Fall of Badshah Shah Rukh Khan!

Time to give it all he's got

Time to give it all he's got

Never having been a Shah Rukh Khan fan, it would be easy for me to gloat about his currently beleaguered condition. Particularly because, like most Kolkatans, it was irritating to watch SRK ‘buy’ a team that was nominally attached to the city I live in, waltz in, and try to become a Kolkatan overnight, giving us bumpkins a taste of Bollywood glamour by bringing in his entourage and camping in the city as the Kolkata Knight Riders played in the inaugural IPL Twenty20 championship.

Well, they fell decidedly short of greatness last year. But that, we thought, would change this year, because we would learn from our mistakes. That we didn’t is well documented, so I won’t dwell on the bad times. What IPL season 2 has unfolded, however, is a fascinating study of the rise and fall of Shah Rukh Khan — IPL team owner and apparent cricket expert. And his real estate dreams seem also to be turning sour, but more on that later.

Consider what SRK and his team management did as they went about trying to right last year’s wrongs. Badshah Khan bought Bangladeshi tearaway Mashrafe Mortaza for a ridiculous $600,000 (over Rs 3 crore at the current exchange rate) after a bizarre bidding war with Kings XI Punjab, ostensibly to replace missing Pakistani speedster Umer Gul, only for Mortaza to remain bench-bound thus far. This when Ishant Sharma clearly lacks a new ball partner, and the bowling attack comprises luminaries like Ajit Agarkar, Laxmiratan Shukla, and utility bowlers like Chris Gayle. And the less said about last season’s ‘find’ Ashok Dinda the better. Another new recruit, Ajantha Mendis, who so traumatised Indian batsmen on a recent tour of Sri Lanka, has also been used sparingly, and that is a mystery still waiting to be solved.

Evidently as a marketing manoeuvre — because let’s face it, Kolkata is not the most marketing-friendly name or destination in sight — SRK dropped Kolkata from the team name (for which many of us shall always remain grateful), even as Man Friday John Buchanan announced a four-captain policy that at first seemed like rubbish, then seemed like a clever ploy to get rid of old warhorse and KKR (well, KR) captain Sourav Ganguly, and then seemed like nothing at all when it was junked and Brendon McCullum appointed captain. See, many of us honestly felt it was time for Ganguly to go gracefully, and it seemed as though an exit route had been smoothly handed to him. True to type, he didn’t take it, but chose to make his displeasure and disappointment evident to anyone who would listen.

All this was before the tournament had even begun, and we were still adjusting to the venue shift from India to South Africa. And then, on day one of IPL Season 2 came the Fake IPL Player whammy. Someone implying he was part of the KR team began dishing out all the dirt from within the camp, complete with gossip about dressing room debates and invidious infighting within the team, as well as malicious but apparently authentic gossip about a few of the other teams. Particularly striking were the blogger’s delicious nicknames for the players and coaches he wrote about, indicating both a wicked sense of humour as well as some serious axe to grind.

As theories flew thick and fast about who the ‘fake’ blogger was, a further blow to KR came in the form of Ricky Ponting’s pull out. That left two big hitters at the top (McCullum and Gayle), an earnest Brad Hodge at number three, a vengeful former skipper at number four, and confusion to follow. And when I say vengeful, I mean it. Ganguly is not the man to swallow an insult and dedicate his services to those who have delivered it. He is unique in his ability to be part of a team without really being part of it, and spread the fire of disaffection and negativity if he so desires. SRK and henchmen seriously miscalculated the impact that removing Ganguly would have, especially in such a ham-handed manner. To add to KR’s woes, Cheteshwar Pujara has been sidelined with an injury.

Amidst jokes about KR having more support staff than players (courtesy Buchanan who seems to think nothing of packing his management with ‘support’ from his native state of Queensland in Australia), came the second whammy — that Shah Rukh was going to sell the team, a report that he and IPL supremo Lalit Modi have since denied, though doubts remain. As a result of the steady stream of KR losses, however, SRK is finally learning to stay out of the limelight, to not try and talk cricket at all (no matter how much he apologises later), and to scale down the smug know-all air that has infuriated many.

On top of all this are the reports that the $2.2 billion luxury apartment project associated with him in Dubai has been shelved owing to the recession. Can life get any worse? Well, going by their most recent performance, KR are trying their best to prove that it can indeed.

Badshah Khan, meanwhile, is back in India, having vowed to not go back to South Africa until ‘his’ team starts winning. Which ought to keep him home bound until at least the next season, going by the look of things. In the course of a single year, he has gone from hero to virtual zero in his ‘adopted’ city, managed to make a laughing stock of himself and his team in the eyes of the world, and mysteriously come under the thrall of John Buchanan, a man who seems to confuse cricket with rocket science, and infect everyone around him with that confusion.

The IPL’s ‘most glamorous team’ is thus nothing but a collection of demoralised and ill-picked individuals playing bad cricket, served by a bad coach and hampered by an owner who clearly knows neither his cricket nor his limits. Can anyone save them? Not this time, at any rate.

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What’s in an identity?

Is he Indias biggest film star or Indias biggest Muslim film star?

Is he India's biggest film star or India's biggest Muslim film star?

Of the numerous songs stored on my laptop, Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj from the 1952 classic Baiju Bawra is a particular favourite, but I have listened to it thousands of times without being struck by a most significant fact: one of the most poignant Hindu devotional songs in Hindi film history was written by a Muslim (Shakeel Badayuni), set to music by a Muslim (Naushad Ali), and sung by a Muslim (Mohammed Rafi).

The reason this particular fact struck me only last morning could be that I had just finished reading a report about how the terrorist group that calls itself Indian Mujahideen had sent threatening e-mails to four Muslim actors in Bollywood — to wit, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Salman Khan, and Aamir Khan — asking them to stop acting in “films made in India”, or words to that effect, because acting… sigh… is “anti-Islamic”.

Apart from the aforementioned eye-opener, I was also forcefully struck by another paradoxical realisation: it has taken the Indian Mujahideen to make us aware of the religious identities of the four Khans. So large a space do they occupy in the collective consciousness of this cinema-mad nation that their religious identity barely has elbowroom in which to potter around. To most of us, they are four of India’s biggest film stars, not the country’s biggest Muslim film stars.

You will have to pardon this cliché (there will be plenty in this piece, I suspect), but Bollywood has always been a melting pot bar none, providing the kind of cosmopolitan setting that made possible a creation like Man Tarpat Hari Darshan Ko Aaj. Time and again, countless industry wallahs have declared how little meaning religious identities hold for them, and no matter how jaded the sentiment, it remains a fact that religion has played little part in Bollywood, at least publicly. Not even the Shiv Sena, in its more demented moments, thought of asking Hindu actors to stop playing Muslims. Not even the Mumbai underworld, in its more vicious moments, targeted an actor based on his or her religion.

So Muslim actors have played Hindu characters (and vice versa) with aplomb. Off hand, I can think of two very forceful Muslim characters (for different reasons) in Hindi films that two Hindu actors have immortalised. AK Hangal’s Imam saab in Sholay remains memorable for his dignity, restraint, and sensibleness; and Pavan Malhotra’s Tiger Memon in Black Friday was the epitome of vengefulness, ruthlessness, and menace. Now what are the Indian Mujahideen going to do about that?

It has never occurred to us to discuss the fact that all four Khans have/ had Hindu wives/ girlfriends, not to mention Hindu relatives by marriage. But now that we have been forced to consider them as Muslims before anything else, we have to wonder what their families will have to face should the Indian Mujahideen decide upon a more direct course of action. Like the majority (numerical, as opposed to religious) of the country’s population, the stars and those close to them will be sitting ducks for people who think killing and maiming innocents takes them closer to God.

Of course, the Indian Mujahideen have been clever in their choice of targets. Their action seems calculated to generate maximum attention, considering the public stature of the recipients of their threats. If all they want is to gain attention for their hitherto little known group, Bollywood’s stars are safe for now. And to further their quest for publicity, may we suggest that they issue similar threats to Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan, asking them to stop playing for the Indian cricket team, because cricket commands at least as large a following in this country as Bollywood. But perhaps cricket is not “anti-Islamic” enough?

They might also consider issuing a demand that Zakir Hussain and APJ Abdul Kalam apologise for ever having been Presidents of India, or that Mohammed Riaz Nabi, Zafar Iqbal, and Mohammed Shahid do the same for having captained the Indian hockey team. But of course, cricket and Bollywood remain their best bets to garner publicity. Apart from the four Khans, they have plenty of other Muslim actors, technicians, junior artistes, and even spot boys to choose from in Bollywood, while in cricket, there are Muslim players at every level in every state, so they can expend considerable time and effort there.

If they can look beyond those two areas, however, just imagine the treasure trove that lies in wait. They could ask Ustad Zakir Hussain or Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons, for example, to stop calling themselves ‘Hindustani’ classical musicians, Farah and Sajid Khan to stop directing ‘Indian’ films in Bollywood, and all Muslim Parliamentarians to give up their seats and stop calling themselves ‘Indian’ politicians.

And in the end, perhaps they should stop calling themselves ‘Indian’ Mujahideen.

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