Why Salman, Why now?

There is no news in the items being circulated by the media about Bollywood actor Salman Khan’s connection with the Underworld. Instead the news that should be worth a credential follow-up now is: Why is Salman in the news now?

First, the conversations that are making news now were published by Hindustan Times way back in August 2001. Salman has since denied that the alleged voice was his. And there were absolute silence over the issue since then. Obviously because first, it violates the right to privacy that two consenting adults have in talking to each other on any topic and hence making it legally inadmissible in court of law, and two because since four years the police has failed to establish if it was genuinely Salman’s voice.

Secondly, to contextualize the times, let’s look at what’s new happening in India leading the news media to suddenly revisit Salman (his acting career has not ceased and in fact his latest film was released only last week. Even his last film Lucky made good earnings.)

On the downside, the powerful Aishwarya Rai very famously and bitterly has decided to break off. Incidentally her arch-rival Sushmita Sen not only co-stars with Salman, but is pleading for the new movie not to be banned. The people keen on banning the film are the right wing brigade which have gone on rampage to ransack cinema halls across the country. Their leader, the Hindu leader Advani has been recently charged for his anti-national activities at Ayodhya. Hence, the focus of the media has successfully shifted from Advani to Salman now.

Amidst all these, the media houses are very hard pressed to “break” this news of underworld connection with cinema stars. Almost none of the journalists point out the obvious (bound as they are not to kill the suspense), that even the most patriotic of Indian movies are made by underworld money. World’s largest film industry has historically been financed by the underworld money and in this sense, Dubai’s contribution to promoting Indian cultural integrity (Hindi films and the Indian religion of Cricket) need not be dismissed as abrasively.

Without the involvement of the underworld, India-Pakistan series would never have been a success, making Cricket a South Asian extravaganza than a colonial classicism played by Aussies and Brits. Likewise most of the superstars, producers, actors and film fraternity today would never have risen as high without active financing of the laundered money. To get surprised at an Indian actor talking to the underworld is childish. The public memory may be proverbially short, but we all know the extent to which the filmdom celebrates its existence at the parties hosted by Dubai financiers. Money rules and indeed without a governmental support to filmdom as an “industry” there have been ways to legitimize allegiances.

Of course the domestic patriots could not allow such allegiances and they suddenly turned their ire. Resultingly for many years now filmdom has turned homeward to the other underworld (the Hindu Sainiks in Bombay after driving the Muslim gangsters down to Dubai), only this one rules upfront. Not only does this domestic mafia dictate whether it will allow certain entertainers (Pakistani artistes have been banned from coming to India, although Indian audience are known to be big fans of the artistes), and allow certain games (Pakistani cricket is widely watched in India), it also has enforced its dictates in such crude way that many film posters say on their cover “With blessings of the Balasaheb”. Now we all know that Balasaheb, the Hindu supremacist, used to be a good cartoonist, but we hardly knew him as a champion of films. Now imagine if some posters would come up with a slogan like “With blessings of the D-company”.

Looking back to Mumbai riots and Ayodhya clashes and the prevailing environment of suspicion among religious communities in India, one fails to find any difference among the preachers who want to ban the new Salman movie and the dead horses of Dubai who have nurtured the Bollywood so far.

Money (and what else does one expect in a commercial cinema industry? Aesthetics?) is obviously the guiding principle behind allegiance. Why do the media not get it and get over with it. And if the judiciary thinks a drunk actor’s bragging four years ago about his connections with underworld to a girlfriend he fought with is a matter of big concern, then it also must address the issues of cultural policing being done by a bunch of hoodlums on the street wearing saffron and threatening to censor a fun comedy people want to watch. For all the direct vandalisms inside the land, these right wing fanatics first must be booked before we witness another riot. Unless of course they consider Salman’s film as significant as Lord Ram’s birthplace to be made an issue of. In either case it would be a tragedy.


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