Please read without hysteria.
I have never been a fan of Salman Khan.
I neither hated nor loved the man - mostly ambivalent to the Brotherhood of Bhai all through my life. Except for the phase when I had the Tere Naam hairstyle, I have had no real connection.
But I am fascinated by celebrity culture, and decided to follow him on social media in the last few weeks. I noticed something astonishing - Salman Khan commands absolute love and adoration from his fans. And at a scale that nobody else in the nation can claim to.
Bhai is never alone. Image source: twitter.com
Modi has a legion of followers who are willing to fight for him. Rajinikanth commands reverence and devotion. But Bhai’s comments are not hateful - like with Modi, there isn’t hatred for an enemy - the comments are just outpourings of love. Not just from men, but women, children and older people too. It made me wonder if we were all missing a trick. Perhaps there is more to the man than the MTV Fully Faltoo spoof that plays in our heads when his name crops up. For you might admire or detest the person, there is something he is doing that nobody else is doing.
As someone who worked in advertising, I find Salman Khan’s positioning strange. Most actors are told by PR houses to target a certain kind of audience - diaspora, children, women, youngsters - pies are cut out from the cake and distributed. But these rules are like pedestrians on the footpath for Bhai. Salman Khan hosts TV shows on prime time, and makes movies with Yash Raj. He is the highest paid actor in Bollywood, and yet endorses brands like Relaxo chappal and Revital tablets. Unlike his other two counterparts, he does not cater to any segment in particular. His endorsements are a strange concoction, and so are his political affiliations. He will fly kites with Modi but endorse a Congress candidate. Bhai does what he pleases, as reflected in his movie - Maine PR Kyun Kiya?
Being Bhai. mage source: wallpaperpicturephoto.com
I always thought of Being Human as this vague organisation that helps Bhai sell tight T-shirts. But it was only when I looked up the foundation did I find that the organisation does a considerable amount of charitable work - from free education to healthcare, from relief missions to rare surgeries.
Now, a lot of rebuttals can be made about this. That if you zoom out, it’s a gigantic PR exercises. It is a small fraction of the 1000 crores that he earns every year, some would even think of it as a gimmick. But here’s the thing - India has had superstars for decades, but no actor has done anything substantial for the downtrodden.
Our superstars raise their voice for a number of issues and endorse social media campaigns - the laziest, easiest way to contribute to a cause. But otherwise, they produce their own movies and run their businesses. Shah Rukh Khan has bought cricket teams and stands like a washed out Rahul cheering every match. Amitabh Bachchan set up ABCL and produced the Miss World pageant and Major Saab - the biggest insult to the Indian Army before the nation discovered JNU. Even if it is all a gimmick, nobody before has done even that much. Perhaps for whatever it is worth, people are able to see that he cares - in whatever scale.
The three Khans were born in the same year, and debuted within a year’s gap from each other. And yet, the other two Khans have gone through transitional phases. Aamir Khan played the short-boy-next-door for a decade, and then a series of random dudes from high school plays. He later turned into the nation’s conscience, and is now playing diverse roles. Shah Rukh Khan wormed his way up as a villain, played loverboy for the next decade, before settling into embarrassing masala potboilers.
Salman fandom, outside Galaxy, his house. Image source: thehindu.com
But not Bhai. From day one, he knew his market, his target audience, and played the same larger than life hero in EACH and EVERY single film of his. He does not work with award-winning directors, nor with edgy, parallel filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap (even though he made Dabangg with his brother). While Aamir Khan was inviting the Prince to watch Mangal Pandey, Bhai was shooting a song called Teri meri love story ka angle, is angle mein hai triangle. Even though he is viewed as some sort of a buffoon from his Twitter updates, may be Bhai is smarter than everybody else. Bhai recognised his market in 1989 and had no fucks to give about anybody and anything else.
Bhai + Jail = Bail. Image source: latimes.com
Court Cases and Criminal Records. This is Complaint No.1 against Bhai. That a man who has been accused of running over people, someone who has shot rare animals in protected animal reserves - how can this man be so respected?
But while reading the comments, there is something I realised. The average Indian has ZERO faith in Indian institutions - police, politicians, and judiciary systems. In a nation where privilege and citizenry are as confusing as the script of Lucky - No Time For Love, Bhai is seen as the ‘good at heart’ boy in unfortunate circumstances. Like the monitor of the class who got punished because he did not reveal the names of the students who were throwing chalk. For the average Indian, Bhai is part of a large conspiracy - and unlike Nirav and Lalit Modi, he hasn’t run away to a foreign land.
Tiger is back. Image source: moneycontrol.com
Following Bhai has been a surreal experience - a window to a world I was clueless about. But this is what struck me - while we laugh and guffaw - may be Bhai is smarter than us all. May be there is a lens of elitism in the way we perceive Salman Khan and his fans, that restricts how we view him. For this much is true, no active actor in India commands the kind of absolute pure, unadulterated love that Salman Khan does.
Among all his roles, Being Bhai has been the role that he has pulled off with stunning believability. Bhai is a method actor, and there is calculated madness behind the method.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: YouTube.com