Shahrukh Birthday Month Thought Post: Shahrukh and Sexuality

I think I thought a thought, but I am not sure if it was a good thought or if I can explain the thought I thought clearly. Let’s see!

Women learn from an early age to use their sexuality. It’s not about seducing someone, or being overly sexual, it’s about saying “I am a human person with a sexual aspect, and you are a human person with a sexual aspect, and this is a dance we do sometimes”. It’s one of many dances that are part of the human interactions which women learn how to do because they aren’t given the option of escaping that dance. You know how to play the sweet little girl to folks older than you, how to play the charming friend to people your own age, how to play the comforting non-threatening adult to little kids, and how to play “I am a sexual being, you are a sexual being” when the occasion calls for it.

Image result for shahrukh alia
Alia Bhatt, for instance, is very VERY good at playing “I am a little girl”. And more power to her, she’s in a dangerous job in a dangerous industry, do what you need to do to survive.

Men don’t know these things, not in the same way. Because men aren’t socialized to learn them, they are socialized that they should take the lead, enforce their will, not play a complex game of manners to trick people into going their way. Think about a story that revolves around a little girl and an adult. If it is a little girl and a man, it is about her being charming and sweet and innocent and softening his heart. If it is a little girl and a woman, it is about the woman being kindly and wise and healing the little girl. But you wouldn’t expect a man to be kindly and wise to a small child, they are the ones who have to be softened up, not the ones who do the softening. If you see what I mean. And the same dynamic exists in flirtation. The expected pattern is that the man is standing there and the woman touches his arm, gives him bedroom eyes, tosses her hair, and he ends up flustered and seduced. In all real ways, men control the world, including relationships with their daughters, wives, girlfriends, and so on. Which is why in the complex dance of human interaction, women have learned how to be the more skillful dancers, how to lead while seemingly following.

Now, let’s talk about Shahrukh Khan!!!! In general, he acts like a man. When he is in a relationship on film, he is definitely the “husband” and not the wife, it is his needs that come first while the rest of the family has to work around them. In the real world, he takes responsibility, he isn’t tiptoeing around trying to please everyone and make them think it is their idea, he is saying “this is what is happening, my decision.” In terms of socialized behavior, he is a “man”. One of the very best versions of a “man”, one who sees the people around him as people who he must protect and help, one who sees his family as an extension of himself who he must care for, one who is capable of respecting and listening to the opinions of others, all those good things. But still a person who looks at the world and takes an active role in changing it, not a passive role.

Image result for shahrukh gauri
Of course, he is clearly the “husband” in his real life marriage as well. Gauri is the heart of the family who plans vacations and designs the house and so on. But it is Shahrukh’s emotional needs that come first, it is Shahrukh on whom the entire family relies and leans. It is Shahrukh whose decisions are final. All seemingly very healthy and mutually agreed on, but this is the way their family functions.

The exception to this is the way he uses his sexuality. I noticed a few years back that he drops a vision of himself naked into literally EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW. It might be a quote like “I am always acting, even in the bath” or it might be jokes about the naked body scans taken by the TSA or it might be telling a story about going clothes shopping with Karan and having to change in the dressing room. It’s subtle, but it’s there, a mental image of naked SRK somehow evoked every. single. time. That’s a trick recommended to women so often I’ve seen it as a joke in sitcoms, to drop the word “naked” into a conversation or otherwise bring up that image. And here is Shahrukh, shamelessly using it.

And there is the way he uses the possibility of pansexuality as a tease. Again, this is a trick that is a joke at this point, women told that the fastest way to gain male attention is to pretend to be lesbian or bisexual. And here is Shahrukh, casually dropping jokes about being attracted to men, very clever subtle jokes that you can’t quite grab hold of but still leave an impression.

Most of all, there is just his way of behaving with an awareness that he is a sexual being. He makes eye contact with whoever he is speaking with, and he mimics their body language. He tends to sit in a relaxed posture, seemingly comfortable with his body, inviting you to share it not holding it in front of him like a shield. If you saw him at a bar or a party, you would catch the vibe that he is there, he is available, and he is interested. You would be intrigued.

Image result for shahrukh interview

This is unique among male movie stars. I can’t think of someone else in Indian film or in Western film who behaves this way. When male stars want to be sexual, they are aggressive about it, come out with their shirt open or do a sexy dance. They don’t wait for you to come to them. More often, they don’t want to be sexual at all, they want to be strong and independent and invite the people around them to be attracted to them and behave in a sexual manner. To have a male star who lets himself be the casual non-aggressive object of your fantasies, and do it so very very well that it is invisible, that is rare.

Why is this? A couple of reasons. First, Shahrukh is good with conversation. He has a talent with words that allows him to put in these almost invisible little sexy messages. He’s also good with using his body. A terrible dancer, but he acts with his whole body, changing his walk or the way he holds his head in order to fit the character. Those same skills translate to body language in conversation. He can be open or closed and use that to guide how the conversation goes.

Image result for shahrukh interview
He was very very closed in this interview. No sex, no flirtation, no warmth. He did not duck the questions or fail to answer them, but he did not make you think he was enjoying himself or he liked the interviewer.

But the second reason is that Shahrukh has the originality and bravery to use his sexuality in this way. While another man might think it weakens them, Shahrukh is wise enough to see this as a tool. As an actor, he is already selling his face and body. This is just another way of doing it.

That is why he does it in particular, having the skill and the confidence, but what is the goal? What is the result that makes behaving sexually desirable?

Shahrukh gets the same thing out of it that every woman does. He creates a setting in which the other person wants to please him. Shahrukh gives out these little bits of sexiness and it creates a subconscious thrill for his conversation partner, and for the audience watching at home. In the quest for more of that, the interviewer will follow his lead and bring the questions around to areas that please him. And the folks watching at home will stop worrying about serious questions like what his next movie will be or if he is launching his kids, and instead focus on hoping for more stories about trying on clothes or why he loves his wife. In the exact same way that a woman can avoid telling personal information during a lousy date, or can talk her way into a party.

If Shahrukh was a woman, he would also have to pay the price women pay. If you use your ability to play social games in order to survive under patriarchal society, eventually you will be accused of “cheating”. Getting by on “sex” instead of talent. Which ignores the reality that women generally retreat to sex in order to balance uneven scales, and that being able to use sex in this way is a kind of talent. Shahrukh does pay that price just a little bit, accused of being cast in films because Karan Johar is in love with him, accused of being a woman’s star and not a serious star, and so on. But ultimately, he is still a man. He has all the power in the world and he may play at using his sexuality, but the reality is still there. In the end, that reality is all the more powerful for being cloaked. Those few moments when the charming sexy behavior drops away and the anger whips out have all the more power for how unexpected they are.

Image result for shahrukh press conference angry
See his leaning forward torso, hand held straight forward? Forget the words, the body language is saying “I am on the attack, I no longer like you or want you to like me”.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got! Shahrukh uses his sexuality like a woman would, and with more skill than pretty much anyone else man or woman. It benefits him by letting him subtly control interactions, and by making the occasional reveal and reminder that he is a powerful man even more impactful.

What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “Shahrukh Birthday Month Thought Post: Shahrukh and Sexuality

  1. It’s worked well for him for the most part but I wonder how long it can last. The older and more powerful he gets, the more he has to curb his natural inclination to be flirty. He can get away with it with Deepika, for instance, but not with Alia.

    In the 90s, he was cute and impish. Nobody could feel offended by anything he says because he was so young that it couldn’t possibly come off as threatening. Especially not with those sweet dimples. In general too, even now, it hinges a lot on the fact that most people think he’s basically a decent, good man. I don’t think most of his male colleagues like Akshay, Salman, or Ajay could get away with saying the things SRK does.

    But sometimes, it can go very wrong. We already saw the kind of disaster it can lead to with Priyanka in the later years. Looking too open and inviting was a terrible choice there. Being closed off, especially in public, was the right choice in that case and he totally misread the whole thing. He will have to be even more careful with time.

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    • Really interesting thoughts all around!

      Using my framework, I think the issue is that he really only played the “female” card in the way he used his sexuality. With that no longer as universally applicable, he needs to find a new way to play “charming pleasant you just want to please him”. When he was younger I think he played the “I am the boy next door you want to parent” card a lot, but he is too old for that now. Being your loveable uncle might work (as he did very well in the Alia promotions). Or he can do what he seems to be doing now, withdrawing that personal touch and keeping things strictly professional. I hate that, and I think it is also taking away a lot of what made him special as an actor.

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      • His public persona doesn’t affect his acting. Those are two different things so even if he withdraws as a person, it wouldn’t make him a less special actor.
        In any case, I wouldn’t go by his behavior during his sabbatical. It seems like he genuinely wanted a break from everything. He didn’t want to deal with fans or media or have the burden of making people happy for once. From his sporadic social media posts, you can see he is wrapped up in himself– playing with his kid, hanging out with his cricket team, building up his wife’s confidence, going on vacations, etc. He is decompressing and doesn’t want to bother with outsiders and what they think of him. He’s earned the right to do what he feels like for a while.
        We will have to see what happens when he comes back outside Mannat with an announcement. Maybe he will still maintain that hands-off persona and just do his work and go home. Or maybe he will return back to normal like before.

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  2. The problem with Priyanka wasn’t a matter of his age, but rather the woman herself. The unfortunate way things panned out could have happened at any time and I instead feel that it was his relative maturity that allowed him to sail through it. He had a reputation as a decent man and his strategies for dealing with controversy were already established as ‘do not fuel rumour by commenting.’

    I think the way ShahRukh behaves around Alia suggests he knows very well how and where to place his sexuality. The mentor/uncle persona is appropriate and that’s the line he has taken. That said, there was an underlying hint of sexual tension in Dear Zindagi which was very finely balanced , never overt, never acted on, but enough to suggest they were both sexual creatures, just not for each other, not as a couple.

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    • For me, what is going to be the biggest challenge for him is when he is too old to flirt with reporters. It’s his go to move, male or female he can put them off their game with just the slightest hint of sexual tension. But what works beautifully when you are 40 and a bunch of bright young 30-somethings are interviewing you isn’t quite right when you are 50. It’s already noticeable in some of his interviews, he has to figure out how to relate to reporters as an uncle type or else stop taking interviews with very young women.

      It sounds like in “real life” he has already drawn that line. Have you noticed more and more people in the industry, including his heroines, are referring to him as “Shah Sir”? I’m kind of interested to see what “Shah Sir” looks like in interviews and movie roles, the nice older man you respect who gives you advice.

      On Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 11:49 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • It’s a fine line though because the same women who call him sir also visibly drool over him. Some of the interviews I saw during Zero were so wildly unprofessional that it was almost funny. For example, I saw one with a girl, probably mid-20s, who was interviewing SRK and he wasn’t engaging in that way at all. You could tell he was actually exhausted from working around the clock and not even interested in the interview and this girl would stop and tell him after nearly every question how much she loves him and how handsome he is and so on. Even Anand Rai started laughing after a point.
        Since Alia was brought up, she also seems to straddle the line. She might call him sir (I don’t remember) but she also keeps saying in half her interviews that he’s her first crush and so on. That’s long after Dear Zindagi. I think it’s okay as long as SRK is not that one that starts it and takes it sportingly.
        I think SRK making sexual comments is mainly related to his sense of humor. If someone too young is in front of him, he can easily avoid it and use some other way to joke instead. He’s smart enough to find another way to keep people on their toes if he needs to.

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        • I think SRK might be nearing the age where, in the situation where a younger woman is starting the inappropriate flirtation, he needs to let himself look visibly uncomfortable. Kind of like he did with Alia, he is a dopey old uncle who doesn’t like these young women misbehaving. Right now he has stopped really flirting back but I think he needs to have a firmer response of “na na, don’t say such things, I am old enough to be your father”.

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    • I wasn’t referring to his age when it comes to Priyanka. Just that he seemed unaware of what he was causing. Being so open and inviting and flirting like he does with others was not that right choice there. He misread the situation there.

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  3. I think that ShahRukh – in his public life – harmonises three traits: being a gentleman, being naughty and being emotionally intelligent. He will be flirtatious if he gets the feeling that it is desired, charming if he feels that it will help to ease a situation, reserved if he feels uneasy, sympathetic if the other person is in a weaker position…and so on. He is one of those rare public figures who have no qualms to accept, show and use the female part in themselves.

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    • Yes, thank you, you understood exactly what I was trying to say. Women know how to pay attention to what the other person wants and give it to them without giving away everything. Shahrukh learned that same skill somehow, how to understand what the other person in the interaction needs at this moment and give it to them without giving away what he really doesn’t want to give.

      On Sat, Oct 5, 2019 at 2:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. This is such an interesting idea on how Shahrukh uses his more “feminine” sexuality. I wonder how much of it is natural and how much is a developed trait. Forget female reporters or actresses, I personally know two straight men who talk about their interactions with SRK in the same gushing tones. One is a reporter who has interviewed him and talks about how you cannot focus on anything else if Shahrukh is around. The other is a close friend who worked on the sets of RaOne. This is a non Indian guy who did not know anything about Shahrukh before working on the movie. He was talking about how he felt amazed that in a conversation where both Shahrukh and Kareena were present, he could not help focusing on Shahrukh even though as a straight man he thinks that Kareena is a super hot woman. In both these cases Shahrukh was not exactly being sexual and still had that effect. It will be interesting to see how things change as he ages. My guess is that he will manage it the same way that a lot of women do – graduate into being an attractive person who is fun to be around but not aggressively sexual.

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    • Yes, that is the same thing everyone always says! He has this amazing charisma in real life, which is partially sexual.

      It doesn’t sound like it was always there? Even in his early years in Bombay he wasn’t this impossible to ignore kind of person. Maybe as he ages it will go away naturally? If not, I think you are correct, aging into a handsome distinguished man is going to be his path.

      On Sat, Oct 5, 2019 at 6:05 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. “It’s subtle, but it’s there, a mental image of naked SRK somehow evoked every. single. time. That’s a trick recommended to women so often I’ve seen it as a joke in sitcoms,” I didn’t know this was a thing,..
    “He was very very closed in this interview. No sex, no flirtation, no warmth. He did not duck the questions or fail to answer them, but he did not make you think he was enjoying himself or he liked the interviewer.” This interview was SO BAD. The interviewer had clearly never seen a movie of his or at least a whole one and kept trying to trip him up to say something bad. He rewarded her by turning OFF the high beams so she had no pleasure in her company and NOT being witty, just serious and way smarter than her.
    I think he has been practicing his “I’m old enough to be your father or at least Uncle but I’m also sexy so I’ll be appropriate” persona. I think he’ll figure it out.

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    • I think you must not watch the same terrible terrible sitcoms I do. I think it is a stupid technique in general, but Shahrukh pulls it off. With a combination of his own sexiness, his wit, and his position as a physical sex object, it doesn’t feel inappropriate.

      I like his “sexy uncle” vibe, I hope he commits to it and we get it more and more.

      On Sun, Oct 6, 2019 at 5:16 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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