Paromita Vohra: The Continuing Case of Salman

Apr 08, 2018, 06:12 IST | Paromita Vohra

So, Salman Khan has finally been convicted for something. Every episode of debate with respect to the continuing case of Salman, like those in an actual unending soap opera, feels more and more pointless and flaccid

Illustration/ Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/ Ravi Jadhav

Paromita VohraSo, Salman Khan has finally been convicted for something. Every episode of debate with respect to the continuing case of Salman, like those in an actual unending soap opera, feels more and more pointless and flaccid.

Partly, it's because the same arguments cycle around. Bollywood people issue sycophantic character certificates for him. Fans declare love and faith and point to his humanitarian work. Outraged ripostes about the charity being strategic, a manufactured halo to blind us to his crimes, emerge as expected.

And because so much debate on social media is eventually predicated on moral superiority, there are those who say, OMG guys, there are so many more important things happening — insert list of undeniably more dire situations — why are we discussing Salman Khan, yaniki you are so shallow I am so evolved and politically high-minded.

But there is something to the question — what other than fame makes us discuss Salman Khan so much? In a way, the discussion around Salman Khan is a discussion about what constitutes justice.

Some years ago, I was at the screening of a documentary called Being Bhaijan, about devoted fans of Salman Khan. Like devotees, they had modelled themselves completely on him. His dress, his mannerisms and what they believed to be his essence: not driven by material things, a misunderstood misfit, a brash boy with a golden heart. This is the self they saw mirrored in him. In the post-screening discussion some people in the audience were very angry. How dare the boys love Salman who was nothing but a criminal, a wrong-doer?

But for the fan who operates by a different logic of emotionality and intentionality, in response to Salman Khan's persona, the story reads very differently. They consider the shift in his persona from the wisecracker and jilted lover into a man-child who helps others (in his later films) as well as his humanitarian work to be an acceptance of his wrong doings and an expiation of his sins. For them he is a godhead who represents them. And they are the misfits whom the system doesn't just fail, but is, they feel, stacked against them. Fair and unfair, right and wrong thus must be differently devised. Performing penitence (which they feel Khan has) is what matters to them. It's all about emotion.

For others, despite the cynicism about politics, there is a belief in systems and justice, born in part from their access to it; a belief that all can be equal before law.

For them — myself included —Salman is not a godhead but a citizen like any other. The fact that he walked free on the earlier hit-and-run case, using money and connections to evade punishment makes us want justice to be done now more than ever. It is not about emotion but action.

Yet, as recent discussions on due process have thrown up, justice — or fairness, in an unfair world — is a complicated character. After all, you can go to jail and lose none of your prestige, and you can lose all your cultural capital but never go to jail. In that sense, Mr Khan certainly should go to jail, since he has not lost an iota of his capital, and as he would, stories are more complete with action and emotion.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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