Woo-hoo, Shahrukh’s PR team! You deserve congrats, champagne, and a nice long vacation. Shahrukh got another honorary degree and the coverage has been spun just right. It’s like a perfectly tailored suit, so well done as to be invisible and just allow the man within it to shine.
Let me give you a selection of headlines:
London’s Law University Honors Shahrukh Khan With A Doctorate Degree (
Another feather in his cap: SRK receives honorary doctorate by The University of Law, London (//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/68731821.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)
Shah Rukh Khan Gets His Fourth Doctorate While We Still Haven’t Collected Our College Degree ( https://www.mensxp.com/entertainment/bollywood/51713-shah-rukh-khan-gets-his-third-doctorate-while-we-still-haven-rsquo-t-collected-our-college-degree.html )
Pics: Shah Rukh Khan looks dapper as he returns to Mumbai after receiving honorary doctorate in Philanthropy (https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/news/pics-shah-rukh-khan-looks-dapper-he-returns-mumbai-after-receiving-honorary-doctorate-philanthropy-445641 )
And some opening paragraphs:
“Shah Rukh Khan, one of the most refined actors in the industry adds another feather to his cap. The ‘Zero’ superstar received an honorary doctorate in philanthropy by the University of law, London. He’d already received the same honour from the University of Bedfordshire and the University of Edinburg and now, it was the University of Law’s turn to honour the deserving actor.”
“After the honorary doctorates from The University of Bedfordshire and The University of Edinburgh, superstar Shah Rukh Khan has received an honorary doctorate in Philanthropy by The University of Law, London.”
“The Badshah of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan, has added yet another feather to his cap. The actor, on Thursday, was conferred an honorary Doctorate in Philanthropy by The University of Law, London. Earlier, Shahrukh had received two doctorates from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Bedfordshire.”
Now, this is how you control a story!!!!!! Every headline in lockstep, every opening paragraph almost word-for-word identical. Somebody somewhere sent out a press release complete with suggested language (“feather in his cap” is not a common phrase) to every media outlet available. No more just waiting for them to find the story, or even trusting on Shahrukh’s tweets to be repeated, total control is the goal.
In fact, let’s take a moment to look at the tweet Shahrukh put up:
It’s courteous and correct, but it does not tell the story. In fact, it encourages readers and news outlets to search for more details on the story, you can’t really have an opinion just on this tweet, you need to get real facts and fill in the gaps. And the SRK PR team is here for you with those facts!
What’s really impressive is the follow up Pinkvilla report about him arriving back from the airport. Airport shots are the point of the post, but they need some kind of headline to differentiate it from all the other SRK airport shots, and POOF! The first thing at the top of their minds is “Honorary Doctorate”. Not “controversial” or “unpatriotic” or “flop movie star”, but “Honorary Doctorate”. ReBranding Successful!
Speaking of flop movies, the PR team is taking a stab at redeeming Zero too. I admire the ambition, but I don’t have much faith it will work. If you search for Zero now, these are the headlines you find:
Shah Rukh’s ‘Zero’ to close Beijing film fest ( https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/shah-rukh-s-zero-to-close-beijing-film-fest-119040301039_1.html _)
Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero To Close The Beijing International Film Festival – Rocking Or SHOCKING? ( https://www.koimoi.com/bollywood-news/shah-rukh-khan-zero-close-beijing-international-film-festival/ )
Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Zero’ to close Beijing International Film Festival (//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/68714644.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)
Now, here’s the really interesting one, the original article reporting this is in Variety! So in this case, it’s not so much that the SRK PR folks sent around a press release, as that they steered everyone towards the correct article and let them go from there:
Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Zero,’ Chinese Propaganda Titles Set as Beijing Festival Highlights ( https://variety.com/2019/film/news/beijing-film-festival-shah-rukh-khan-1203179326/ )
The Variety article accurately pointed to Zero as part of a larger trend of Indian-Chinese film crossovers:
“The decision to program “Zero” in such a prominent slot underlines the growing success which Indian films are enjoying with Chinese audiences.”
That’s the bit that the Indian articles picked up on, For instance from Koimoi.com:
“The love of Chinese audiences for Bollywood dramas is well known, especially in the recent past, several movies including Hindi Medium and Hichki have worked wonders amongst the movie lovers there. Now, Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma-Katrina Kaif starrer Zero is all set to enter the elite list, as the romantic saga to be part of renowned Beijing International Film Festival. ”
Zero is no longer a “flop” film, it is a crossover hit with China, a brave representative of the Indian industry in the international market. Honored by overseas festivals, very respectable.
Long term, I doubt this will work, Zero will hit the festival and then leave and India will go back to thinking of it as a “flop” film. But at least for a few news cycles, Zero gets a break. And in future, along with “flop”, they can push to add the descriptor of “honored by China” to any articles about it.
We can see the vision of a larger strategy here, right? The goal is Shahrukh=Respected International Philanthropist and Secondly Actor. Move the movie star stuff to the second level, he’s not giving TED Talks on that any more or doing stage shows and stuff, he is a philanthropist first and actor second. Which also means that his acting career’s hits and flops do not define his public image, the films do not control him but he controls the films.
Also cut out the personal stuff, no more “Shahrukh, loving father and husband”, instead “Shahrukh, thinker on legal and ethical issues and active giver to the community”. Minimal personal tweets, no interviews, no public appearances, just awards and speeches. And focus on the international angle, the Indian film festivals and universities aren’t allowed to give him awards any more, but international is even better. Collect everything you are offered from everywhere and promote the heck out of it until the Indian public starts to think of you as a respectable person again and starts to wonder why you aren’t getting awards at home. It redeems Shahrukh-the-Person without forcing himself to compromise his principles, or opening up the more personal areas of his life where attacks hurt more.
The best part is, Shahrukh’s Indian political opponents can’t fight back. Not with the way he has positioned himself. You can’t attack an international award without also attacking the international market, and no one wants to attack the international market. Sure, it’s easy to start a social media campaign of “Shahrukh gets an award from London University, where the colonial oppressors who almost destroyed our culture were born, Shahrukh is a collaborator and blah blah blah”. But no one wants that campaign right now, we are in the era of the Global Market, we have to make nice. If he was getting a local award, you could say “This particular university did such-and-such, so we all hate them”. But no one has enough awareness of the specifics of these international things to get a good hate going on them. Keep the international coming, and eventually you will yank India into following, because they can’t fight back against it.
This is all making me think about two posts I wrote. Remember my post on Brand SRK and how he needs a rebranding? How the nice average boy next door doesn’t work any more? Here it is, this is the rebranding. He is ruthlessly cutting out all personal angles to his public image and replacing them with Shahrukh = Charity.
But even more interesting is thinking about this in connection with my hegemony post. There is a cultural hegemony of “you have to hate SRK” and there is seemingly no way to fight back against that. So instead, his team is ignoring that hegemonic message and jumping on the back of a different message, “India is/should be a global power and globally respected”. Mix Shahrukh into that whole dish, and there is no way to fight back without destroying the larger message. It’s the same trick everyone else is doing by becoming more and more Hindu, or patriotic.
Everyone else is going to a temple to pray for the success of their film (with lots of photographers around to watch them), or posting some patriotic pablum on Independence Day, and gaining a backfire to shield them from accusations of being unIndian or bad for the country or whatever. But Shahrukh won’t bend that way, won’t give up his principles, so he found a different message that he can leap into, a different stream he can disappear into and slowly redirect until it overwhelms the other small stream of “Shahrukh is the worst” hegemony. You say Shahrukh is the worst? Well, you better be willing to say England is the worst too, and global respect for India, and all these other things!
But mostly, I just want to find out who the team is that is handling SRK now and send them a gift basket and a big CONGRATS message. Oh, and also a little handwritten note saying “I appreciate all you are doing, but is there a way he could get awards and still keep the sexy unshaven look?”
(Oh right, last time I put up a post like this a bunch of people got mad at me. Let us accept that Shahrukh truly is a good charitable person and has been doing these things and getting these awards all along, I’m not saying he is a liar or a hypocrite or anything, I am just saying that his PR team is now trying to promote the things he has always been doing. In fact, I really admire him for sticking by his principles and refusing to give in to jingoistic patriotism like everyone else in the film industry, instead finding a message that is both acceptable to the Indian public and something he really believes in: global connections, charity, women’s empowerment)