What SRK should learn from Kalam
By M J Akbar Sunday
A celebrity is blessed with good fortune in many ways. A reporter, for instance, has to search for news. A celebrity merely has to look into the mirror. Such self-obsession requires sensational amorality and phenomenal lack of judgment. Ordinary, guilt-obsessed mortals do not possess these virtues.
A celebrity must have talent, of course, but brains are useless without gall. It requires courage to fall irrevocably in love with your image. It must be dreadfully tense to watch each step you take with such missionary commitment, but the rewards are probably worth the effort. The tiniest twitch now resides beside perceived, or stolen, wisdom, on Twitter, the miracle technology of celebdom. Pseudo-gods seek the pseudo-faithful as fervently as the reverse.
You have to be sure-footed to walk on air. The smallest ethereal miscalculation can bring you painfully down to earth. Shah Rukh Khan mobilized the resources of the Government of India when American customs and border security authorities treated him as just another human being.
This is not his first visit to the States, so there must have been some reason for the fact that this was the first time he was detained. As it turns out, the US government did have some reasonable questions about Shah Rukh’s hosts.
Old royalty used to treat an insult as high treason. What is fit punishment for the humiliation of modern divinity? A finger-wagging press conference by a mere cabinet minister seems inadequate for a mobile genius who charges crores of rupees for dancing at a wedding. Frenzy across content-starved TV channels is more like it, but we must not fetter our imagination. Perhaps India should recall its ambassador from Washington and abandon the nuclear deal unless the American secretary for homeland security is sacked?
No one likes racial profiling, even when done by an arbitrary computer. The incomparable computer seems to have not only altered the dimensions of time and space in our lives, but is now beginning to create a classless society of victims as well. Karl Marx would have been delighted by this communist child of capitalism. Shah Rukh has no complaint against the computer, however. He was furious at the inflexibility of the customs officer. Indian celebrities have created such a self-mesmerizing caste system of egos that they find any challenge difficult to comprehend.
Every celebrity is famous, but everyone famous is not a celebrity. Former president Abdul Kalam did not turn his cellphone into an advertising agency when confronted with an overzealous American security drill while boarding a commercial aircraft in Delhi, although he may have been within his rights to do so. President Kalam lived in the real world even when he was in Rashtrapati Bhawan. He knows that life is cluttered with glitches and inconsistencies. He shrugged in silence and boarded his flight.
Nor is racial profiling unique to the US. Every marital advertisements page in an Indian newspaper throws up multiple instances of colour-profiling. On the darker side, to stretch a metaphor, there is the unadvertised community-profiling in housing. People who are otherwise perfectly reasonable dread the possibility of conflict, micro or macro, with a neighbour who is not ‘One Of Us’.
Shah Rukh Khan was quick to deliver a slightly pompous sermon when his colleague in the film industry, Emraan Hashmi, complained recently that he was being denied a flat in an exclusive part of Mumbai because of his religious identity. Shah Rukh could have kept quiet, of course. But there are no brownie points for silence. You cannot be a celebrity if you do not celebrate your own importance at every opportunity. The superstar told the star to stop crying, grow up and so on. Why did Shah Rukh forget to give himself such advice when his imperial procession to Chicago was marginally interrupted? Instead, he wailed loud enough to be heard in Delhi.
Celebrities, who need a course in a National School of Drama, do need to be reminded that it helps to appreciate the limits of drama, particularly when you have arrived on the national stage. Acting becomes the only reality for some superstars, and their mind turns into an assembly line production house for scripted sentences. The dazzle of arc lamps blinds the star to the slippery ooze from the ego. You can slip so easily on it.
There will surely be more than one view on Emraan Hashmi’s search for upward mobility, and all sides will argue their case with perhaps more vigour than rigour. Hashmi is not yet capable of buying an independent bungalow, so all he can dream of is a better flat. But he is only pleading for a home. Shah Rukh Khan was demanding homage from the world. The difference is more than one of degree.