The Power of Salman Khan Shows Bollywood Hypocrisy at its Finest

Salman Khan in Bajrangi Bhaijaan [Photo Source: Screenshot/Eros International]

My eyes still hurt from all the rolling they did watching that video of Salman Khan waving benevolently from his balcony at the hordes of his devoted fans. The man spent two nights in jail before he was granted bail (about $1500, a measly sum for the 9th highest paid actor in the world mind you), but if you go by the welcome he received from his legions of fans you’d think he had just been freed after a decades long prison stint for a crime he hadn’t actually committed.

For his millions of fans the world over, the five-year prison sentence handed down by an Indian Court on April 5th was way too harsh a punishment for their precious bhai (either brother in Hindi… Or underworld don, interestingly enough). They argue he’s a changed man, or he’s misunderstood, and anyway, hasn’t he atoned for his past transgressions with his Being Human Foundation?

This blind devotion is baffling.

This wasn’t even Khan’s first rodeo; he’s been a frequent flyer with the Indian Justice system for a while now. This most recent conviction came for the alleged poaching of two blackbucks in Rajasthan back in 1998. In the previous two cases involving this incident, he was sentenced to jail and then quickly acquitted by a higher court. He was also acquitted in 2015 after he appealed his conviction for the fatal hit-and-run case where prosecutors say he ran over five sleeping men while drunk, and killed one of them.

[Read Related: UPDATE: Salman Khan Convicted & Immediately Released on Bail in 1998 Poaching Case]

His past aggressive and violent behavior towards women has also been well-documented. His ex-girlfriend, former Miss World, and one of Bollywood’s biggest names – Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – has spoken about the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at his hands during their relationship. While he has refuted that he ever got physical with her he has freely admitted his threats of self-harm, “misbehaving with her family”, and general aggressive behaviour, which grew worse with alcohol. Somy Ali, another ex-girlfriend (preceding Rai, but there was overlap), only recently (2015) denied the well-circulated story of him breaking a bottle over her head out of anger at her for trying alcohol for the first time.

Another thing, I think Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable’ must be his theme song because he taken the lyrics “I can have another you in a minute” seriously. I mean the man has a penchant for seeking out and launching new actresses that are dead ringers of his exes. It is creepy and it showcases his overblown sense of entitlement. He also has a history of saying gross, misogynistic things over and over again.

However, none of this seems to dent his popularity with the masses. They still flock to his films in droves. This unwavering support is, I believe, a symptom of a much more systemic problem. The normalcy of the inherent inequality, which is founded in the caste system, permeates all aspects of Indian society. Salman Khan enjoys immense power and privilege. He’s a man with more wealth than billions of people in his country (and money can buy you a lot in India). Along with that he’s got an almost unrivaled fan base, and in a country where movie stars are literally worshipped, he reigns (almost) supreme.

His power and privilege is also the reason for the unwavering, almost sycophantic public display of support from within Bollywood during every single one of his brushes with the law. It’s amazing how the “film fraternity” comes out to stand in solidarity with bhai every single time. You’ll see them, all sullen faced, paying homage to him and gathering around his family at his home, or taking to social media to share pictures and messages. Most of these are hilariously tone deaf or go completely against their own projected brand image.

As I’ve written before, this elitism, this unchecked power and privilege that goes unacknowledged and therefore unchecked by the Bollywood elite, leads to the dismissal of real inequities and problems both within the industry and in the country. They refuse to see and their power and privilege protects them anyway.

This lack of self-awareness is why we have Sonam Kapoor, self-professed feminist, newly minted vegan, and supporter of PETA India, taking to her Instagram to share a still from her nonsensical (and completely un-feminist) film with Khan in support without making the link. It’s why we see another Peta India supporter and self-professed lover of animals, Sonakshi Sinha, sharing a candid picture of herself hugging bhai, her “the force and the force field” indicating that she would protect him from anything. The internet obviously came at them with the receipts! But they’ll be fine because bhai will remember and bhai blessings are everything.

Bollywood is an exclusive club. Usually, you’re either born into it, marry into, or are deemed pretty enough or popular enough to hang with the cool kids who grant you an exclusive (but as many find out, conditional) pass into it. Very few – I’m talking the likes of Shah Rukh and Akshay – actually fight through to the top by sheer force of will, coupled with talent and general badassery.

Salman Khan was born into it, and he was also pretty and popular enough to become the coolest of the cool. He has the power to bring you into the club and the power to kick you out. Everyone wants to stay in and that’s why we see the blatant hypocrisy run rampant during times of trouble. Keep Salman bhai happy and he’ll protect you. Upset bhai and you’ll be out on your butt quicker than you can say Vivek Oberoi. Bhai’s retribution is swift!

[Read Related: The ‘Padmavati’ Debacle: Bollywood Progressivism Against Protests is Too Little Too Late]

The ‘Salman Saga’ will continue, and I do wish him well, because no one is irredeemable if they truly want to change and make amends. But unlike his legions of fans (including some of my own family and friends), I’m waiting to see when or if this happens. Now if his enablers and worshippers would just get out of his way, he might be able to see his false sense of entitlement holding him back, and he might actually be able to make a go of it.

By Sundeep Hans

Sundeep Hans was born in Toronto, raised in Brampton, with a slight detour via Punjab. She’s a social justice activist, … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking. 

I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.

— Smriti Mundhra

As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.

In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.

For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.


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At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.

In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.

By Nida Hasan

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›