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.