Art & Culture

How Salman Khan missed his chance to be a real Sultan for once

Shilpa Rathnam
Shilpa RathnamJul 07, 2016 | 13:23

How Salman Khan missed his chance to be a real Sultan for once

Another Eid release from the “Being Human Bhaijaan”.

Sultan is set to take the box office by storm and as a reporter I stand at the edge of it shielded by my mike, watching it engulf the country.

I can’t separate Salman Khan from Sultan, from his rape comment or from his court cases. A few weeks ago he’d made that infamous comparison, “When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be actually like a raped woman walking out”.


I understand the explanation that “I’m screwed” and “this day raped me” are phrases all of us, most of us, use on a daily basis. But I have to agree with what Freida Pinto said (to me when I asked her about the controversy) as well: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” (Originally said by Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, I’m aware.)

As part of my job, and because of all the controversies that Salman attracts, he’s the singular star I’ve covered and tracked for the most part of a year now. I’ve spoken to his fans on a monthly, if not weekly basis.

I know for a fact that his word is dictum, his mistakes are rationalised and his alleged crimes are dismissed as innocent mistakes. I haven’t seen any encouragement from Salman himself for this fanatic behaviour.

On the contrary, he’s used public and social media platforms to appeal to his fans to act responsibly. He even famously told them “to get a job”.

A still from Sultan.

But there’s no denying that his words leave an indelible mark on impressionable minds. His fans are mostly young 15-30 year olds.

The refusal of an apology has perhaps led them to think that the comment wasn’t such a big deal.


Even if Salman felt it wasn’t such a big deal, and if you whittle it all down to the core and conclude that it wasn’t such a big deal, knowing the fan following he commands - the responsible thing to do here would have been to apologise for the comment.

His fans would have expanded their moral code of conduct that’s dictated by Bhai’s moves to ensure they never use “rape” in a casual context.

Again, I say this because I’ve spoken to them and I’ve seen the power he commands.

And how do you separate the star from the person?

Artistic freedom is absolute. Udta Punjab unified us in saying art should provoke, in agreeing that art is sacred.

But if Salman Khan were to play a drugged out rockstar, would I consider it irresponsible? Absolutely.

I was even a little concerned about the “mar kha ke manega ke” line in Sultan.

I knew the youth would instantly tuck that away for use later, I know I did. It’s unfair, I realise that as I’m typing this.

Let Salman play gangster, murderer, saint and sinner. Let him play the Pied Piper, and let’s hope rats won’t follow, or as the tale goes that only the rats will follow.


It’s difficult to separate the star from the person, but as long as we understand that art has no rules, we have to make our peace with that. Art is art, everything else is everything else.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve become all too adept at separating the actor from his onscreen persona.

I had a notorious altercation with Shah Rukh Khan three years ago, at the TOIFA awards in Canada. When I’d asked him what the problem was he quite honestly told me he had a problem with my “weird and controversial” questions.

The controversial question here being: “How does it feel to be back on top after the success of Jab Tak Hai Jaan and a Kolkata Knight Rider win?”

Try as I might wrack my brain, I felt that was too tepid a question, it even sweetly teetered on slight sycophancy, to get hot and bothered about. Until another journalist pointed out to me that I’d implied he wasn’t on top always.

Having SRK get demonstratively angry with you is not easy, even for a rather lotus leaf like journalist. I spent many a day lounging in my den with a carton of ice-cream watching, wait for it, reruns of his romantic films on TV.

My comfort food didn’t change, even if it was the star ingredient that drove me to it in the first place.

Art is art, everything else is everything else.

The art of living as a star is a whole another hornet’s nest.

“It’s my life” is good for me and good for you, but can we extend that same freedom to a man who influences entire generations and whose inflections have far-reaching effects and consequences?

It would be rather boring to be a righteous star who preaches at every opportunity, am I right?

I’m sure these are demons our enfant terrible Salman grapples with every day.

Or perhaps, that’s wishful thinking on my part. Leading by example, a choice or responsibility? Main aur meri mike aksar aisi baatein karte hain…

Last updated: July 07, 2016 | 18:57
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