Saturday, December 22, 2012

Should we hang them or castrate them

Should we hang them or castrate them?
The country is alive and baying for blood. From 15-year-old schoolgirls with the Head Girl instinct to frantic face-bookers to middle-aged wannabes eager to cosy up to Kiran Bedi –the air around us is amuck with opinions on rape. The terrible crime in the Delhi bus has got us all demanding change. But how?
One way would be to change the laws. We could make an example of the young men in this case, draw and quarter them in public (in a flash of ‘fast-tracking’). But, as we all know, the laws will never be changed because too many of our law makers are on the wrong side of the law.
Perhaps, then, local governments could implement schemes to make urban spaces safer for women. In Pune, a new mandate declares, plainclothes policemen will patrol college campuses. And who will guarantee that these very policemen could be trusted to fulfil their noble mission? After all, Pune policemen are better known for accepting bribes at traffic lights and charging money to file FIRs than for actually doing anything to prevent or solve crimes.
Can we then rely on the media to sensitize us to the rights and responsibilities of the gender that is physically stronger? Well – in the very week of this ghastly rape, a prominent magazine has published its periodic survey on sexual attitudes. And instead of a sociological picture of changing mores in urban India, it is a collection of titillating visuals alongside weak statistics that seem devised to prompt you to pull out and measure your own equipment.
Sadly enough, even the Indian education system seems to have let us down. Smart urbanites still seem to think that rape could be reduced by legalizing prostitution!
But rape is not about sex. Rape is about dominance, it is about violence. Men do not rape women because they need a sexual outlet. The truth is that a desperately horny man usually has a hand (or two) that he can rely on. If a woman wears clothes that reveal her body parts, it’s a perfectly normal biological reaction for a man to feel aroused. Instead of attacking and violating her, however, civilized men sidle off to a private corner and make their own arrangements to get over it. It is a terrible mistake to assign rape to an eager sex drive. Men who rape are giving reign to their brute, demonic instinct and not to the very ordinary human instinct for sex. Until law makers understand this, until we find ways to spread this simple message, men will continue to rape women under pretext of this organic and in fact rather noble function.
The brutal bus rape in Delhi will stay alive in the headlines for a long time to come, but there are rapes happening every day, all around us, that are never going to be reported. The women who are staying silent are being violated by their family members, neighbours, colleagues – not just strangers. By telling women to cover themselves we are only making them so ashamed of their bodies that when they are raped, they blame themselves. It’s not just the laws we have to change – we have to work much harder and change something deep inside us too. As Indians, we have traditionally repressed women, denying them self-expression and condoning ill-treatment worse than rape: women are covered up, aborted, even killed, to protect a man’s ‘honour’. Apparently this is ok, because men worship their mothers and sisters. If we really want things to change we must nurture human dignity and consign some of it the more vulnerable, and more precious half.
first appeared in Pune Mirror on 22 Dec 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How Shah Rukh Khan made himself

Shah Rukh Khan became famous through masala flicks. But he is also busy making a fortune off luxury branding. What is it about him that appeals across social strata and income groups to let him successfully endorse everything from pens to medium-budget cars to luxury watches? The evolution of this ordinary-looking man, from a middle-class family in Delhi and with no industry network, into the formidable Brand Shah Rukh, is not a happy accident but the result of clear, strategic thinking.
When Shah Rukh Khan’s first film was released in 1992, he was already a married man, and proud to be one. Unlike most other male Bollywood aspirants who suppressed information about their families with a view to projecting an irresistible romantic-hero persona, Shah Rukh Khan flaunted his.
Setting out with this novel approach, he maximised every opportunity that presented itself, and applied his keen business brain not just to advance his career but also to create a sterling public perception of himself that everyone, across socio-economic boundaries, could aspire to.
The first milestone was establishing himself as the embodiment of stability, cast-iron priorities, and traditional Indian family values.
Everyone knows the story of Shah Rukh Khan’s family: the tragic loss of his father to cancer when he was just sixteen, and the family’s financial trauma. He talks freely about how much he cried when his mother died; about the games he plays with his children; about how much he loves his wife. In nearly twenty years, his name was never tarnished with romantic links to any of his heroines – no matter how romantic or sexually explicit their onscreen antics. His super-clean image was reinforced by his prominent secularism: his Hindu wife, his education in a Christian school, and his loyalty and seamless devotion to Islam – each without conflict to the other. Whether he was a hero or a villain or a comedian in his movies; whether his name was Raj or Rizwan; he never hesitated to come out in public as just himself – with his family in tow. No Bollywood hero before him had ever created such a determinedly wholesome image for himself. Even Amitabh Bachhan, who Shah Rukh Khan duelled in public for prime position in the late 1990s, was not free of moral blemish.
Shah Rukh Khan sidled past ‘Big B’ and instated himself as ‘King’ of Bollywood – applying his shrewd understanding of human psychology to have the title brandished so frequently that it soon lost its ludicrous tone and began to ring naturally.
But Shah Rukh Khan never tried to gloss himself with trappings of pretentious royalty. He masked his formidable intelligence, choosing to pitch himself as a personality of mass appeal rather than a darling of the wannabe intelligentsia (like, say, Aamir Khan). And he shamelessly paraded his monetary goals – another tick in the box for the idol of wish fulfilment. It was he who launched the trend of Indian film stars dancing at high-budget weddings for enormous sums of money. When people criticized him for lowering his status by doing so, he coolly shrugged and confessed, tongue-in-cheek, that he was only a performing monkey.
Examples of Shah Rukh Khan’s PR genius abound – in the early 2000s, the front page of Times of India gave extensive details of his surgery in the US! Its most glorious peak was his 2009 tear-jerking film Billu Barber in which he plays a superstar who seeks out the long-lost friend of his impoverished childhood from amidst thronging masses of fans. What a paean to Brand Shah Rukh that was!
Working towards his single-minded goal of legend-status in the Hindi film industry, it was his PR skills that helped him enter and stay in the big league to which most have access only by virtue of family connections. And, having restricted the number of films he acted in, he took another strategic decision – to stay in the limelight by offering himself for product endorsements, a decision that opened a lucrative avenue of employment for other out-of-work stars.
As Shah Rukh Khan’s career progressed, his entrepreneurial side continued to identify new opportunities in his domain. In the early 2000s, he invested in a production house. Within a few years his production business had established itself and his next step was the IPL cricket team. In superb cross-utilization of each platform, his product brands sponsor his movies and cricket team; their sponsors use Brand Shah Rukh to endorse their products. Today, when Shah Rukh Khan looks at Hollywood, it is not by gratefully grasping at bit roles as many other Indian actors have, but rather by partnering with Hollywood studios.
In the new Indian economic scenario, it is the maturity and planning that went into the creation of Brand Shah Rukh that has so many women professionals aspiring to buy Tag Hauer watches for their men without the faintest idea of their price – simply because Shah Rukh Khan wears one.
First appeared in Atelier magazine in February 2012

Stories from Sindh

interview to Indian Express, Pune on 3 Dec 2012