Posted by: Vikram | January 30, 2009

What if Shah Rukh Khan went on the Hajj ?

Shah Rukh Khan is the ultimate dream of  the Indian advertising agency,  says Julien Cayle of the Australian School Of Business in “Shah Rukh Khan and the Creation of the Cosmopolitan Indian male“. He certainly was a great boon to the advertising industry in India,

endorsing more than 25 brands, from computers and cars to vegeatable oil, facial creams, noodles, and cream biscuits. However this ubiquity rather than hurting SRK’s image, helps to make him the quintessential pan-Indian male.

SRK, atleast in advertising and consumerist terms, epitomizes what it means to be ‘Indian’ today. According to Julien SRK has become,

one of the symbols that can represent the idea of India in the minds of audiences.

I have previously alluded to the ‘Bollywood nationalism’ of India’s middle classes, where the Indian nation is represented by its consumption opportunities not its democratic or pluralistic values.

SRK has become what he is today, because he has played a diverse set of roles and appealed to a very heterogenous audience,

He has played Hindu (Devdas) and Muslim (Chak De) characters. He has been a country bumpkin trying to adjust to urban life (Chahaat) and urban executive trying to succeed in the big city (Yes Boss); a non-resident Indian working on a NASA project in the US (Swades) and an Indian pilot in love with a Pakistani woman (Veer Zaara).

To these I can add the Punjabi NRI (DDLJ) and the Goan (Kabha Haa Kabhi Naa)1. SRK’s popular appeal is thus based on his ability to straddle the fundamental fault lines of life in India today,

village and city, poverty and wealth, modernity and tradition.

So he remains popular among the lower middle class, the urban poor and the small towns due to his remarkable adaptability and also his unassuming, boy next door type of personality. Indeed he repeatedly stresses his,

humble beginnings in New Delhi, of losing his parents at an early age, of love for his family, all of which increase as the regular, approachable guy.

But SRK’s appeal to the consuming middle classes of the metros are not solely due to these earthly values. It must be noted that the metro youth of India increasingly see themselves vis a vis their counterparts in the developed West. To them SRK represents the ‘global’ Indian, assertive in the global arena yet connected to his Indian roots. Cayla gives the example of the Hyundai i10 commercial:

What does this commercial represent ? The key stress points are the fact that the i10 premiered in India (highlighting the emergence of India as a major economic player) and the blonde girl (clearly identified as the West) representing an effiminate, weak West trying to catch up with an assertive, masculine India. This of course is a complete fallacy, economic integration with the West is absolutely integral to the transformation of urban India. And in the relationship between America and India, the former is still very much the dominant partner, in any sphere1.

Julien says that the emergence of SRK after Amitabh Bachchan reflects the transformation of the,

citizen-patriot of the 1970s to the consumer-patriot of the new century

If this is indeed true, it reflects a most disturbing development.

Now for my question 🙂 . What if SRK went on Hajj ? Would he still remain a pan-Indian icon. Would the upper caste Hindu middle classes accept him ? They mostly know him as Raj, Rahul or Rohit. Would they accept this assertion of his Indian-Muslim identity ?

1: The role that really endeared him to the masses for the first time
2: A very cursory glance at much of the pop/intellectual/economic culture of India will reveal a huge influence or admiration of America. In no way am I implying that this is a bad thing. It is merely enriching an already very rich mosaic of cultures.

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Responses

  1. For any sane human being,he or she should not have a problem with Shah Rukh Going for Hajj..I am not trying to compare,but AB,Aishwarya rai ,Govinda etc etc go on pilgrimages and I ahve heard Aishwarya married a tree befor marrying Abhishek..Despite knwoing all that,me as a muslim still like them the same way as before.

    Religion is a personal business and we shouldn’t bother if one goes to Rome or Mecca or Varanasi..If one does,he/she is a bloddy hypocrite and of that caliber to be locked in dark room..

  2. Religion, caste and creed hardly matters at their level. People still revere them without any prejudice. To them it wouldn’t matter if a Muslim SRK is married to a Hindu Gauri or Hindu Hrithik is married to a Muslim Suzzane.

    Religion and casteism becomes a personal business when it comes to middle level. That’s where every tom, dick and harry assumes that it is his right to question culture. out of caste as inter-religious marriages.

    That’s why you will find MNS goons running after a poor comedian Shakeen and packing him off to Pakistan where as they have no problem with Adnan Sami living in the city or his son visiting and boozing with Salman Khan.

    So SRK can go to Mecca or settle in Dubai as long as he is the star.

  3. I think Indian celebrities are popular beyond their religious identity, Pakeeza, Mughal e azam, and Veer Zara etc have had Muslim characters and who cared ?
    A R Rehman, Zeenat Aman, Mohammad rafi … most Indians were never mush bothered about the religion of their favorite stars.
    The Hindutva Parties might have created a rift but I am sure it will pass.
    They are exposing themselves with their moral policing and at least the educated classes are no longer enamoured with them.

    SRK is cosmopolitan – one of those who follow, language Hinglish, culture Cosmopolitan and religion – Human values.

  4. I think its his personal life and he or infact us should not worry about what will be the consequences to his image.

  5. @ Reema, Nimmy : You are right and that is my opinion too. But I am not too sure about the broader Indian populace. Bollywood is becoming more and more Hinduized/North Indianized according to me.

    @ Solilo : You are right, the top level are immune to both religious bigotry and bias. But on the other hand, a lot of times religious conflict at the ‘middle/lower-middle’ level is more a result of underlying competition for resources.

    @ IHM : I agree with you almost entirely, except the last statement. I dont think cosmopolitanism is a good idea, in Mumbai it has led to the damage of the native culture.

  6. I like Shah Rukh Khan. Although he looks old now.

    Yeah he has also changed his style a lot. But he is a good entertainer none the less.

  7. Vikram- You say that Bollywood is being Hinduized, when it is dominated by the Khans!

    And very excellent artistes they are, too! :):)

    Yes, Manju. The complete answer to your very valid question will come when I talk about the paper “Dreaming the Nation: Domestic Dramas in Hindi Films”. But to quote the abstract, “Domestic Hindi film dramas post-1990 display a remarkably consistent pattern in producing a monolithic Indian identity that is Hindu, wealthy and patriarchal in nature.” I also remember instances where the media has barged into SRK’s home during Holi and literally forced him to say that he enjoys Holi and it means a lot to him etc. Also, Aamir and Salman Khan cannot be considered Muslim.

  8. Sorry, posted an extra smiley by mistake.

  9. I don’t think it would matter.

    If SRK all of a sudden began to adopt fundamentalist values and advocated for them, that might change things. Then, I’d perhaps stop watching his movies.

    MmeetsK, it wont change for us, because we are liberal. But I dont think it would be that simple in the case of many Indians.

  10. Its a very interesting phenomenon that so many of the bollywood superstars are muslim, and religion never came in the way of their popularity.

    Good point you raise about what would happen if they start asserting their religious identities.

    I dont think going to Haj would be such a big deal, however if any person starts going overly religious, whether hindu or muslim, there are bound to be some people who might flinch.

  11. You are tagged!:)http://ofsongsforthesoul.blogspot.com/2009/02/tagged-once-more.html

    will be back with a comment in a bit!:)

  12. Vikram culture like language changes all the time. It must. Stagnant cultures are the dream of Ram Sene.

  13. I love SRK an entertainer, thats is the first thing. But I dont know how the whole society will accept it and love him as now if he goes to Hag, even though that is his personal choice

  14. Interesting post. Two questions though:

    – Isn’t him going on Hajj somewhat equivalent to his many post 26/11 interviews about the teachings of Islam? Both are overt expressions of his religion.
    – Haven’t most Indian actors done hindu/muslim, rich/poor, villager/urban roles? I can think of at least one other example (Aamir Khan) with none of the associated hysteria of SRK.

    I would say that going on Hajj would be a much stronger assertion than just recounting the teachings of Islam. Remember only a Muslim can go on a Hajj, whereas there are quite a few non-Muslim Islamic experts.

    Yes, that is a good question. And the article underlines some of the reasons why. While the others are versatile, SRK is more versatile. He acts in many different kinds of roles, endorses a huge range of products. Compare this with Salman Khan/Akshay Kumar who usually do much more macho commercials/movies. And I would say Aamir Khan is a close second to SRK in popularity. Both have undeniable charisma.

  15. You are very prompt. 🙂

    Thank You, Gmail Notifier ka jadoo. 😉

  16. If Sharukh goes on a Hajj…the reactions of the upper middles class Hindus would change very subtly…there would be an ”Oh!ye bhi?”
    trust me we are very hypocritical..
    It would be the topic of many a conversation….for sure…
    will the effect be a long lasting one in this case? I dont know….

    IF however, the media jumps in (as it usually does)and trumpets his departure and his arrival…(alongwith what he did there ,how he had his namaaz and when he drank wateretc) .in the cheesy ,over the top way that they do everything…then I can assure you that Sharukh will have a few Muslim ‘bretheren’ as his supporters/fans and a few less Hindu fans who will now start associating his Muslim identity with his superstar one….

    such is India..

  17. Most of the Indians are very librel, broad-minded and progressive people .. That’s the reason why religion has never become a obstacle in achieving any feet in any business in India .. That’s why we had Abdul Kalam as our president, Mohammed Azharrudin and Nawab Patody as Indian Cricket team captain, shahrukh – aamir – salman khan as superstarts of bollywood, Manmohan Singh as our PM or even Sonia gandhi as the president of the ruling party even though we hindus represent 80% of the population ..

    When we clapped on Azhar’s shot or on Shahrukh’s dialogue or on Rahman’s music, we never hv thought about the religion ..

    So even if Shahrukh goes to Haj or not, it is not gonna affect anyone’s choice or fan-following ..

    Welcome Soham. I hope you are right.

  18. hmmm now this really got me thinking. one would really wonder eh given the present circumstances where a pakistani girl was beat in a mall for having urdu tatoo on her back.

    It seems though that incident (which was completely shameful) cannot be seen in the context of this article though, the girl was attacked by Muslims because they thought she had insulted Islam. Similar to the ‘Ram Sena’ thuggery.

  19. Vikram, I am quite surprised at this question actually.. And I don’t really think most of us will care two hoots – but yes, it could be magnified by the way the media projects (if it chooses to).. But very interesting to wonder, all the same..

    Yes, a lot will depend on how the media sees it. But even though we proclaim our secularism pointing to the religion of our super-stars, we only consume them in mainstream, majority roles.

  20. It’s weird discussions ha ha ha..
    I’m in love with India movie, especially with Aamir Khan movies..
    Sharuk khan.. not to much, I think He got a little narcist..
    about Islam, I dont know theres another country those having a bigger tolerance to the muslim minority, except India.. I’m amazed with your country.. so thanks a lot.

    However, here on Indonesia, I Just Fallin love with Hindus Girls, She more attractive becoz her hinduism, I see her beautifullity when she on preach. So I Agreed if Religion is everything “make ourself more better”.. like the girl I adore

    Assalam

    Indonesian Muslim, salaam walaikum and Thank You. Yes, we Indians are proud of our diversity and greatly appreciate you acknowledging it. All the different communities in India live in peace with each other, but there are some politicians who are trying to create trouble.

    Yes religion is a way for people to make themselves better, more often than not it is the source of culture.

  21. iam a muslim and iam a indian.Iam proud to be indian. Indians are most wonderful people in the world.most tolerent and secular. the whole world should learn living in diversity from indians.I think muslims in india are most sale.we are grateful to god that we r in this great nation.

    Thanks

    Welcome Jak. Sorry, I took so long to approve your comment, been busy with exams. I agree with you mostly, but there are a lot of issues regarding community relations in India, let us not forget that.


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