Shah Rukh Khan, 57, part of the Khan trinity of superstars who have ruled India’s collective imagination for decades, has all his star equity riding on the upcoming movie Pathaan.
First, Khan refused to blink and took on his detractors over the manufactured controversy of Besharam Rang. You could fault the song for being banal and trite, but it was hardly an insult to a particular religion, as claimed by vociferous critics.
For the past several years, every Khan film release in particular and others not kowtowing to a particular ideology face severe backlash when they are at their most vulnerable: that’s when a film with a giant fortune attached releases.
Coordinatinated attacks from troll army
I can confirm that this campaign is not organic. It is organised and coordinated for big bucks. It is identical to the campaign run against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to brand him a “Pappu”, a dim silver spoon heirloom politician who is a dilettante. Khan has been named “Rahul” in most of his iconic films and shares the ire of a troll army of a political party.
The campaign against Bollywood has huge financial chops attached to it. The people involved have set up thousands of social media handles, some bots with a huge number of fake followers, to ensure that their bigoted take trends. It is a huge echo chamber against Bollywood and picks out selective scenes to harp on the anti-Hindu nature of movies.
Yes, you read that right, “anti-Hindu” films. The normal reaction would be to laugh at this nonsense, but Bollywood is not laughing as these trolls go for the jugular. Some blackmail superstars and say they will seed negative tropes about the film on social media and YouTube; some go to court on specious grounds seeking payoffs and hunting for headlines claiming their sentiments are hurt or a story or a song is plagiarised. Recently their ranks have even been joined by state ministers who function as full-time trolls and threaten Bollywood.
Apart from the fact that Bollywood is a multi-billion industry providing a living for a host of people, it’s one of the few industries in India which is blind to caste and religion. If you are good at your job, you will get work, is the creed followed in Bollywood. It represents Indian soft power to the world. Take the double-take reaction of iconic actor Sharon Stone to Shahrukh Khan. He is also the fourth richest actor in the world, which makes his detractors see red.
Bid to control Bollywood
Even the campaign against nepotism in Bollywood is, to a large extent, funded, as my investigation reveals. Yes, all the anger and outrage you see is bought and paid for, barring a few who act as propagandists for a political party.
The daily hashtags Ban Pathaan and Boycott Bollywood are also a part of paid trends to trigger impressionable minds into disliking something that they had loved and which gave them an escape to a different world for a couple of hours.
The attack on Bollywood is mounted with a desire to control the industry, which rules the heart of Indians everywhere. It aims to control the magic of stories and put out propaganda against “problematic” historical giants to turn them into pygmies.
Star power has to be subservient to political power and must work to enhance it, which means Bollywood and Mumbai should play second fiddle to Delhi and its political leaders. This might happen as the three Khans who ruled the screens and our hearts for decades are fading out, laid low by age and organised harassment every day. A similar campaign was launched against the well-known Indian painter M F Husain who finally left India because of the incredible number of cases filed against him.
Khan is one of the most cerebral Bollywood actors, and he knows who pulls the strings to shut down Bollywood.
A lot rides on Pathaan. Perhaps, a record-breaking hit will ensure that organised harassment wanes and magical stories can still be told. See you in the theatre.