Well, that was frustrating! Is this what TV interviews are like? Blech!!!!! No wonder I never watch them. Not even getting into specifics of this interview, just this strange sort of “gotcha” style of question and then not letting the interviewee actually answer, drove me crazy!!!!! Why ask him a question if you aren’t going to let him talk and then respond?
Here’s the whole interview:
There’s a pretty simple outline to it. First she establishes who Shahrukh is through some simple statements-in-the-form-of-a-question which he isn’t really given a chance to respond to. Then she moves into pushing him to take responsibility for all sorts of things, the way women are portrayed in his films, then in all Indian films, then sexual harassment in the workplace in India, and without really letting him respond or educate her on any of it.
And then she moves on to pushing him towards criticizing Indian society, the treatment of Indian woman and/or the rising communalism.
And finally she ends by trying to get him to identify as a Muslim, and going so far as to announce that his father was a follower of Gandhi and a devout Muslim as though Shahrukh didn’t already know this. Well, actually he didn’t, because that’s not quite accurate. But close enough for television.
Gaaaaaah! This is why I like Koffee With Karan! Just let the person you invited speak for themselves instead of speaking for them and setting up straw man arguments. Make it a conversation instead of an attack!
One thing that struck me in this case, overall, is that she was approaching it as though she was going to force Shahrukh to think on these issues, she had done all this research (talked to people, read studies) and she was going to open his eyes and make him respond. Which would be a legitimate way to approach, for instance, Matt Damon after his questionable shutting down of a woman of color on his TV show. But you are talking about the treatment of women and sexual harassment on Shahrukh’s films, and the treatment of women in the content of his films. He has produced and been the overall boss of his last 20 or so films. He has strongly influenced how his heroines are portrayed ever since he became a star. He is the world’s leading expert on women on Shahrukh Khan film sets and women presented in Shahrukh Khan films. Film by film, sure, Anushka Sharma is the world’s leading expert on women in Jab Harry Met Sejal, but for his filmography as a whole, Shahrukh is the only one who was there on set for every film. And he talks to his fans and looks at the audience figures and has vast resources of information that she can’t even conceive of. And, most of all, Shahrukh has spent his entire career considering how to please his fans, what they want from him, what message he sends, and so on and so on. Not to mention being Muslim in India, which similarly Shahrukh has discussed and worked through ad nauseum (sp?) on public forums, and know doubt considered it personally to an even greater degree. He doesn’t need someone to “open his eyes” about that. This was an opportunity for her to learn from him, but she kept changing the subject, not letting him teach.
The “women on film” section was the one that was just jawdroppingly superficial to me. First, she quotes Kangana. And Shahrukh doesn’t bother telling her, or knows she won’t listen, if he tries to explain that Kangana is a special case, not the most reliable source, and certainly has never worked with Shahrukh. He also doesn’t bother pointing out that “sexual harassment” is a term that means something different culture to culture. Because something that is “harassment” in one culture is not in another. Things that in Hollywood would be accepted and not thought of (like, shaking a woman’s hand) might be an issue in Indian film, and things that are accepted in Indian film (like, insisting that you come over to the producer’s house for dinner with his family) might be seen as strange and unacceptable in Hollywood.
Most of all though, his reaction to her attack that women are scantily clad and made into sexual objects in his film results in a sincere “I am just trying to think of any film of mine where that is the case!” Because, he’s right! I mean, there are item songs and so on in his movies, but most of the time he is wearing as little as the actress, or even less. He certainly has no movie that glorifies abuse of women, rape, anything like that.
And then she randomly expands it to address the entirety of Indian film based on some study. Which, so far as I can tell, is a study specifically of female focused films (think Lajja, Arth, like that). So, NOT Shahrukh movies. Not romances. And also purely textual, no correlation shown between film and effect.
Shahrukh attempts to address the greater question here, that art has to both reflect society and push it forward. This is a fascinating thing to discuss, should he have pushed the envelope more? Had more divorced heroines, more films with working women, more films with speeches against the patriarchy? Not to mention that many of her examples of terrible things that happen to women in India, like only 5% allowed to choose who they marry, are directly addressed and contradicted by his films. But of course this is some kind of strange attack interview, so she doesn’t want to get into the discussion and let it go somewhere interesting, she just shifts position and moves on.
The biggest frustration is that she keeps mentioning things she was told by Indian delegates about Shahrukh. Well heck, let one of THEM interview him! Or anyone who has any direct firsthand experience of his work. It’s not hard, I’ve been doing Indian movie nights for years and essentially everyone I have introduced to the films has already had some vague idea of who Shahrukh is. You don’t have to be desi, you just have to be, like, open to the world! So far as I can tell, she didn’t even take 2 hours to do a quick clip show of his most famous roles, it’s just reading off quotes put together by her research assistant.
And then she ends by describing Shahrukh’s father as a “devout” Muslim and a follower of Gandhi. He was NOT a follower of Gandhi, he was a follower of Bacha Khan. Which is kind of a big mistake! Two very different people. I also don’t know where “devout” came from, a believer and so on, certainly, but I don’t know what “devout” was meant to indicate.
(Bacha Khan. Friend of Gandhi’s, based in what is now Pakistan, Pashtun background. Not every freedom fighter in India was a follower of Gandhi, and don’t reduce it to that)
Anyway, the whole thing was very odd and makes me think I am correct to never bother with TV news. And that Shahrukh was correct to stick mostly to standard simple responses instead of trying to elevate the conversation.
Oh! One final thing! He mentions reading something written by “some woman” about how he is embracing his Muslim identity after Raees. I know many people said that, but do you think there is ANY chance he is referring to my blog posts?
Okay, now you can all say what you think.
Clearly he means your blog posts.
And then I probably scared him off with the TGIF posts.
But you’re clearly not a crazy stalker! You explicitly said you do *not* want to raise his children!
The most ironic part is that interviewer is clearly desi (and Muslim) of some sort or at least Middle Eastern – just the whitewashed variety who apparently didn’t even try to pronounce names correctly. There is no excuse at all for butchering people’s names so badly when we live in the era of youtube and 5 minutes of searching and practicing the name would do the job.
You got me curious, so I looked her up. She comes from Sudanese aristocracy who immigrated to England when she was 2 and became British aristocracy. Fancy schools and so on. She has really impressive credentials, and she is the usual interviewer for the BBC for Nobel Laureates. All of which makes me respect her in general, but doesn’t change my feeling that she punted the preparation for this particular interview.
But she did have some good points on sexism in Bollywood and how women are only there to “look pretty” basically their career is over after reaching 30 which is the sad reality
True. But again, I felt like she should have given Shahrukh a chance to actually respond, and then built from that. It’s not a simple problem and you can’t give a simple answer. Which I think is just my discomfort with this type of interview. I would much rather an exchange of ideas than a confrontation.
It also goes back to the style of preparation which, again, is maybe standard for this type of interview? She couldn’t let it be a free-flowing exchange of ideas because she didn’t have the background for it in this particular topic. If Shahrukh had responded with a statement about how his current co-star is also running a successful production house (Anushka), she wouldn’t have been able to respond with a further question like “isn’t that just because she knows her acting career will be over in a few years?”
If this were something like an interview on genetic engineering, I might be more forgiving, because you can’t expect someone to become an expert in that in no time flat. But it’s movies! If she didn’t know enough, I am sure there was someone else around who could have had a real conversation, presented a sincere challenge instead of asking questions that were just slightly off the mark, known at least as much as we know in the comments here, you know?
Yes I do agree she was changing complicated topics very quickly which cannot be answered in a short amount of time. I would also like to hear your thoughts on sexism and nepotism that exists in the industry.
Thanks for asking what I think! I’ve actually already written 4 very long posts on these topics.
Nepotism, essentially I reframe the question from “Nepotism” to film as a family business by doing a massive historical overview: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/04/04/hindi-film-101-nepotism-through-history-in-hindi-film-part-1/
For sexism, there are two parts. First, in terms of the presence of women overall, onscreen and behind the scenes, and their lack of power. it’s a lot more complicated than simply hiring actresses for better parts. It goes all the way back to the barriers that are in place for women to even get started in the industry: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/04/18/hindi-film-101-woman-filmmakers-why-so-few/
And for why actors age and actresses don’t. it’s part of a larger issue with the current group of stars staying around far past their expiration date because the industry doesn’t know how to survive without them: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/08/03/hindi-film-101-why-do-we-keep-seeing-the-same-thing-over-and-over-again-risk-reward-in-hindi-film/
As much as I enjoy and learn from listening to him speak I almost wish that he would stop giving interviews. It’s become the norm that the interviewer (especially if it is a woman) feels she has something to prove at his expense: a) because she will have heard that he can charm anyone, man or woman, and she wants to show this is not true in her case and b) because she will have heard that he is incredibly intelligent and well-read and she wants to show that she is not impressed by or interested in that because she herself is more intelligent and worldly and well-read than he is and c) because she wants to create a name for herself by publicly baffling or stunting or accusing him or, as you say, educating him. I rarely read or listen to his interviews anymore (which is a loss for me) because the interviewers, the greater a legend he becomes, become snider and more overtly or covertly vicious by the day. I prefer to listen to his speeches~though even there he has become, in my opinion, way too self-deprecating.
I’ve never been good about watching his interviews, there just didn’t seem to be enough time and they were hard to track down and so on and so forth. So glad to hear that, at least lately, I’m not missing anything! I’ll just stick with his Koffee appearances.
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The interviewer acts like her questions are rhetorical – the question is point. In a way, she’s interviewing herself, not him. I learned a lot more about her POV than I did about his in that interview. Reminds me a little of that sunny Leone interviewer from a cpl years ago.
OTOH SRK needs to learn to edit himself. All the anecdotes, platitudes, lyrical way of speaking, getting to the point after all the language, feels like a politician trying to avoid or minimize the topic, or a star who loves the sound of his own voice. As a listener, it sounds like he’s trying to run down the clock. As an interviewer, I’d be frustrated too.
I genuinely can’t think of an SRK film in which the female costars are scarily clad. Asoka? Meanwhile, couldn’t every western male star be accused of the same? Meaning, this is a global issue, not an India-centric one.
Finally, in India it’s considered uncouth and crass and self aggrandizing to tell people how much you do for charity or less fortunate people. You are supposed to keep it private – the fact that you are not deriving publicity, praise, or benefit are proof that your motives are pure and can be relied upon. It’s just a different model than the western model of celebrities publicly attaching their names to charities so as to help the charity itself get recognition, funding, etc. Maybe India’s model needs reinvestigating, but it’s not a sign that he isn’t doing “enough”.
I am so glad you watched this and responded! I have been a fan of Hardtalk since living in Ethiopia for three years. Life was slow, and BBC World News generally, and Hardtalk along with Talking Movies were weekend highlights. Hardtalk is specifically meant to be a bit confrontational, but is supposed to be well researched and confrontational, not “I’m going on my lazy assumptions about entertainers as a serious journalist” confrontational, as this was. I have seen Zainab do stunning interviews with shifty world leaders where she clearly did real research, and held them to account for their own documented words and actions, not “what the two people I met at this conference said about you”. So, yeah, I was disappointed in Zainab.
Having said that–Shah Rukh is a news-phile and I’m sure he absolutely knew what he was getting into when he agreed to go on Hardtalk. I thought the way he managed the interview was masterful, so I enjoyed watching it. Still–had she (or her assistants)–actually done research on Shah Rukh’s movies, statements, and actions, she could have gotten some really interesting answers from him, so that’s a disappointment.
Yep, my fave moment in the interview is when after saying “I revolve around women in my movies”, and “I don’t make typical Hindi films”, he looks to the side in irritation/disgust, and says “Name one of my films specifically and let’s talk about it.” Of course she can’t/doesn’t take him up on it. Also–if I remember right, does he kiss her hand at the end of the interview? That was purely to get her goat I think. I hope it did.
Finally–YES!!!–I fully believe he is talking about your blog posts about his Muslim-signified characters in films–you did some really good ones about Chak De, MNIK, and Raees when Raees came out. And, he may demur, but he has built his brand on being Mr. Secular as well as Mr. Loving Husband and Father, and so he must demur. Would be so interesting to hear what he would say about it in a private conversation with you.
From what you say, I wonder if Shahrukh agreed to be on Hardtalk thinking it would be an interesting in depth interview, and then was “ambushed” by how poorly researched it was? He does seem to legitimately enjoy the dance of a tricky interview. But this was something else, it wasn’t tricky because he was trying to avoid being caught in a lie or revealing more than he wanted to, it was tricky because her questions just made no sense. So there could be no logical response to them.
Yes, I so wanted Zainab to do a follow up to that response! Because that was the opening, the moment she could so easily have confronted him! Because he didn’t play Muslim for his entire career except for 3 movies. There’s something there, even if he says there isn’t. But since she hadn’t even seen one of his films, she couldn’t follow that up.
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