercise beyond the circle of influence of the Box Office.

Well, it heartens me to know that Parineeti and her KD team sent pizzas to the Bigg Boss House and that she wants us to take the issue lightly. We know that her hands were tied, her stardom and¬†her film’s success was at stake, that she was in no condition whatsoever to resist the creative assault of the big idea given her to enact. After all, she’s an actress and her job is to act. I do not understand why is she being called upon to defend herself, though. The questions as well as the disgust should be directed towards the production house and the creative team involved.

In the¬†cynical frame of my mind, Freddie Mercury’s immortal words come¬†flooding in (not a fan of his music anyway): “I am a musical prostitute, my dear”.

By the way, the word prostitute has the following meanings:

1) One who solicits and accepts payment for sex acts.

2)¬†One who sells one’s abilities, talent, or name for an unworthy purpose.
What makes it so easy for us to blame just the women. This is as much as question as it is not. What price this moral grandstanding?