By Daud Arif
Binaries had it, fringe wanted it, political agendas (wishfully) believed it that the country had garnered enough hate for over the last many years, a litmus test to which could have been the failure of Shah Rukh Khan starrer Pathaan. For controversies ranging from misinformation about SRK’s comments against the nation to the colour of the outfit chosen by the his counterpart in the film, Deepika Padukone in a sensuous song, there was no dearth of fake news, propaganda and disinformation to malign the film, because it stars SRK, a Muslim Actor.
There have been enough said about how the fringe failed this time and love for cinema has made a mark, I would like to look at this success story from a sociological lens and the statements the film puts out there (as subtext, mostly), something enjoyed by the audience amass, hence the soaring collection figures.
Wearing the identity on sleeve, not wanting to go low
SRK for some time now has been criticised by the civil society for not speaking up against the negatively charged ecosystem in the country. He was also criticized for choosing to stay silent during the CAA NRC protests and the subsequent ‘brutal’ action by the police against Jamia students, of which SRK has been an alumnus. One might argue that he is rightfully in his prerogative to separate the ‘personal’ from the ‘political’. But no, SRK didn’t go subtle. Right from the name of the film ‘Pathaan’, the Indian version of the name ‘Pashtuns’, the ethnic group in the subcontinent that could be credited for furthering the Islamic cultural and ethnic identity in many parts of Asia, more importantly India. Not to forget, notable Pashtuns during the freedom struggle against the British Raj, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ajmal Khattak, Abdul Ghaffar khan and others, colleagues of the time with Ram Prasad Bismil, Chandrashekhar Azad.
The Tiger Cameo
Salman Khan a.k.a Avinash Singh “Tiger” Rathore a former RAW agent from the Tiger series of films comes to lend a helping hand to Pathaan in the film. The sequence is going to be a ‘living homage’ to the idea of co-existence, cooperation and unity. Tiger’s black scarf hangs from the top, the crowd went crazy as the tiger signature track played in the background. India in theatres rejoiced on Hindu-Muslim ekta.
We had on one side of the screen, SRK, the proud Indian Muslim, not an apologetic one which are quite found in movies of Akshay Kumar (Muslim aisa nai, muslim aisa hota hai), and on the other hand, we had a not-ready-to-age Salman. The sequence when SRK sits back and has a sip of the beverage Tiger gets him, while tiger fights is no less than a call for action, the need for majority to stand with the fellow minority Indians, each time they face a threat.
Even the brownie point sequence where Salman and SRK are seen joking about their 30 year contribution to cinema and if they should step back, while many have referred to their conversation restricting their role as actors in the industry, I think it is beyond that. They are perhaps referring to how the famous Mumbai cinema needs to have strong standing veterans to take a stand for the country, taking stand and not bending to the fringe.
Turning fringe-blind for the colour-offended
The way fake news works is interesting. The controversy started in Pathaan started with the colour of Deepika’s dress ‘Saffron’, which is considered to be sacred in a song which was termed as ‘obscene’ and a section took offence to this, claiming it hurts the religious sentiments. With this rider, fake news and misinformation started to make its way as well. From terming Deepika as a Muslim (and because she is Muslim, she intends to harm the sentiments of Hindu religion, the hate-vibe amplification process) to SRK being an anti-national, misquoting him and portraying him in that light. For a director, a producer and the finance people behind any massive film project, the risk analysts would have cautioned the team to firstly not go with the ‘saffron’ choice, and later to drop it. However, the Mumbai cinema chose to take a stand, not responding to the controversy, nor dropping the sequence. The cinema had Deepika in orange, claiming her space, seemed to be saying out loud that colours are far from being a copyright property. There have been instances in the past when controversies have fed the ego of the fringe, so much so that directors had to change titles of their dear film, team Pathaan didn’t bow!
I prefer adding to my piece that by this, I in no way want to discount the problems such as promotion of hyper masculinity, ultra-patriotism which are evident in the film. There are a good number of misogynistic references, imbalanced screen time between the male and female actors, etc. Not keeping any of it aside.
The binaries had to brand the film as anti-religion and anti-nation, the fringe wanted to make sure they made enough noise to use it as a litmus test of the love-hate share.
However, the director, producers and the financiers of the film, the distribution channel and everyone associated took a stand, the audience have given a loud and clear message that ‘Idea of India’ is neither done, nor dusted, hate is yet to win.
Daud Arif is a Communications and Media Expert. An AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Alumnus, Daud is associated with various media projects in the country and abroad.