Bollywood Extra: Was Salman’s rape comment well-timed?

India’s National Commission for Women has given Bollywood star Salman Khan a week to apologize after he told reporters a grueling filming schedule left him feeling like a “raped woman.” As Twitter users began blasting Salman for making such a comparison, his father Salim Khan came to his rescue saying Salman’s statement was wrong, but his intentions were not. While Salim would like us to believe that, the fact remains that Bollywood is using controversies as a way to market films and the hyper-intelligent Salman could be subscribing to that

Bollywood actor Salman Khan’s father Salim Khan, the famous scriptwriter of the Salim-Javed duo, said in an interview once, “I live in the perpetual fear what Salman would do next.”

Salman Khan

Salman Khan

Salman proved his father’s fears are not unfounded. In an innocuous press conference about his forthcoming film Sultan, where he plays a wrestling champ, he said: “While shooting for the scenes, I had to lift up a 120kg man at least 10 times from different angles and that went on for six to seven hours. After I left the ring, I was like a raped woman, unable to walk.”

Since then, social media has gone berserk criticizing his comment and the National Commission for Women (NCW) has given the superstar seven days to come up with a written apology.

“When his fan base comprises so many women, this is the most regressive comment to make. This reflects such a patriarchal mindset,” the commission said.

While Salman is unfazed as the storm brews, Salim was quick to apologize on his behalf saying, “His statement was wrong but his intentions were not. To err is human and to forgive is divine.”

Controversy, Bollywood’s marketing tool

The success of a recent Bollywood release Udta Punjab is a dazzling example of what controversy can do to a film. Udta Punjab has already collected a whopping Rs380million ($5.63 million) and the Censor Board’s move for cuts and the consequent court case have helped disseminate information about the film to prospective viewers in a way that no amount of ad spending could have ensured.

After watching the film, National-award winning scriptwriter and author Paulami Dutta Gupta wrote on her Facebook wall: “Watched Udta Punjab finally. It is not a masterpiece. It is not perfect. But honest storytelling is probably never perfect because you aren’t trying to please anybody. It has its share of over the top moments. But this film did not deserve all the allegations.

“We probably hear more expletives in public transport or college corridors than in the dialogues of the film. Nowhere does it glorify drugs. Nor does it sully the image of a state. This could be anywhere. Any city, any state.”

The Censor Board had recommended 89 cuts to the film. Anyone who has seen the film says there is nothing offensive in it. No wonder, conspiracy theories between Anurag Kashyap and the Anurag Kashyap are cropping up on the internet.

There was a time when PRs would float stories about affairs between the lead pairs of a film just before its release and the media would quickly lap it up not realizing that it was a way of keeping the film in people’s minds.

That tactic is passé. PRs are now leaning more toward controversy than lead-pair “affair.”

Among recent controversies that cropped up before the release of a film are actress Radhika Apte’s nude photo that hit the internet before the release of Badlapur, Deepika Padukone’s cleavage controversy before the release of her hit “item” song Lovely in the film Happy New Year and the tiff between producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and writer Chetan Bhagat about the story credit of Three Idiots, before the release of the film.

So going by that formula, Salman’s comment could have been pre-meditated than uttered in jest, something that his father would like us to believe.

Building Brand Salman

It is true in his 28-year-long career, controversy has been Salman’s other name.

From being abusive to his ex-girlfriends like Somy Ali and Aishwarya Rai, to threatening actor Vivek Oberoi by calling him 40 times because he had a relationship with Aishwarya, to killing a black buck in a reserve forest in Rajasthan, to ending up in a hit-and-run accident where his car mowed down a street dweller sleeping on the footpath, Salman has been chased by controversies all his life.

But this strangely has not affected his career at all. His fan base has remained loyal and the box office collections of his films make him one of the most bankable stars in Bollywood.

Salman has actually done his brand building on this non-conformist, brash image with a sprinkling of emotional stories like buying cycles for street children, gifting sarees to the wives of his technicians and giving his branded watch to a technician because he so much admired it.

His organization Being Human has also helped in building up his larger-than-life persona of a man who wants to make a difference. In recent times though, Being Human T-shirts are more available in stores and less information is available on the philanthropic work that the organization was started for.

Salman is also a hyper-intelligent man who has been handling the media for years and knows exactly what makes a catchy headline. While doing a press conference with him years back, I remember Salman rattled off the questions and the answers too saying, “Isn’t this what you were planning to ask?”

Apparently, when he made the rape comment, he immediately realized that he had made a mistake. Couldn’t he have requested the media not to publish it and admitted his mistake?

Considering how keyed in he is about how the media mind works, it was inevitable the comment would make headlines.

Bengali actor Dev’s rape remarks

Bengali film actor Dev (R) with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee

Bengali film actor Dev (R) with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (M)

Film star from Bengal, Dev, got into a similar controversy before the elections in 2014.

While giving an interview to a local newspaper about all the adulation he gets every time he goes out on the campaign trail, Dev said with a laugh: “Enjoy… It’s just like being raped yaar. You can shout or you can enjoy.”

Although Dev is a bankable star in Bengali cinema, he is definitely not one with intellectual sensibilities and immense acting acumen. So it was no surprise that he came up with such a regressive comment, a vulgar remark that is often heard being passed among men while having their heart-to-heart chats at a local club or on a roadside tea-stall bench in Kolkata.

Dev never apologized for the comment and went on to win the elections and become a lawmaker. Soon, he was accompanying West Bengal Chief  Minister Mamata Banerjee on her Singapore visit as a key member representing the entertainment industry.

The rape comment did not have any impact on his box office results. It sparked an outrage but was quickly forgotten.

Tapas Pal went a step further 

Veteran Bengali actor Tapas Pal, who is a member of the Lok Sabha (Lower house of parliament) and a member of the ruling party Trinamool Congress, said in a speech: “If you (CPM party workers) insult the mothers and daughters of Trinamool workers, I won’t spare you. I will let loose my boys in your homes and they will commit rape. I will teach each of you a lesson.”

Although he later denied this by saying what he actually said was “raid” and not “rape”, the video of his speech (available on the net) proves him wrong.

While A Trinamool Congress spokesperson said this kind of behavior would not be tolerated, former top cop Kiran Bedi said he should be arrested. Communist Party (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said Tapas Pal’s Lok Sabha membership should be canceled.

The brouhaha over the issue died soon. Tapal Pal continues to be a politician with a post and he never apologized for what he said.

It is evident since no concrete steps are being taken to reprimand people in positions of power for comments like these, they easily get away with it. There is no doubt Salman will too. Only the comment will keep him and his film Sultan in the news regularly. Then all his women fans would flock to the theaters and he would deliver yet another hit.

Amrita Mukherjee is a freelance journalist who writes on social issues in India with focus on women. She divides her time between Dubai and India and blogs at www.amritaspeaks.com

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