The First Problem with Shahrukh Khan: Feminism Doesn’t Mean Treating Women as Your Special Pets

There are two reasons I want to write this post.  First, I’m concerned that my fandom for Shahrukh may be seen as blinding me to his flaws and thereby lowering the power of my analytical voice in general.  Second, I’m concerned that there is a growing chorus of criticism of things that are NOT his flaws which are obscuring the real problems in two areas: his issues as a representative of women in India, and his issues in selling the audience on his recent films.  This also, by the way, doesn’t mean that I think he is a bad actor or a bad person, it is just pointing out that I am not blind and aware he does have faults.

To all Shahrukh Fans: The first bit of this will be nice, the middle bit will be hard, but then I bring it around again at the end, so make sure to keep reading until then.

To all non-Shahrukh fans: the first bit may seem defensive, but keep reading to the next part. And notice that the ending doesn’t completely exonerate him.

 

I want to start by addressing the things which are not problems with Shahrukh, but which are somehow becoming accepted “common knowledge” about him.  I want to get them out of the way first, so that any readers know why I am not addressing them as particular flaws for his career.  And also to clarify my position, and I think the position of a large number of self-indentified Shahrukh “fans” which is not that he is flawless, but that his particular flaws are not being addressed in the talk about him, rather unrelated issues are being brought up in an unproductive manner.

 

Let me take a step back and talk about productive versus unproductive criticism.  Unproductive criticism is either merely pointing out flaws without guidance towards a solution, “you are stupid” versus “you are incorrect in this one way which is related to a particular flaw in your education and here is the book that will fix that”.  Or it is criticism that is just plain wrong, like when Vice-President Quayle corrected the kid who had spelled “potato” correctly.  Which is not only not useful to the child, it makes it harder to correct him when he IS wrong, because he will not listen to you any more.

Image result for shahrukh khan kajol images

(This is not wrong, this is a joke they are clearly both laughing at because the idea of him actually hitting her or her actually being afraid of him is so ridiculous)

There is a whole heap of unproductive criticism of media swirling around in the world today.  It’s kind of the WebMD problem, everyone thinks they just need a little bit of knowledge to diagnose a problem, and the internet makes it dangerously easy to get that bit of knowledge.  And so bloggers and writers and all sorts of people misdiagnose a problem, either say criticism that is just plain wrong, or is merely useless.  And the readers of these articles, excited by something that feels like it is articulating something similar to what they feel, run with the concepts without interrogating them.

This is especially dangerous in terms of Indian film stars because there is so little criticism of them of any kind.  Obviously, they are not perfect unbreakable people.  And the general public knows this.  So the relief of reading any kind of criticism can be mistaken for a gut feeling of “truth”.  Rather than taking a moment and judging whether this particular criticism is accurate, or if it just feels true because any criticism at all is exciting.

Related image

(This is disturbing, a girl less than half his age laying on a bare bed while he sits joylessly not even looking at her, implications of sex slavery and sex trade and blech!  But if you critique this photo and the first photo together, it weakens your critique of something that is a problem by lumping it with something that isn’t)

 

 

The first strand of inaccurate unproductive criticism that I see floating around related to Shahrukh today is that his romances are regressive, his characters “harass” the heroine, and so on.  This is not wrong, but it is also not accurate and therefore not useful.

Let’s start with the idea of representational versus aspirational media.  Representational media is saying “this is the reality on the ground today and we are showing it”.  Aspirational is saying “this is the ideal and we are teaching you how to be”.

It gets very tricky drawing a line between the two in terms of social structures and stereotypes.  In American film, are you showing a working class African-American man because this is the class they have been forced to occupy through generations of systemic oppression?  Or are you showing a working class African-American man because you believe that is the level all African-American men should be at?  There is no one answer for this, it is something that must be looked at closely and on a case by case basis.  Media from every society requires this same discussion, because every society has the systemic oppressions which are either reflected or reinforced by their media and you cannot give a simple blanket rule for figuring out if the media is reflecting or reinforcing.

In Indian film lately there have been soooooooooooooooooooooo many articles about romances in which a man pursues a passive (or fleeing) woman and therefore are anti-feminist.  But here’s the thing you need to look at film by film, is the woman passive because her character is being considered an ideal of Indian womanhood, a model for the audience of the perfect passive woman, or is she passive because she has been trained to be that way against her natural instincts, reflecting the systemic oppression of women?  Because that question also relates back to the boy’s behavior, is he being aggressive because it is the only way to break through her reserve, or is be being aggressive because he enjoys her fear.

 

Shahrukh’s movies have been a mixture of the two, as have all Indian film romances since forever.  Remember Awara?  The ur-romance of Indian film?  In which Raj Kapoor slaps the heck out of Nargis in order to “punish” her when she stepped out of line?  In response to which she literally falls at his feet?  That was definitely not Raj trying to break Nargis out of systemic oppression, but rather shoving her back into it.  The same thing Aamir did by threatening rape to Madhuri in Dil, Shahrukh did when slapping Divya Bharti in Dil Aashna Hai, Salman did when attacking Manisha Koirala with a whip in Sangdil Sanam.

Image result for veeru basanti gun

(Look at this scene, in which Dharmendra’s character is molesting Hema Malini’s character, and Dharmendra was molesting Hema in real life as well, paying off the cameraman to force reshoots.  I’m not saying in context that either molestation is a serious problem, but if you are talking about Indian films, it has to be acknowledged that this kind of aggressive male flirtation is almost always present)

So, yes, sexual harassment and violence in Hindi film is an important conversation to have.  But it is not a conversation that should be limited to Shahrukh Khan movies, or even films of the 90s.  And it is not a conversation that should be expanded to all films equally.  Shahrukh slapping Divya for daring to offer him her sexual favors in Dil Aashna Hai is not the same as Shahrukh teasing Kajol in DDLJ.  One is a moment of violently putting a woman back in her box, the other is a moment of aggressively trying to drag a woman out of the box that society has put her in and where she does not belong.  Both of them are patriarchal, in that in both cases Shahrukh/the hero is saying that he knows what is best for her.  But they are a very different flavor of patriarchy and putting them next to each other makes the over all argument useless.

And this is what is happening over and over again, rather than addressing the larger long history of aggression against women with the purpose of forcing them to fit a female ideal in Indian film, and that concept of the female idea being the actual problem (research generally shows that small moments of violence have less effect on teaching the audience than larger normalization of social ideas) there is a smaller purpose being served, of pointing out that aggression against women exists in Indian film (no duh!), and, sometimes, the blame for that is being put on Shahrukh as a single film star and his body of work as a single subset.  Which makes it unproductive criticism, both failing to address the larger issue (this violence is part of a general effort to present an ideal version of womanhood and give permission to the patriarchy to reproduce that version by any means necessary), and being just plain wrong (Shahrukh’s filmography, or even just expanding it to all the films of the 90s era, is no worse than any other star, or any other era, this is an issue of all Indian film, not just one man and one time).

 

But, that doesn’t mean Shahrukh is perfect and has nowhere to go to improve in how he relates to women both on and offscreen!

 

Shahrukh and feminism: Shahrukh is patriarchal in how he treats woman.  Both in film and in life.  In a very nice way, he wants them to be happy, he wants to “help” them, and so on and so forth.  But there is still an attitude of women as delightful pets that he cares about and needs to help.

Image result for shahrukh women quotes

In the best version, both of film and of life, this help is provided with the larger understanding that he lives within a patriarchal society and within that society there are truly certain things only a man can do, so he will use the power (that he wishes he does not have) to help a woman achieve equal power.  And he will use his power in an extremely limited way and only as it is specifically needed in the moment.

This is, for me, why his character in DDLJ is in fact so delightful.  Rather than following Kajol around and constantly doing things for her, he treats her as an equal the majority of the time, teasing her and baiting her.  It is only in very limited moments that he asserts his power as a man to help her with situations she truly cannot handle as a woman raised in a very restrictive household.  To treat her with more courtesy would, in a way, be patronizing her.  He treats her no more or less well than he would treat a man he was traveling with.  The first half of DDLJ has no problems for me, nor does most of the second half, there is a reason for all their bickering scenes there, it reminds us that they are equals even if it is Shahrukh’s plan driving them.  Yes, the ending is a problem, because of all the “I trust you more than myself” kind of language and actions.

The same problem appears magnified in Chennai Express.  Which culminates in the final scene in which he gives a long speech while Deepika is silent, about the decisions he has made for her own good.  He is trying to help her, and I don’t even disagree with his decision (to return to her father and confront him over his wrongful treatment of her), but he is still doing something for her that she should be allowed to do for herself.

There is a similar problem with his public feminism.  He frequently says things about women being “better” than him or “harder” workers and never complaining about it.  About how his wife and sister and daughter have taught him things and “brought him up”.  It sounds, frankly, patronizing. We (women) don’t have the responsibility of teaching you to be a better feminist.  You aren’t some infant that we need to “train”, you are an adult person with your own judgement.  And your actresses should have the right to complain if they are working harder than you and being unacknowledged, not complaining is not an additional value to add to the list.  Most of all, you should not be out there saying “this is what I have learned from woman”, but rather “this is what the world is as any thinking person should know, male or female”.

Image result for shahrukh women quotes

 

Both in life and in film, the changes that need to be made are not small things.  It’s not about a word here or an image there.  It is an overall attitude adjustment.  The next Shahrukh romance film should not be about him loving a heroine from afar and gently supporting her in all her desires until she realizes at the end that she loves him back.  It should be about him and the heroine, as equals, battling towards a mutual understanding.

Shahrukh has come close before.  Part of the reason the end of Chennai Express felt so jolting was their relationship had been primarily one of equals up until that point.  If Shahrukh had fallen asleep in the car and Deepika had been the one to drive them back to her village and confront her father, it would have felt more true to the rest of the film, in which they argued and fussed and Shahrukh was childish and selfish, and Deepika dealt with her own problems.  Part of the reason his angry confrontation with Kajol in Dilwale felt so cleansing was that, for the first time in their relationship in that film (or in many of their other films) he was being petty and angry with her instead of treating her with kid gloves, and she wasn’t scared off, she was angry right back.  Part of the reason Darr and Anjaam were exciting at the start of his career is because he fought the heroine with no holds barred and she fought back the same way.  If only that energy was present through out his onscreen persona, and even his public one, instead of getting sapped into pablum of women being “special creatures”.

He does the same thing in public appearances, treating women as less than equal.  It is hard to see, because he is very sensitive to others and knows exactly how to charm and flirt to make you feel like you are getting what you want.  Especially with female interviewers.  It’s pleasant to watch and, I am sure, pleasant to experience.  But it is also a little insulting, to treat women to his charm and wit and a little flattery instead of seriously responding to their questions.  And, just to be clear, it is NOT sexual harassment, I have never seen anything that made me think he was flirting in a way the woman didn’t want.  Interviewers know that a flirtatious fun interview will get them more views than a boring one, they are happy to go along with it, and of course he is always able to flirt in such a way that it is pleasurable for all involved.  But it is insulting if you think about it, that he consistently treats women as “special” rather than as equals, brushing them off with a little bit of charm instead of the truth.

That’s what was so exciting and also frustrating about his Hardtalk interview.  For once he was facing a female interviewer so aggressive that she forced him out of his usual charm and fluff answers.  But her questions were a waste of her aggression.  Rather than asking him the hard questions, like “why did you slap your female co-star in your very first film?  How did you justify that at the time, how do you justify it now?” she did not even know enough to be able to pin him down to a particular film.  Rather than asking “you say that you respect women because your daughter and sister and wife have taught you that, are you saying it is women’s responsibility to teach men to be feminist?” she just let that pat answer go as though she wasn’t even listening to it.  Shahrukh didn’t give her the charm like usual, but he did still give her the usual fluff answers, because there was no substantive answer to the questions she was asking.

Image result for shahrukh hardtalk interview

(He gives a fluff answer here because there is no serious answer possible to her ridiculous obviously false statement/question.  His heroine’s do have substantial roles and don’t dress scantily.  There are still problems, they may still be punished by the narrative for their strength, or end the film bowing down to worship him, but that’s not the question she is asking.)

So, that’s Shahrukh’s own unique individual feminist issue.  Separate from the overall issues of Indian film.  He is paternalistic, he is patronizing, he gives soundbites and charm instead of treating women as equals, both in his films and in public appearances.

 

 

 

Now, here is why I can see all of this and still be his fan.  First, in terms of his films, his particular “I worship and serve you and take care of you” version of less equality is a bit of a counter balance to the reality of many women that they spend their lives serving and worshiping and taking care of men.  It’s still not equal, but it satisfies a need and supports some women who are struggling with their lives, so it’s not that bad.

And secondly, in terms of his personal life, Shahrukh may not talk the talk, but MAN does he walk the walk!!!!!!  In the era of #MeToo, we have seen over and over again that the most perfect public feminist man can still be a total scumbag in what they actually do in private.  Saying the right thing is important as a public figure, yes.  But DOING the right thing is, to me, more important.  Both on an individual level, and as a public figure.  He can flirt with all the female reporters he wants, so long as he keeps showing by example the best way to lead a life as a man in a gender inequal world.

Shahrukh gives equal pay for equal work to his female employees.  He has never had even a hint of a suggestion of a rumor of abuse of any kind towards a woman (no, a consensual affair with an adult female costar is not abuse).  And in the place where he is actually a “patriarch”, his own family, he never enforces his patriarchal authority.  His wife can do and wear and be whatever she wants, and so can his daughter.  And so can his sons.  He says the things he knows people want to hear, doesn’t push his public statements or film roles out of the comfort zone for the public, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he believes in them.

Here’s a simple example from his last Koffee With Karan appearance.  Karan cheekily asked him what he would do if someone kissed Suhana (after setting the stage by suggesting he is an over-protective father who “stalks” her) and Shahrukh said “I would rip his lips off”.  Which is the quote everyone liked and repeated and ended up everywhere, because it’s what we want him to say.  But then if you watch the episode, Shahrukh immediately backed off, acknowledged that he was just saying that to say it, he is sure Suhana will date whoever she wants to date and he, her father, really has no right to have a say in the matter, beyond hoping that both she and the boy will be respectful of her parents’ rules for her.

 

The initial statement is the fun soft patriarchal feminism we like, non-threatening and familiar.  The clarification (which no one quoted) is a lot more complicated.  He’s not saying that he doesn’t care who or how his underage daughter dates.  But he’s saying that ultimately he trusts her and, within the limitations he and his wife will jointly set as parents when the time arises, she can do whatever she wants.  He is asserting his (rightful) authority as the parent of a child, but not as the father of a daughter, or as a man in a patriarchal society.  If you asked Gauri the same questions about who and how Aryan could date, she would almost certainly say the exact same thing, it is his decision so long as he and whoever he dates respect the rules his parents have set for him.

 

This is perfect equality, this is the goal, and Shahrukh has achieved it in his personal life and in his corporation, just not in his films or his usually fluffy quotable interviews.

Advertisements

59 thoughts on “The First Problem with Shahrukh Khan: Feminism Doesn’t Mean Treating Women as Your Special Pets

  1. HIs comments about the elevation of women has always struck me as embodying the “pedestal problem” of soft patriarchy. By putting women in a special place, where they (supposedly) cannot be touched, we also place so many other things out of their reach. The fact that he doesn’t appear to do that in real life is good, but I wish he would lose the “women are better” rhetoric. Essentialist and false.

    Also, you have explained why I reacted so positively to Jab Harry Met Sejal; it really was about mutual self-discovery within the tension of “expected” masculine and feminine roles.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly, the films that are often picked out as “bad” because he is rude or insulting to his female co-lead are the ones I actually like best. Because his character isn’t treating them as special creatures that must be protected, or as either less than or greater than him, but as people who sometimes make him angry and sometimes he isn’t able to understand and so on and so forth. It’s very clear in JHMS in particular, the moments his character pulls himself back to being a “gentleman”, versus the moments when he is just a human treating her like another human. And even better, the gender roles are just part of the complicated power dynamic, no more or less important than class or education or anything else that is separating them.

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 10:02 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kudos to you for writing this because you may get pushback from fans.

    This is tangentially related to the point you’re making but fiction can be a way for people to work out their relationship with the larger culture in a context that’s not dangerous because it’s not “real.” So male aggression, which is an everyday reality for women, is something that becomes enjoyable and eroticized in the context of fiction. But it doesn’t mean that women want to be subjected to intimidation and violence in their real lives. Problematic fiction serves a purpose in the culture that isn’t acknowledged, it gets labeled “bad” and in many ways it is bad and reinforces patriarchy but it also provides an important psychological outlet for women who are having to survive in a patriarchal culture.

    Anyway, bringing this up because people will say SRK makes problematic movies therefore they are all bad and he is bad and you can dismiss them all and anyone who enjoys them is a dupe and self-hating which is such a ridiculous oversimplification of what’s going on.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, exactly! That is what I was trying to get at with the acknowledgement that Shahrukh’s films in which he puts the heroine on a pedestal and does everything for her may actually serve to give needed strength and support to women who are dealing with living in the opposite situation. They could be using his fiction to give them needed strength, even if in the theoretical abstract the films are not presenting the ideal perfect equality.

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 10:20 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! That’s nice to hear. It’s awkward writing something like this, because ultimately I am still a “fan”, meaning I deeply and truly believe that Shahrukh is one of the greatest human beings alive today and a public figure worthy and deserving of respect and love. So it feels wrong to criticize him, against my beliefs, but on the other hand I feel like I did need to explain that I see problems, my respect is not blind.

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 12:03 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 2 people

      • I second the thought of balance 🙂 You take a look at what you perceive as positive and at what you think of as not positive concerning the chosen aspect. I like this way to look at someone one is interested in: a loving respect despite the flaws.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Really well thought through, and well-written. I may be biased because I agree with you so much! It really is a shame that Zainab Badaw, or anyone on her team, didn’t care enough to come up with some well-researched questions which would have elicited a different response. I’m going to throw out some quick thoughts in no particular order.

    I don’t really think Shah Rukh owes us his “real” opinions on things, though, like many of us, I get bummed out that the oh-so practiced facade doesn’t crack. I think Shah Rukh generally uses his platform for social progress and that’s the main thing. You’re not saying he does owe us that, but it just occurred to me as I was reading. And I find it amusing that he charms male interviewers equally, using pretty similar methods, and from the same defensive, slightly patronizing place.

    I also think that there is precious little entertainment produced by mass media of any form that is revolutionary or liberatory. Even “message” media focus on ways to improve the framework of society, rather than exploring new ideas, possibilities and ways to be human. So it’s either enjoy the entertainment, pits and all, or stop consuming mainstream entertainment. Of course there are limits–if creators have stepped outside certain boundaries then we should stop giving them our money and attention. But it gripes me when people act like their choices of entertainment, in whatever media, make them superior to other people. How I treat people in my day to day life is so much more important than the movies I watch or music I listen to.

    There have been a couple of actions Shah Rukh has done in his movies (both relatively early on) that I find beyond the pale. So I don’t watch those movies. The first and the worst is in English Babu Desi Mem where he tells Sonali, “If I wanted to, I’d show you I’m a man right now.”–meaning, in the context of the scene, I’d rape you if I were in the least interested in you, because you have no power over me whatsoever. But you’re not even interesting enough to rape. Equating manliness with rape; equating rape with attraction. Just, ugh. His character can’t and shouldn’t come back from that–but by the end we are supposed to love him and want them to be together. The other is the lipstick on the chest thing in DDLJ: “Haha, I date raped you. Just kidding! Why are you upset? How dare you believe what I just told you I did, what kind of guy do you think I am?” I get what Adi was trying to convey with this scene–you have eloquently explained it in your scene by scene analysis. But to me, that kind of gaslighting is something a character shouldn’t be able to come back from, yet we’re supposed to shrug it off and love Raj anyway.

    I don’t mind most of his stalkery behavior in his movies, because I think it is usually meant to be taken as a sign that his character is deeply flawed (e.g. in Dil Se) or immature (e.g. in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani). I don’t mind other jerky stuff he does which is in character. He is an abusive dad and coach (who berates the little boys in his care by calling them girls) in KANK, and of course a straight up killer in Baazigar or Don, but we aren’t supposed to forgive the character those flaws. At least not without some serious character reflection and development, as in KANK.

    And your final argument is the best. All indications are that Shah Rukh does walk the walk in his personal life. Like joyomama said above, I really wish he’d stop it with the whole, “women are better, stronger, nicer, creatures than men”, and even more so with the idea of “not complaining about hardship” or “not acting like a victim” as a sign of strength. I get what he is saying–but so many times those tropes are used to get women and girls to be quiet and play nice. I’d much rather him say there is no right way for survivors of violence or other hardship to act–they should be supported to act in whatever way is going to help them move on, without judgement.

    Like

    • Thank you for the comment! And, as I am sure you know, you partly inspired this post by recently mentioning Shahrukh’s “patriarchal” attitude which got me thinking along these lines.

      One thing that disturbs me a bit in terms of media studies and star studies, which you point to by how you are able to (correctly, I think) process it, is that not every film of a particular actor has to be taken as part of a larger whole. You can be disturbed by how Raj is presented in DDLJ, and yet accept how the very similar character is presented in KANK because the films surrounding them and the specifics of how the characters are dealt with are so very different. Disliking Raj in DDLJ doesn’t mean throwing out Shahrukh’s entire filmography, or even every character similar to his Raj.

      Even further, as you point out no media is perfect, but each of them is imperfect in different ways. And we can’t judge for others what it will be in their media which they find disturbing, or which they find not disturbing. DDLJ and even English Babu Desi Mem do not bother me in the Shahrukh filmography, but I have a hard time with his cruelty and inability to relate to Jackie’s kids in One 2 Ka 4. Not just because it is cruelty to children, but because hte film seems to be excusing him from needing to make the emotional effort make this relationship work. This is always going to be a true element of the film, but it may not be the element which eliminates the possibility of enjoyment for another audience member, and that’s okay.

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 1:52 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks! I hope that Asmita comments also!

        Yep, you are right–those two examples just happened to hit me in such a way that I can’t get past them. It doesn’t impact the way I feel about his other films, nor do I judge other viewers if they don’t feel the same.

        One 2 Ka 4 is such a flawed movie. For me I can get past it because he repents, apologizes, and his behavior gets better (all because of the love of a good woman, another problematic trope!). But he does go too far in manhandling the kids, and Juhi too.

        Also, unrelated, the over the top violent scenes (Shah Rukh slamming the guy’s head into the table while interrogating him, the bad guy burning the informant alive, and the entire final fight sequence) are so offputting in a movie with the “Happy Birthday” and “I’m sorry” songs. I thought that was just the deal with “masala movies”, but it is pretty extreme even for a masala movie, I think? What do you think?

        Liked by 1 person

        • That movie is such a mess. I think it was one of those times when Shahrukh was so torn about trying to figure out what the public wants that he killed the film. Reminds me a lot of Raees, trying to be an action hero to shake things up, but also trying to be the same old soft romantic hero to please the old fans. There’s a way to do Masala where the changes happen so fast that it feels integrated, but in One 2 Ka 4, it really felt like two totally different films that were barely connected to each other.

          On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 3:09 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Your title says the FIRST problem…
    As in, how many more? 😉

    I actually did catch the second half of his KwK answer re suhana when it aired, and felt happy to hear it, only wishing he had said it of both parents, that she and the bf should honor the rules and boundaries of her parents and his. For you, that might be implied as obvious. But for the Indian audience, that the boys parents might also have rules is not obvious, (like the surgeon being the mother in the famous riddle about the accident), so leaving that part out only reinforces suppositions that only girls parents would and should have rules.

    I’m also impressed when I see pics of suhana with SRK in which she’s wearing an LBD, minidress, shorts, or staples dress. He’s clearly not trying to control her into being covered up or conservatively dressed, clearly challenging the notions that it is women’s responsibility to control the sexuality of men. It is either a good example to set for Indian society, or it just gets written off as something rich and famous people have the luxury to get away with.

    Like

    • One more problem! Coming out this afternoon.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed that KwK moment! I found it really fascinating, because it was such a clear half second switch between “this is the answer you want me to give for viewers” and “this is the answer I am giving in all sincerity aware that my daughter is watching and I am sitting next to a young woman of my daughter’s age and I should be honest”. And of course no one reported the honest answer. He had a few more honest moments like that in that interview when Alia was talking about her life. He acknowledged his discomfort with her romantic history and so on, but also acknowledged that it was his problem and he had no right to even react to anything she chose to do with her life, when Karan tried to get him to respond he half jokingly refused, because it was none of his business and he didn’t want to be drawn in.

      To add to your challenging the idea that it is the woman’s responsibility to control the sexuality of men, it’s also challenging the idea that it is a father’s responsibility to control the sexuality of his daughter. Suhana can wear what she wants when she wants whether her father is present or not because it has nothing to do with him.

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 3:07 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I would agree with you about his patronizing behavior with female journalists if he didn’t behave the same way even with male journalists. SRK has a sweetly dismissive attitude with male interviewers too. He is charming and funny and only says what he wants to say and shuts them down when it comes close to something he doesn’t want to answer. I often see him treating them like little boys he is tolerating because he’s a nice guy.

    I would have to say part of it is simply because there is such a huge power differential between him and them. He can get most of these people fired with one phone call if he wants. He knows it and they know it too. India doesn’t really have an Oprah or even an Anderson Cooper that can ask questions from an equal position and cannot be shooed off.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And then the people who don’t have that power differential with him, the outside interviewers, tend to go in woefully unprepared, both to truly challenge him with their questions and with stand his charm. Or if they are ready for one, they aren’t ready for the other.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. OK, I just read your intro, and will read the rest of the post, but I had to comment at once, because it seems like Asmita’s comments last week (which I thought were unfair) really got to you. I’m sorry to see you react in such a defensive manner (and yes, I know you say it’s not really defensive), because the very fact you felt you needed to begin the post in this way is disturbing to me. As I and others assured you last week, you do not come off as a blind fan of SRK in your analysis posts. And I speak as one who finds the SRK spam in the TGIF post rather tiresome. 🙂

    See, if you weren’t feeling defensive, you would have just written a post about the problems you see with SRK, without this long tortured self-analysis. Have confidence in yourself, and your professional work! It’s good to be self-reflective, and open to criticism, but it’s not good to be so much swayed by one person, when others are telling you the opposite at the same time. I suppose it is necessary for me to add, given the times we live in, that this is not an attack on Asmita. I am merely pointing out that that was one person’s opinion, and you had at least three other persons weighing in with the opposite opinion.

    Having said all of that, I was going to ask what you think of his latest promotional strategy for Zero, which again (IMO) repeats the mistakes of the past. So your posts on this issue couldn’t be more timely! I will read the rest now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awwww, that’s so nice of you! This is partly because of the conversation with Asmita, but more her point that a lot of people are coming to my blog for SRK coverage and it’s not complete if there isn’t two sides to it. Which is true, I’ve certainly criticized him in plenty of different ways and aspects in the past, but always kind of buried in the middle of other content, not all pulled together like this in a way you can’t look past.

      And, unfortunately, the “you only like him/are defending him because you are your fan” criticism is one I have heard many times from many different people. And now I have a handy post I can just link to in response instead of answering individually!

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 7:51 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  7. OK, I’ve read the whole post now, but not others’ comments, so sorry if I’m repeating points already made.

    First, Shahrukh as a “feminist.” I find this idea very amusing. Has he ever labeled himself this way, or are you attaching it to him to talk about his onscreen and off-screen relationships with women? I don’t recall any instance of him calling himself that. I further have a problem with the word “feminist” as it is used today, especially in India, where it has an extremely narrow and rigid definition by some self-defined arbiters of public morality. So I think it’s a useless word. So what remains is merely examining his actual behavior. I agree with you that in his real life, he treats the women in his life with respect and consideration. But I have problems with his — or rather, his character’s — dealings with women on screen. But I put most of the responsibility for this on the screenwriter and director of the film, and not on him as an actor (except perhaps in those films which he has himself produced).

    The films that I have the greatest problem with are his three “anti-hero” films, Darr, Baazigar, and Anjaam. I don’t find them “regressive”, I find them horribly violent towards women! Anjaam was so horrible to me that I turned it off half way, not being able to stomach his treatment of Madhuri. I’ve read other people saying they like the way Madhuri took her revenge later in the film, so I guess you can make an argument that the woman’s character was treated “equally,” but it doesn’t solve the basic problem for me, which is that his character in all three of these films was glorified, and his extreme violent behavior shown as an example of extreme love. Getting back to the previous point, perhaps Madhuri’s character fought back, but where on earth did the heroine fight back in either Darr or Baazigar? In Darr she was scared witless for most of the film, and in Baazigar she calmly accepted that he murdered her father and her sister, but she still loves him. Yipes! In all three films he is calmly going around murdering multiple innocent people, toward whom he didn’t even have any animus, to serve his larger goal. That sort of justification of his character goes far beyond reinforcing societal stereotypes of the place of women, it is actually justifying terrorizing and murdering them, which no societal standard condones. But as I said, the fault lies with the writer and director. SRK’s only fault lies in his acting, by making such heinous characters charming. I always found it inexplicable why, when people criticized other films, especially Telugu and Tamil films, for showing the hero “stalking” the heroine as acceptable, why Darr in particular was never called out. I found it particularly inexplicable in the reaction of non-desi women, all fans of SRK, who were quick (sometimes too quick) to label and condemn such behavior in other films, but found SRK “adorable.” That’s the only place where he got a pass.

    In DDLJ, the one scene in the first half that I objected to was the “morning after” scene, which I thought was outright cruel. Again, I blame the script writer. In the second half, once he shows up, I found his whole attitude of “No, I won’t elope with you because I must have your father hand you over to me” stupid and pig-headed. And the fact that even her mother gave her blessings to the two eloping, but that wasn’t enough for him, highly patriarchal and disrespectful of women. And to top it all of, his lying to and cheating of everyone to gain his goal, highly dishonorable. Again, the fault rests with the writer.

    Getting back to off screen behavior, he takes easy and meaningless stands — like having Deepika’s name above his in the credits. It’s easy because it doesn’t address the problem of — for instance, proper (not necessarily equal) payment for actress’s work. It’s meaningless because it ignores the whole tradition of how the positioning of names for screen credits in India are given. The more “senior” star gets higher billing, regardless of length of role. I found this quite a charming custom, and I’m sorry to see it going now, in Bollywood’s idiotic aping of Hollywood. It’s the reason why Amitabh gets top billing even if he’s only making a cameo. It was the reason why Juhi and Madhuri were given higher billing than SRK in his early movies, which only proves how nonsensical his putting the heroine’s name above his really is. And all those over the top statements about women that you’ve quoted? To me that’s just his usual manner of over-gilding the lily that he does with everything. You know, his attitude of, “OK, if they want me to run in a scene, I’ll be the best runner ever!” “If they want me to cry in a scene, I’ll cry like nobody’s ever cried before!” And thus, “If they want me to show support to women, I’ll show more support than anybody has ever!” I don’t take them seriously, just like I don’t take his so-called humble statements about himself seriously. They are so exaggerated as to verge on parody, but that’s the way he is. He does the same thing when making public statements on any issue.

    By the way, I don’t think actors, no matter how famous, have any duty to make pronouncements on public issues of any kind, nor should their statements (which they can certainly make as citizens of their countries) have any more weight than that of any other citizen. It is enough if they don’t make stupid statements, a standard which most of them consistently fail to meet, especially in Hollywood.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are the second person to point out the “morning after” scene in DDLJ, it really is a tough one to swallow.

      We can interpret it differently, but the reason I have no problem with Darr and Anjaam and, to a much lessor degree, Baazigar is because I DON’T think his hero is being glorified, not at all. In both Darr and Anjaam he is explicitly the villain. Madhuri succeeds by killing him in Anjaam, just as Juhi does in Darr, that is the happy ending, good (the woman) defeating evil (the man). I think part of what makes the films hard to read is that there is no male “hero” that really matches Shahrukh’s villain, because the woman is the hero. The other male lead plays a role no larger than the hero’s girlfriend would in a more traditional film. So if you look at Darr as Shahrukh versus Sunny, or Anjaam as Shahrukh versus Dipak Tijori, he appears to be the hero because he has more screen time and he mostly “wins”. Rooting for him in those movies feels no more or less to me than rooting for Gabbar Singh in Sholay. He is entertaining and you want to watch him, but ultimately the film makes it clear that he is in the wrong. Baazigar, not so much, there was that elaborate backstory justification, but there are none of those efforts to redeem him in Darr or Anjaam. He is just straight up bad in both movies. Intriguing and interestingly bad, but bad none the less. A movie I do have a problem with in that way is the new Don and even more Don 2. He kills Kareena for no reason, along with violence towards various other characters, and escapes at the end of the film. And by the sequel, he has become a straight up anti-hero, and it is implied that Priyanka still feels something for him even though he killed her brother.

      I’m using “feminist” and “feminism” here in the way I usually use them, the academic sense. Feminist theory, feminist politics, etc. etc. “Feminism” meaning the general political/social issues revolving around women. Maybe the Indian press has poisoned those terms, but that is how I use them, because there really isn’t a good replacement. You can use “gender issues” for some stuff, but it just doesn’t work to replace everything. I don’t know whether or not Shahrukh has labeled himself as a “feminist”, but I can talk about him being one in the same way that I can talk about him being a good swimmer or a bad volleyball player. Anyone can be a good or bad feminist, it’s not necessarily a label so much as a measuring stick.

      As I pointed out at the end, he may not really talk the talk they way I want, using things like you point to, putting his heroine’s name above his in films which is a little patronizing and meaningless. Or (and you are completely right here) leaping on to statements in the extreme the way he does about everything. But he DOES give equal pay for equal work at Red Chillies top to bottom (assuming he isn’t lying). That is the kind of thing I like and can help me look past a lot of other things he does, the actual real important actions, he is doing, it’s just how he talks about it that feels a little meaningless.

      On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 8:54 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 2 people

      • If I remember correctly, someone had written an article about loving him but being heartbroken that he doesn’t label himself a feminist some time back. SRK actually replied to that article on twitter and stated that he definitely considers himself a feminist.

        I really don’t remember the specific details or even when it happened but I was surprised that he actually found the article and actually replied to it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’m chuckling at the idea of him thinking “I’ll do the best X ever!” Certainly applies to “best train song ever” Chaiyya Chaiyya, and many other scenes as well. I sometimes tell non-Hindi movie watching people he can be the William Shatner of India when he goes over the top–witness every single crying scene in Kal Ho Naa Ho. Yet he is really compelling as an actor most of the time. To me and many others. Funny..

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a brilliant thing to wake up to! I am really glad that you did this Margaret. I would never do this because in my head all fandoms are about being attracted to someone or something irrationally. And I think you do do that thing where you need to rationalize your love for SRK because being irrational is not your thing. I wish one of these days you just get stupid drunk and write an article like “fuck all you SRK haters, I won’t stop loving him.. fuck fuck fuck..” LOL I know the good Christian girl inside you prevents you from doing that but that would be a fun article to read!

    And if I’m being honest, this feels like you trying to rationalize what I feel you think is an unwarranted criticism of the man you love. But this is as honest a try as I would expect of you even though I know you’re probably spent a lot of time drafting this thing to get the words to sound just about right. I should know. Not only have I been reading your blog extensively, I write myself (a LOT just here! LOL) and I can tell when sentences appear from a burst of passion (which is a criticism you have received in the past for your no spoilers reviews written immediately after you’ve watched a film) and when the words have been carefully formulated to mean what you want them to mean to your readers. I understand the nuance and why it happened.

    And that is why I’ve always maintained that I don’t care if you love SRK to the point that it blinds you to his flaws. Because I know you know his flaws better than any of us do. And that is why this feels like you rationalizing the problematic aspects of both his filmmaking as well as his persona (I say persona because I have no recollection of seeing him not put on a show during his appearances).

    Onto the content of the article now.

    I have zero problems with your SRK love. I think I encourage it with all the SRK fanfic that we end up co writing.

    But I disagree that his two real problems, as you point out, are obscured by criticisms that aren’t his flaws. His films being unrelatable to 20-30-somethings today is a flaw in his filmmaking and though he’s not a representative for Indian women, (I think I get what you were trying to say there, sort of), as a major star and public personality, he is personally liable for the attitudes towards women that he has consistently promoted with his significant body of work and personal appearances and quotes.

    If anything, there hasn’t been enough criticism of SRK. And that is a problem in itself because that means that he isn’t important enough for people even criticise or notice even. The paragraph that immediately follows the disclaimer is exactly what’s the problem with SRK and talk about him. Nobody wants to talk about his actual flaws because it a lot more important to explain how none of this is his fault in particular. You’re not even addressing the points you know are a problem. We’re not even going to talk about that because somehow whatever those flaws are, they pale in comparison to the fact that he’s being criticised. I hope you see why that would be a problem in itself. And this is something that happens with not just you but with everybody. Allow me to explain how I think that happened.

    With me, see I stopped watching SRK films in theatres way back when. It happened with a whole lot of us 80s kids who had grown up watching DDLJ, K2H2 etc on repeat. Hell I still put them on whenever they’re on TV. Somehow, the magic of those films, maybe it was the magic of our teens and what we remember feeling when we first watched them, never appeared again in his later films. And he sort of became the star whose films you can watch but you won’t go to the theatre for it. And so it happened that he made a bunch of these unimpressive films which nobody remembers in the same era that saw the revival of Bollywood and import of quality programming from the west. It may feel like this has nothing to do with SRK but you see it has everything to do with him because this last decade, he’s had a complete disconnect with his former hardcore fans. And it was a choice he made. And so we made our choices too and he wasn’t it.

    Now, since his top hits are still played on TV and people like me still tune in and talk about them and that era, his films got introduced to the millennials. Remember that these people didn’t exist when these top hits were first released and they have no memory of SRK mania. Plus, they’re looking at these films with millennial eyes and millennial attitudes and the awareness about women’s rights and problematic depiction of women in the media. And that’s why they’re better able to spot the problems than us who watched it way back when. That’s why it feels like there’s suddenly a rush of articles badmouthing him when none existed all this time. And that’s what’s giving up former hardcore fans light bulb moments all these years later. We all got so used to SRK and his films that we couldn’t even the problems till the kids pointed them out.

    It is literally like the criticism of FRIENDS. Kids watching it today can identify Chandler’s homophobia much better than I could and it broke my heart a little that that beloved character was sooooo homophobic and transphobic! They couldn’t make that today with the same script and not have that shit shut down! It’s the same with SRK. Just because his content felt magical back then doesn’t mean it isn’t or cannot be problematic.

    I find your criticism of the public’s criticism of SRK and Indian stars a little hypocritical considering that you’ve just stated in the paragraphs above that you would specifically avoid addressing his problems. It’s like you’re saying that as an expert you know the problem but you won’t share it with us non-experts because you have a problem with us not knowing how to criticise correctly. This isn’t productive at all. You’re doing the exact same thing that all the other film experts do when they don’t talk about SRK’s problems and so we, the fans, have nothing but our untrained views to share with one another. Nothing constructive can come out of that either because the actual experts somehow just don’t want to discuss this and without that input, the general level of the discourse can only be what we feel.

    When we say that his “romances are regressive, his characters “harass” the heroine”, we aren’t inaccurate. I can give you a whole bunch of examples of such “harassment” I faced myself growing up and watched my friends face but maybe those are better reserved for a MeToo post. Also, we don’t have restraining orders in India, not even against abusive husbands so imagine growing up and being a part of a culture where harassment got normalized as “forceful flirting” via films like most of SRK’s work. So why should SRK, whose fame and millions rests on those exact films that promoted this culture of male privilege not be held accountable for it? Who do we hold accountable for the problematic depictions of his characters in his films when we reserve all the adulation of them for him?

    Onto the “representational versus aspirational media” bit. I get what you’re trying to say but I’m afraid you lost me with the example you tried to explain it with. If you’re telling me the bulk of SRK’s work falls in either category I would really have to tell you that’s a huge stretch. It isn’t productive that you couldn’t find an SRK example to use with this notion. As a non expert former SRK fan and full-time Indian person living in India, I might be in a good position to confirm that his current and former work falls in neither of the two categories. It’s somewhere in the middle. Because, like you’ve said many times before, he started playing to the NRI gallery which meant he was no longer representational of the setting his characters were in and neither was he aspirational to them (because the NRIs lived in another country) or us (because he wasn’t making films about us anymore). This is why his films don’t work anymore because nobody knows who they’re targeted at.

    “Because that question also relates back to the boy’s behaviour, is he being aggressive because it is the only way to break through her reserve, or is being aggressive because he enjoys her fear.” I hope you understand that this isn’t OK. Consent matters. It isn’t up to the man to decide what the woman wants or doesn’t. Her consent matters. Always.

    “But they are a very different flavour of patriarchy and putting them next to each other makes the overall argument useless.” Are you suggesting there are flavours of patriarchy we should be supporting? Or not resisting? Or not even criticising? Are there times when it is ok to show a woman being slapped by a man? This is exactly where the “problematic depictions of women in media” conversations begin.

    “Sometimes, the blame for that is being put on Shahrukh as a single film star and his body of work as a single subset.” No honey, we do not blame SRK for everything that’s wrong with India and our film industries, we only point out that he’s a part of the problem and has always been and has made no effort to break away from being a part of the problem. His body of work has not even a single full film where he isn’t being patriarchal and reinforcing the ideals of that system of oppression. REINFORCING those ideals. As in siding with the system of oppression and letting offenses slide. Just because there’s no advantage for him in changing them or addressing them. Doesn’t make him a champion for women, does it?

    “There are truly certain things only a man can do, so he will use the power (that he wishes he does not have) to help a woman achieve equal power” and when and how exactly will this happen? It hasn’t happened so far. Not in his films. And if a film star isn’t promoting these ideals through his work, the words are just words aren’t they? Also, it doesn’t matter that he wishes he didn’t have the power. People are urging him to retire and not have the power but is he accepting those requests to not have that power anymore? Is he, really?? This is where we know those words are just words. And that’s just him being an Indian person. You don’t say I’m a big deal. Although SRK says that a lot too masking it under “just kidding”. He says that all the time.

    DDLJ, see I find your scene by scene delightful. Maybe I haven’t studied it as meticulously as you. But I’ve definitely watched it way more than you since the mid 90s. I grew up with it. Maybe that’s not an advantage. But I know for a fact that it shaped our behaviour. Growing up we let so much shit from boys slide, including them sitting pretty fucking close to us in buses and in class and other public spaces and just angry breathing through that invasion of our personal space because of that association with DDLJ. Should I tell my cousins in their teens and early 20s today to let it slide too??

    DDLJ is all about the girl not mattering. First, her life plans don’t matter. Then, her family’s reputation in their fucking village doesn’t matter. Then, the anxiety of her not knowing if she will be able to not escape the rapey village dude doesn’t matter. Then, the shame her family and she herself would have to face with the elopement doesn’t matter. Hell, he doesn’t even have to give her the respect of not having to run after him in full bridal gear next to a train in motion. Get off the train you dick! And marry her then in front of her family. In retrospect, and I mean once you’re wondering “If this happens IRL”, DDLJ is a shit movie that sells us all the wrong ideals. Like, if you replace SRK with Shakti Kapoor and it’s the same role, you would see the problem very clearly! Hell, remake every SRK film with Varun Dhawan and you’d see the patriarchy and harassment and regression extremely clearly. This is what I meant by the “you being blinded by his love” bit.
    His public feminism feels just as empty. More so because as Indians living in India, we are used to people saying the right things to be polite and not really meaning them. And I again go back to “if he means it, his films will show it”.

    “It should be about him and the heroine, as equals, battling towards a mutual understanding.” He doesn’t need to always be making relationship films though. He can be Rakesh Sharma and the film can be just about that. No need to elaborate on what he does with women in every role and every film. He doesn’t need a woman to tell the world he’s a man. Or maybe he does. How crappy a thought is that? Can he and his image survive patriarchy if there’s no woman for him to rescue from herself? Maybe that’s why Fan failed so miserably. Patriarchy oppresses and victimizes and puts in boxes not just women but also men. And as a man, SRK isn’t on the top rung of the patriarchal pillar in his roles or IRL. He just has a lot of money and friends who are somebodys in the industry. He doesn’t even have political backing. If Karan Johar dies and he has a falling out with YRF, he loses 80% of his power.

    The Hardtalk interview, man, I just kept feeling so embarrassed for him and for our country in general. Because if that is the “best” we’ve got, we’re the personification of the dumb blonde stereotype. (I’m sorry but that’s the most accurate phrase I could think of) You see, when you’re a top industry guy, you can’t say dumb shit like that. That interviewer has loads of experience reporting “real” news. She talks to politicians and people of consequence day in and day out and you tell her extremely general bizarre shit that in no way answers her questions, well, it just makes you look DUMB and STOOOPID. Had that been, let’s say Zakaria, SRK would look like an idiot making the same statements.

    I do love the picture you gave for that interview though. His face tells such a story. He’s so angry and confused. And he cast his eyes down so often during this entire thing and the nervous chuckle really made me wonder if he had even agreed to this interview out of his own free will. He did though, didn’t he? So why did he come unprepared? Forget her basing her questions on the research of her assistants, why didn’t HE research HER? She’s not a nobody. Also, HE isn’t important enough for HER to have known inside out.

    As for the question in the picture, the correct or right-ish answer is “I believe women should have the right to dress in scanty clothes and be respected as human beings. The way a woman dresses has nothing to do with feminist activism.” That’s the kind of answer you give when you have THIS conversation often enough. When you believe, truly, from the core of your existence, in feminist ideals, you don’t let questions about women’s clothes slide.

    Also, can you imagine being at the receiving end of it? Like, I see all you super fans imagining getting to go out to dinner with him or having long deep talks with him and all I can think of is “What if he does this roundaboutey, fluffy, all charm and no substance thing to them too?” I break my own heart thinking shit like that.

    He’s an actor. He can act the charm part without feeling it. He can fake the charm. He can fake the fake words. The real feelings and the real words are different though aren’t they? Have we ever even seen him act or talk like a real person? I know we get glimpses but all of that is still him being very patronizing. The only guy he seems to have an easy conversation with is Karan. Who isn’t exactly a masculine ideal. He’s more girly than Kajol. That’s not an insult to Karan. The other guy that SRK seems to talk talk “honestly” with is Kapil Sharma who is singled out for insults by SRK. With Salman, there’s always this passive aggressive humour. We haven’t seen this man talk to anyone like a regular human being does or as a lot of actors do when they’re talking honestly. He’s always in the role of himself.

    “He is paternalistic, he is patronizing, he gives sound bites and charm instead of treating women as equals, both in his films and in public appearances.” Not the hallmark of non toxic masculinity.
    “Shahrukh may not talk the talk, but MAN does he walk the walk!!!!!!”

    Does he? A man becomes a feminist ideal JUST because he hasn’t had a rape scandal to his name? Is that where the bar is at now? The Weinstein dude was doing just fine till someone spoke up too. In the era of #MeToo, can you really take guarantees for a powerful and monied man’s reputation as set in stone?

    Also, he does not walk the walk. Walking the walk would be making good films where women aren’t treated like headless chickens running around. That’s literally what JHMS looked like. I know you loved it and I have no problem with you loving it. AT ALL.

    “And in the place where he is actually a “patriarch”, his own family, he never enforces his patriarchal authority. His wife can do and wear and be whatever she wants, and so can his daughter. And so can his sons.” How would you actually know this? Like in all seriousness. How are you taking this guarantee for a person you don’t know IRL?

    The KwK thing you mention. Here’s what it looks like in the Indian context- “I will commit honour killing. LOL, JK.” You can say I’m being too harsh on him. But then again, it’s his words not mine. Also, I hope you can see how stupid it would look if he were saying this about Aryan. That he will rip off a girl’s lips if she kissed his boy. He would look like an idiot and a psychopath if he said that. And that’s patriarchy for you. You hold different standards for boys and girls. Constantly reinforcing the ideals of the oppressive system and then mumbling insincere words about how the system doesn’t exist (really?) doesn’t a feminist make.

    Oh Margaret! This entire article has turned up like a spirited defence of patriarchy. This is exactly what women say when they have no interest in changing the system. That a bit of oppression is fine. Harassment and regressive attitudes are OK as long as they’re coming from guys we like. Men are right when they do this to us because they know better than us. And this is how we become participants and enablers in this system.

    I’m sorry if my comment felt harsh. I hope you realize that this is me just giving my views on your views. I don’t care if you love him or don’t love him or if you stop loving him. I’m not interested in knowing why you love him either because if he’s the driving force behind you and his love makes you create and grow this amazing blog, I’m getting what I’ve always wanted- a community of articulate women and a place to talk about this art form.

    You see, I’m not SRK and I don’t need to mansplain your feelings to you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really enjoyed reading that, Asmita. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! Your insights about perspective (Indian vs non-Indian, age now and age at which one first watched SRK movies, etc) are so interesting.

      I’m looking forward to the conversation continuing, but for now just wanted to respond to three things. First, don’t break your heart over other people’s fantasies! Speaking for myself and my fantasy of a long, deep discussion followed by nerdy board game, an unspoken part of that fantasy is that OF COURSE he would not be guarded, not be bored, and be genuine. I mean, it’s my fantasy, right? And, if against the odds I ever meet the guy in person, I certainly won’t be comparing to any fantasy version. I’ll be thankful for the chance, thank the guy for his work, ask him if he reads Terry Pratchett (seriously, he’s such a public Douglas Adams fan, I just have to know!), and leave.

      Second–I couldn’t agree more about Zainab Badawi. I agree with Margaret that she clearly didn’t care enough about interviewing this movie star getting an award for a tiny body of charity work to do enough research to ask him good questions–questions that would have really pushed him to reflect instead of just getting frustrated and annoyed at feeling that she was painting him with a very broad brush, lumping him in with Hindi movie stereotypes instead of looking at his films specifically. But, I also agree with you–I’m sure he knows about HardTalk. It is broadcast very often and promoted even more often on BBC World. The whole point of the show, even the name itself, is that interviewers push people out of their comfort zone. How then was SRK surprised? Was that also an act? Anyway–as a fan it was fascinating because she certainly got him to show a different face than usual, which is just interesting in itself.

      Finally–Margaret absolutely writes those “drunk” posts about Shah Rukh. Her “Reasons I love Shahrukh” post on his birthday was exactly that. I got a contact high reading it. (Just that Margaret gets drunk on emotion rather than alcohol it seems). I don’t see this post as a way to rationalize her love of him. She states that it’s just the opposite. She loves SRK and doesn’t care what others think about it. She states that she wrote this post because she feels that some critiques of him are based on false premeses, while others aren’t. This post is mostly her critiquing him from a media studies point of view. You clearly feel that her critiques are still biased, and that’s cool. It makes for good conversation! But to tell her that you know better than her why she wrote the post is pretty patronizing in itself.

      Like

      • If my comment came off as patronising, I’m truly sorry about that. It certainly wasn’t my intention. Of course I was basing that assumption on the fact that the post was in fact written as a response to a comment I made and I do sort of know her writing style a bit now. I could be entirely wrong but then again we have seen her writing completely from the heart to the point where the post actually even contains spelling errors. That’s all I meant with that.

        I’m glad you and hopefully others are stronger than what I imagine you all are. Maybe i’ve had my own fandom dreams crushed too many times by discoveries of people being less than thrilling in person than they are in my imagination. I’m just sensitive that way. Like Margaret gets sympathy embarrassed for other people, I get sympathy heart broken for random strangers too. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

    • To clarify, the vast majority of this article is criticizing Shahrukh, not defending him. The quotes you pulled are criticisms, not excuses. Yes, none of that is okay. Part of a long list of things that are not okay. My goal is to try to narrow down to the criticism that feels most specific to him, rather than all of Indian film/society. I can criticize his films of the 90s (and I do, in incredible detail, in posts specifically on those films), but no more or less than I can criticize films of any era and other star, so that’s not a Shahrukh issue, that is an India issue of which Shahrukh is a part. I can criticize two different kinds of aggressive patriarchy in DDLJ and in Dil Aashna Hai, that doesn’t make either of them right, but they are not the same kind of violence towards women and shouldn’t be conflated.

      And the majority of this post is criticizing a very specific kind of patriarchy that I find most insidious in both his films and his public appearances, the kind of soft patriarchy he presents in interviews and films, which IS uniquely a Shahrukh thing. And which is not okay. But, for myself, I don’t mind it because of how I perceive him to behave in reality versus his appearances. The question remains of course (as you point out) whether my perception of his real behavior is correct, and even if it is, if it excuses how he uses his public face.

      Liked by 2 people

        • That’s true. But I feel like Shahrukh does it more, and has been doing it longer, than the others. And with his pushing of the Meer Foundation, it is more and more what he is being known for. There’s also the particular way he does it, Akshay is more of a “Here is one particular issue” kind of guy, and Aamir is more of a “love your daughters” kind of guy, while Shahrukh is the “Woman are better than me” guy.

          On Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 9:29 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

          Liked by 1 person

          • Amir really couldn’t have been the women are better than me guy with his shitty divorce and neither could akshay with his own track record. Still, for an actual nice guy, he sure knows how to say the wrong things. Or maybe it’s just were expecting a 50+ indian guy to have the attitude of a 35 year old and it’s just him being a typical 50+ older Indian uncle. I mean, he’s just 7 years younger than my parents and I wouldn’t expect people of their generation to have the same attitudes as someone from my generation

            Liked by 1 person

    • As a Gen X’er I do want to chime in on something that bugs me about Millennials (keeping in mind that I think most criticism of Millennials is bullshit): everyone likes problematic things because life is problematic, people are problematic (all of us), culture is problematic. Something being problematic doesn’t mean you have to dislike it and liking problematic things doesn’t mean you’re stupid or deluded or anti-feminist or whatever. I love historical romances but my marriage is egalitarian (I worked and my husband was a stay at home dad for the first five years after my son was born). I find the constant scolding on these issues annoying.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Agreed. It takes a lot of guts to say this thing or person is problematic and I still love them/it. It’s about honesty. That’s what I meant about Margaret rationalising her SRK love. Because she can just say “yes he has problems. So what?” and I guess that’s sorta what she said.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes darling. Turns out the entire thing is problematic. I did cringe during a rewatch a few years ago but I brushed it off as “oh humor was different back then!”

      But yes, they can’t remake the series as it was and see 10 seasons go through.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This is such a supremely idiotic subject that I find myself unable to do more than skim through the posts and the responses.
    .
    i also find it truly amazing that you all are so supremely unable to realize that your own lives and careers are so insignificant and have so little impact on the wider world that you find it necessary to spend so much time analyzing the perceived faults of someone who actually HAS a successful career~ and to offer such scathing criticism of someone else without managing to see a larger picture.

    My response will lack subtlety and in all likelihood polish and grammar but I am so disturbed by this and the succeeding post and the responses to them that it’s difficult to be civil let alone eloquent.

    For one thing: I just watched (on Netflix) a fairly recent film with the ultimate feminist Akshay Kumar who has become so admired and lauded as a feminist as a result of being able to actually look at AND TOUCH in public a sanitary napkin (and who uses these things anymore, anyway!!!????) without fainting and I was so disgusted that I find it hard to imagine that any woman~most especially his wife~ would not have divorced him on the spot for making it.

    I can’t even remember the name but it had Kareen Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra in it and he plays an obnoxious businessman who, among other things, slaps his female co-worker on the derriere with his newspaper each morning as a greeting. He meets Kareena and ‘falls in love at first sight’ and lies to her about the job he’s offering because he wants to keep her around.

    Blah blah blah. they get married and she becomes pregnant and then Priyanka pops back into his life, now married to the ultra-rich owner of the company he works for, Does he tell his wife that he not only knew Priyanka before, they had a torrid affair during which she got pregnant and aborted their child? Or that she only made her ancient husband give Akshay a huge promotion in order to enable her to resume their affair? Or that when Priyanka enticed him to her home under the guise of business and proceeded to attempt to seduce him, he actually (after a few moments or protest) became an active participant in the seduction till he noticed Kareena’s photo in a locket he was wearing under his now unbuttoned shirt~noticed it, mind you while looking into a mirror while lying on top of Priyanka in between kissing her? No, he doesn’t reveal any of this to his beloved wife. When things get ugly he claims that Priyanka was sexually exploiting him.

    Angry at his rebuff, Priyanka has him fired and they end up in a court case. Kareena happened to be a lawyer, who never practiced, preferring to be a stay at wife (score a BIG one for feminism here, guys!), only donning her never worn barrister’s robes to defend her ‘innocent and put upon’ husband.

    During the trial, the fact of his habitual butt slapping is revealed but does Kareena react to this revelation? Not so much. Does she actually notice that he was forced to admit in court that he came within an inch of actually having sex with Priyanka?Not having revealed this fact to his wife beforehand? Nope. Does he have any cognition at the end that he has been behaving like a lying, cheating pig? Not at all!

    So,,, compare this message of rampant feminism to the horrific cinematic sins SRK has committed against women in the past 15 years ago and then, let’s talk. And~by the way~women do NOT need men to be feminists. We just need them to treat us the way they treat each other.

    And for the record, SRK is not patronizing to women~he is gracious. You probably don’t recognize the difference because it’s something that is so rarely seen these days. He is able, unlike virtually all of his male ‘colleagues’ to avidly and openly admire women without wanting to have sex with them. Except, perhaps, Salmon and KJo~ who would probably rather have sex with each other.

    If you find his remarks on many subjects guarded and superficial these days in publc~consider how you would respond when 80% of the people in your country despise you without cause because you follow a different religion and have committed the ultimate sin of having become successful on your own merits~thus discounting the biggest excuse you regularly use to explain away your OWN failure~that you weren’t born rich,

    So: you all just sit in your little living rooms, without the responsibility of supporting 3 children; 4 houses; a wife you love but who can’t manage to stick to a career for more than two minutes without your financing it as discreetly as possible; a VFX company employing several hundred people in an industry that is dying before his eyes; a foundation supporting victims of the vilest hate crimes AGAINST WOMEN; and the players and staff of three cricket teams~and worry every minute of your life that your most innocent, offhand or even heartfelt comment might just possibly be seen as an excuse not only to throw rocks at your car or burn you in effigy or boycott your films but to do you or your family actual physical harm ~and discuss this man’s ‘failure’ and shortcomings over a cup of chai. Clucking and giving him advice from the safety of your anonymity.

    I invite you to compare your achievements and your CV with his any day of the week.

    Oh, one last thing~if you all find him so distasteful, annoying and un-entertaining, there is an easy fix: stop watching his films and stop using him to bolster the ratings for your blogs or otherwise brighten your day by affording yourselves the opportunity to feel superior.

    Aamir is a true feminist. Throw yourselves at his feet instead. He is, after all, the perfectionist. Gorgeous, faithful and an avowed feminist~he’ll show you the photo of himself holding up (OMG) a sanitary pad to prove it.

    Like

    • It’s too bad you skimmed, because in fact we agree on almost everything.

      First, the movie you watched was Aitraaz 🙂

      Here are the 3 main points of my post:

      1. It is ridiculous to blame Shahrukh for inappropriate behavior towards women in Hindi film since that is something that is present in the films of all stars from all eras. It’s an India problem, not a Shahrukh problem.

      2. Shahrukh is unique in the way he puts women on a pedestal when he talks, and the way his films often involve him deciding what is best for the woman, and the way he avoids interacting with real concerns or saying real things instead of soundbites.

      3. I don’t care about the number 2 issue, because ultimately the way he lives his life is what matters and in that case he is perfectly feminist and perfectly equal.

      On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 2:26 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A comment on another post reminded me about something else that I’d love to talk to Shah Rukh about in my fantasy long political discussion about liberalism vs radicalism (including as it relates to feminism). Another way that I think he takes the easy way out in responding to questions from fans, that really bothers me, is when very sincere fans ask him how they should navigate conflicts with their parents. His pat answer is usually–“Try to listen to them, ask them to listen to you, and then discuss with open hearts. Parents may have trouble understanding your perspective sometimes, but they love you and want the best for you.”

    This is another way of reinforcing that “soft patriarchy”–but this time towards all children, not just girls. It is quite clear that in this world many parents don’t want the best for their kids, and even if they do, they are not functional enough human beings to know what that best might be, or how to help their kids attain it. I really wish Shah Rukh would at least acknowledge that some parents are abusive, some are struggling with poverty, stress, health issues, or substance abuse issue which prevent them from being the kinds of parents kids need. At least he could advise them to seek out trusted adults to confide in and get advice from if their own parents can’t provide that kind of support.

    Like

    • Or they may want the best for their kids but not have the full understanding for whatever reason (NRIs with ABCD kids, raised in villages now living in cities, just plain behind the times) to follow what it is their kids want, no matter how clearly it is explained. Sometimes you just have to do the thing and get approval later once you have proved that it is a success, even if your parents can’t understand.

      But you are absolutely right, and this is something Shahrukh’s films are more direct about than the female issues. DDLJ to Chennai Express, he is all about having faith that the parents will come around. Even in JHMS, he kept wanting her to go back to her family.

      Maybe it is hard for him to understand because his own parents were so permissive and supportive, and because (like any parent) he wouldn’t want his own children to go off and do their own thing without talking to him first. But it’s also a major issue for his society, and it is frustrating that people reach out to him and he doesn’t address it.

      On Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 1:21 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Super late here I know. (Hi, btw, I’m a huge fan of your blog and this is my first comment 🙂 )
    Like so many of you here have pointed out, I too find myself reading a lot of posts and pieces lately expressing disillusionment with SRK, his myth and his politics. I’ve been a huge fan of Shah Rukh Khan since I was 3 and remain so. I obviously can’t speak for those who’ve been at the receiving end of a certain brand of cocky flirty behavior since DDLJ became a phenomenon. I can, however, provide a male perspective on why it was so important for him to exist, for boys like and unlike me. As briefly as I can.

    I consider myself a straight man, with maybe a tiny tinge of queerness(I’m told).

    I hated the Sunny Deol, Jackie Shroff, Bachchan-hangover revenge movies of the 80s and 90s. It’s just repackaged today as slick, pacey well edited Scorcese-like films that depict “male angst” like omg, get over it already! I’ve always preferred the company of women and most of my lifelong friends are women I grew up with. No boy my age spoke to girls and I was constantly teased for taking off with the girl gang instead of playing cricket. When Kuch Kuch came out, we enacted our friendship as Rahul and Anjali and made every adult around us cringe real hard. It’s like we had a new language. Every SRK romance was like that. A new cinematic language in a cinema crazy country for male-female interactions to play out. It was like a blue print. Some boys interpreted the worst parts and some the nice harmless aspects. In hindsight, I don’t think there was ever a time before SRK, that a Hindi film hero said things like “Love is friendship….if she can’t be my best friend, then I don’t think we can be lovers”. I think it’s a significant moment in cinema. So many heroes today like to show how much they embrace their feminine side or whatever, they all owe it to the man who emerged out of a bathtub with rose petals in a commercial for a beauty brand surrounded by fully clothed female superstars from every era, who represented the legacy of the brand. Without making a big deal out of it. It was the closest our mainstream entertainment landscape got to a Prince music video.

    Shah Rukh Khan suggested and mainstreamed a softer, gentler, alternate version of Indian masculinity that could, probably for the first time on celluloid (since.. maybe Shashi Kapoor?), actually engage communicate with women(of all age groups) and form mutually affectionate relationships and friendships with them. Relationships that had no feudal undertones. To create a fresh prototype like that, from scratch, that has no predecessors to build upon, and to go on and become the superstar of my generation, that is an accomplishment in my view. I could relate only to his films and so I watched only his films. It was confirmation to me that I was not weird I did sample the others unfortunately and found nothing I could tolerate. Only in a SRK film can SRK try to intimidate a girl, have it backfire right away and gracefully accept it. That would NEVER have happened in an Aamir Khan/Ajay Devgan/Akshay Kumar 90’s college “romance”. There would’ve been a whole spiel about her clothes reflecting her attitude and what not, followed by a “how dare you challenge me/refuse to kiss me/not be afraid of my musky body odour ” song

    Like

    • Thank you for commenting! And sorry it took so long to post, it got spammed somehow and I just found it.

      And thank you for such a nice comment! From the female side of thing, this is certainly what appealed to me, a male hero who could just talk to a woman, and accept a no when it was offered to him, and seem to actually like women instead of treating them as roadblocks on the way to a big action ending.

      And yes, that was my point with the current criticism of his 90s stuff. The movies weren’t perfect, but they were no worse than what every other hero was doing at the time, and better than a lot of them. Yes maybe in today’s setting they don’t seem good, but they weren’t made today, they were made back when every other hero was forcing a woman to fall in love with him instead of just aggressively flirting with her and then giving up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi
        Ya I’m sorry I think I posted my comment repeatedly because it wasn’t showing on the page. WordPress was acting funny.
        Anyway, I enjoy reading your blog and so many of my friends love your take on movies and omg your movie knowledge is just so vast! 🙂

        Like

        • Thank you! And please keep commenting, I love comments.

          On Fri, May 4, 2018 at 1:39 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

          >

          Like

        • And yes, he’s obviously not politically perfect and I guess he’s too big a star now for someone to call out his benevolent sexism and in too underexposed a bubble for him to understand the politics of the generation he now has to entertain. But he’s still miles ahead of everyone else. Too smart for the younger heartthrobs. Too self aware for narcissistic condescension like his contemporaries/predecessors (Aamir and Bachchan specifically). But I think out of the several things he shoots at the world, most of them land pretty smooth. He’s probably getting the hint I think. He was promoting JHMS on a radio show with Anushka Sharma and was asked by the host whether he was proud of her because he “launched” her and now she’s a big star and he replied saying he finds it stupid when he sees people say they’re proud of someone they supposedly mentored because artists are artists there’s no hierarchy etc.
          I do like that he constantly acknowledges Madhuri, Juhi and Kajol a lot for his career though…and of course, Hema Malini for giving him a break. He’s probably the only guy in that whole industry to continue acknowledging women as his colleagues and mentors in addition to being his friends. I literally can’t think of anyone else other than, again, Shashi Kapoor who used to regard Nanda and others the same way. I’m not saying it’s enough for men to just make these bare minimum,(ideally speaking)very ordinary gestures. But boy, is he a soft target for the media and the public.

          Like

          • I think people have become so used to how things function now that they forget how radical it was when SRK did it. At the peak of his young stardom, he paired up with an actress to start a production company! It was unheard of to take an actress so seriously to make her your business partner. Every time he has done stuff like this, he has faced intense negativity from large parts of the industry. He was the first actor that I can recall who worked with a female director in a big-budget movie. Not just work with but he actually launched a woman who was just a choreographer and would never been given that chance by any other big male star.

            You have to realize this man was born in 1960s India! It’s absurd to expect him to be the kind of feminist a 25 year old American woman would be. What he is is about as much as you’re going to get from a man from that era from that part of the world. It’s strange to see him criticized for not going far enough when he at least tries and has walked much further than others like him have. It’s like all the men that don’t bother to even try are excluded from criticism while someone who goes at least halfway is slammed.

            Liked by 1 person

          • In terms of films at least, I feel like there might be an (unfair and illogical) explanation for it. If you are a female feminist, you are far more likely to watch DDLJ because it is closer to what you would enjoy than, for instance, Main Khiladi Tu Anari. So DDLJ ends up being criticized just because it is what you have seen, punished for being female friendly and therefore something the female audience would watch, while the much much worse action type movies are never criticized because women don’t even watch them.

            And I guess you could expand that to women just generally paying attention to what SRK does and says in a way that they wouldn’t, say, Ajay Devgan. Ajay’s movie Shivaay just last year was at least as bad if not worse than the movies SRK was making in the 90s, but it wasn’t criticized to the same degree.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree. His films are cultural touchstones and have a bigger reach than any Ajay Devgan film will ever have and is, therefore, more prone to criticism and scrutiny. I think it’s a bit sad though. With the exception of the feminist columnist Paromita Vohra and maybe Anupama Chopra, everyone seems to think his films have warped or ruined love or something. And as Someone said, even in the off-screen realm, he gets enough flak from the not-feminist spaces. Which doesn’t surprise me at all of course. An outside-the-establishment man from a minority demographic miraculously slipped through the cracks and is audacious enough to flaunt his materialism and be anything but humble about his success? Oh I know enough people who would be irked by that.

    I don’t think he is trying to be feminist though…as in, I think making Juhi his business partner or bankrolling Farah Khan’s vision was a natural decision. Something a man born in the 60s(or even today really) most likely wouldn’t do , yes, but then, he is from Delhi theatre and from Delhi University right? If I’m not mistaken(I’m from the South so I only know what my relatives living in Delhi tell me) Delhi University’s liberal arts spaces are very left-leaning and well…also liberal. Producing people like Mira Nair and Arundhati Roy(wasn’t one of his first gigs a TV movie she wrote and starred in?). I think he also admits to being snobbish during his initial years in Mumbai? I find all this very ironic considering he was one of the first and most aggressive vehicles of indian capitalism. But then as someone on Twitter said, he is the heterogeneous bazaar, not the homogeneous corporation. I don’t think he even knew until a few years ago that the word feminism is no longer locked in the ivory towers of academia and has been common usage in India for a while.(maybe he ran into Sonam and they had a chat)

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s