Columns, Tehelka

In Which Salman Khan Meets Advani

Has the day come when we have to defend Salman Khan’s intellectual honesty from the media?

ON THE face of it, Salman Khan said nothing dramatically wrong. Nor for that matter did he say something dramatically new. That the whole body of reactions that followed in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks had something to do with the nature of the targets than the nature of the tragedy itself, has been said before. The outrage of those ‘for whom the Taj was a second home’ carries more media weight and comes backed with capital- fuelled clout. Salman was pointing out what others already have; to be sure it was a bit brave, considering terrorism is not a subject one should speak of lightly, but his perspective had some merit, and was one worth considering, even if one eventually differed with him.

So, is the media noise that has followed another example of a shrill media fighting viewership battles by casting a legitimate opinion as a major blunder? Is it yet another sign of our intolerance towards any divergence of opinion in the implicit consensus that has been built by mainstream media market establishment?

Maybe not. Truth too is not innocent of context. Even if we were to accept that Salman spoke a truth (among other possible versions of it), what matters eventually is how it gets framed and consumed. What he said cannot be divorced from where he said it, to whom was the statement made and when he chose to say this. And above all, it gets framed by the fact that Salman Khan, otherwise known for things growing out of his torso, said it.

MAKING THIS statement in the context of a film promotion, and that too to a Pakistani channel makes the act of speaking the truth considerably more complex than if he had done so in the immediate aftermath of Mumbai at an occasion that was more relevant and to a gathering that was less politically loaded. As it turns out, this statement begs to be interpreted as an attempt made to sidle up to Pakistani sentiments and emit low purring sounds. It implicitly sniggers at the Indian reaction and suggests that it is an overreaction. However, it is not part of a larger worldview that we are aware of and hence reeks of an opportunistic attempt to curry favour.

Like it happened in the case of Advani a couple of years ago, speaking the truth without regard for the way in which it is likely to be consumed is an act of naivete in today’s times. In that case too, Advani chose to speak an inconvenient truth at the wrong time and at the worst place possible. It is perhaps a travesty that such acts of intellectual honesty are punished in today’s media-charged climate, but then Advani (and perhaps Salman too) have chosen only to occasionally flirt with the truth. That makes any attempts to mount a halo on their heads inherently suspect.

Of course, Salman Khan is no Advani and that is perhaps to his advantage. Given his overall image, it is easier for him to move beyond this episode, since whatever he said will also get framed through his existing image. He can in all probability, bask in the success of Dabangg and we can go back to seeing him, shirtless again, in headlines every time he says something about Katrina Kaif.

Tehelka-25th September 2010