I didn’t even bother rereading my old review, because once I thought of this angle, I KNEW it was a new one!
What is Asexuality? It’s a recognition that, for some people, sex is simply not something that they need or desire. It’s a good thing to talk about because it is an acknowledgement that sex drive is a continuum, not a universal. In Indian films, there is an assumption that all boys have a strong sex drive, and no girls do. And once you get married, it magically evens out. In real life, there is the easy prejudice of “how could he/she not wait for marriage? It’s easy!” or alternatively “how weird that they waited for marriage, that’s inhuman self-control”. It’s just not that simple, everyone is different.
Asexuality means someone who is at the far far far far “0” end of the spectrum. In a lot of cultures, they still have to get married and have kids, too all outside appearances they don’t exist. And I suppose the flipside, the high sex drive folks who are at it all the time, are also invisible behind marriage and kids. If you do hear about someone who simply does not want to have sex with their wife/husband, you immediately think “gay” or “just hasn’t met the right person”, not “maybe in love with their spouse and perfectly happy but just not that interested in sex”. Or if you see someone, that rare person in such a culture, who has never married, you think “how tragic, killing the desire within them for the better social good”. And then the final option “this person is Better and Not Human and has No Desires”. That would be the celibate priests and nuns who have purposefully removed themselves from the world.
But what about Shahrukh in this movie? He is middle-aged and unmarried. He spends a lot of time with young women without seeming to feel any desire for them. He spends time with a close male friend without seeming to have any desire for him either. But he can be filled with anger, with patriotism, with anxiety, with all the human emotions at a normal level. He just isn’t a sexual being.
It is how the character is written. Nothing in the script says “I am not interested in girls, or boys” explicitly. But what is written is the way he sympathizes with his players, yells at them, trains them, and even rejects their sexual advances, all without ever indicating that he is resisting temptation. He simply does not feel temptation.
Shahrukh plays it just right as well. He is friendly to his co-workers, tough but fair to the players, polite with fellow coaches, and caring to his mother. But there is no twinkle in his eye, no chemistry being put out. Simply not there. Not repressed, but gone.
It would have been so easy to write this character with a sweet faithful little wife at home, but they chose not to do that. This has to be a man who relates to woman only as fellow athletes and nothing else. I suppose they could also have made him gay, but this is better I think. They wrote a character who has passions and fears and a full emotional life, who is an athlete and loves to use his body, but just feels no sexual spark with anyone.
Of course his asexuality makes the role extremely sexy, in context. If I were to be in the world of the film and meet Kabir Khan, I would not see him sexually. Heck, we even see that, the players say a lot of things about him but they never even consider him sexually. But for those of us watching the film, who know Shahrukh as this super sexy monster in every other film, this turns into kind of a shadow panel where the lack of sexiness is what brings out the sexy. You can’t help imagining the burbling fires of sex under all that lack of sex on top.
There’s also the irresistible idea, which is very wrongheaded and should NEVER EVER be thought in real life FOR A MOMENT, that you might be the one person who could change him, that he SAYS he has no interest in sex, but it’s all an act. So, that’s a sexy audience fantasy too. Although, again, not a fantasy within the film, no one seems to think that around him. It’s only available to us, the outsiders, who know the possibilities within Shahrukh.
But mostly I want to take a moment to appreciate a truly and completely asexual character. Not repressing his sexuality, not an inhuman monk, just someone who does not feel sexuality or have sexuality. A little small subtle gesture to a sexual minority community, in the middle of a much louder gesture to a religious minority community, in the midst of a whole film about an gender oppressed community. And also there is field hockey.