In Defence of Shahrukh Khan

I have always disliked Shahrukh Khan. His films are okay but I just can’t stand his interviews and his tongue-in-cheek replies. He is a wee bit too witty, too smart for my liking. And the undisguised adoration with which my wife and daughters watch all his films and TV interviews does not make it any better for him! But he is entitled to have his say, just as all the rest of the 1.25 billion that comprise our nation.
The other day a friend compared Shahrukh’s current dilemma with that of the character played by Dev Anand in the film ‘Guide’. Where greatness is thrust on a man who gets caught in his own statement. Where his sense of conviction goes on increasing with worsening of odds. Until he meets a grim end and achieves greatness. The reference got me thinking about the famous dialogue towards the end of the same movie, where Dev Anand is refusing to be dissuaded to continue his fast in light of his deteriorating health. On being asked whether he really believes that he can make rainfall happen by his fast-unto-death, he states, “Ab sawaal yeh nahin ki baarish hoti hai ya nahin, ab sawaal yeh hai ki bhagwaan hai yeh nahin” Shahrukh Khan’s situation is somewhat similar. “Ab sawaal yeh nahin ki Pakistani players India mein khelte hain ya nahin, ab sawaal yeh hai ki hamare desh mein Rule of Law hai ya nahin?” Can anybody deny him his right of stating his mind? Whether he is right in his opinion or not is beside the point. ‘What kept him from bidding for one of the Pakistani players himself if he was indeed so concerned about the entire issue,’ was my initial reaction to the situation. My wife promptly jumped to his defence. We love arguing on Shahrukh Khan! But I now realize that had the guy really bid for the players, he would have been labelled a traitor by a wider section of our citizens. Jis desh mein Gandhiji ko koi bewakoof goli maar gaya, wahan Shahrukh Khan kya cheez hai! While opinions are sharply divided on the issue of Pakistan (the apparent blog support to Shahrukh notwithstanding) yet as free thinking citizens of India we must not loose track of our basic ethos. India does not stand for intolerance. No nation of the world became great out of inward thought. If we have to grow and stick together as one, we have to learn to tolerate dissent. Our Constitution allows it. We are all equal in eyes of law and nobody can be denied his freedom of speech. We, the people of India, have to stop the bullies and their fascist agenda.
I recount an episode at the time of the 1992 Assembly Elections in Punjab. The writ of the Sikh militants ran large. The Government was attempting to restore the democratic process in Punjab and the radicals were hell-bent on opposing it. There would be shootouts and killings everyday. Not a soul could be seen on the roads after sunset. There was little hope of peace returning to the troubled State. The police patrols and army convoys were seen with equal distrust and trepidation as the gun-totting militants by the Sikh peasantry. The elections seemed to be doomed to fail. Posters had been put up in Punjab villages warning the villagers against venturing out for voting on the election day. Nobody doubted the ruthlessness of the militants and not a single voter turned up in many of the rural polling booths. I was twenty two and had never voted. My dad had been put on election duty by the Government and we were worried to death about his safety. My family had settled down at my ancestral village about a decade back. My dad had constructed a new house on the outskirts of the village and it was a lonely existence in those terrible times. Not a soul resided within kilometres of our home. The dreadful tales of massacre of innocent people by the militants and the ‘disappearances’ after police action would keep us awake at nights. The dog’s bark at night or the sound of a vehicle stopping by our gate would send a chill down the spine. We were a family of clean-shaven Sikhs and ‘they’ could come for us any day.
It was afternoon on the polling day. Not a single voter had cast his vote in our village. I stood with my mother on our terrace looking at the army convoys and the police patrols move menacingly up and down on the road going to the city. I remarked that the Government was really trying hard to make the Elections successful. ‘What’s the use if not a single voter has the himmat (guts) to vote?’ was her reply. Now, I am a timid man. I have never played cricket as I am scared of the cricket ball. I rarely got into fist fights as a child. I have been afraid of dogs and rats all my life. But I have always hated being bullied. And at that moment the painful truth struck home that I was not refraining from voting because I was convinced of the radical Sikh viewpoint. I was not voting because I was scared of the bullies and what they could do to me if they found out that I had dared to defy their diktat. So in that moment of truth I decided ‘to be a man’ and go ahead and vote. My mother was horrified to learn what she had inadvertently done and pleaded with me to reconsider. But the die had been cast and I started for the Government school where the polling booth was located. It was a two kilometer walk from the house and the mean looking Punjab Policemen in plain clothes, the so-called ‘Cats’ moving in unmarked vehicles crossed me twice, scaring the shit out of me. As I neared the village I could feel the inquisitive eyes of the village folk sitting on the terraces looking at me with disbelief. I was sweating with fear for I felt that I was being marked for the inevitable retribution that would follow later in the evening. The polling duty staff were even more shocked than the villagers to see me appear at the school gate. They had not been expecting anybody to turn up so they had not bothered to get their polling material ready. It meant an extra half hour at the booth and it did not help my queasy stomach. I finally cast my vote and could not help feeling triumphant as I headed back home. I had defied the bullies and nothing would undo that. My mother refused to speak to me or even register my act of bravado! That evening the militants shot some of the hapless voters at night in an adjoining district. My dad returned home safely from his election duty and we waited for that deathly call by the militants. The terror in those days was complete and our lonesome house on the village outskirts was an easy target. But they never came. The Sikh peasantry had had enough of being bullied by the militants and the police alike and the 1992 elections proved to be a turning point.
I feel that its a day of reckoning for the Mumbaikars. Are they going to allow themselves to be bullied by a handful of thugs or are they made up of stronger stuff? ‘Ab sawaal ye nahin ki Shahrukh ki picture chalti hai ya nahin, ab sawal ye hai ki mumbaikars darteh hai ya nahin?’