In 2001, the flamboyant Feroz Khan, who was crazy about his son Fardeen, faced the press without flinching. Yes, Fardeen had made a mistake, he accepted, his son by his side. Fardeen had been caught buying cocaine for personal consumption. The Juhu Khans neither played victim nor played politics. They played it so straight that Fardeen got away practically scot-free, with a small fine and a rehab stint. Neither father nor son received any sort of public flogging. Later, even the peddler was let off.
Feroz could’ve played it differently because there was a political angle to it. The story going around was that the cops actually laid in wait to catch red-handed a male singer and the daughter-in-law of a political family, who were rumoured to be slyly seeing each other. But, instead of the couple that didn’t turn up for its tryst, Fardeen strolled into their view. He wasn’t even their target.
Perhaps it’s time for someone to start classes in how to be a celebrity. Like the nouveau riche or newly-minted celeb who takes grooming lessons on how to eat with chopsticks or to learn social graces, politicians and sports and showbiz celebs could do with a crash course in how to handle power and fame.
Especially in times when a hyper media can make an old video come back to bite you.
“Dance like no one’s watching you but text, post and email like it will be read in court one day,” reads a WhatsApp joke. Add to it, watch what you say on camera.
Whether mantri Ajay Misra’s “Sabak sikhayenge... we’ll teach them a lesson” line that came back to haunt him when his son reportedly mowed down protestors in Lakhimpur or Shah Rukh Khan’s “I’ve told my son he can have sex, do drugs…” interview to Simi Garewal, the past can turn up at an inopportune moment.
In the 1997 interview, while Simi simpered like spoiling a child was the most applaudable parenting tip she’d ever come across, and Gauri beamed like her husband made the most unbelievable dad, those of us who knew Shah Rukh could only see his trademark cheekiness in it. Because seriously, even the SRK who hates conforming to rules is hardly going to tell his son, “Go forth and snort cocaine.”
So, to use that old video clip to besmirch SRK the father is just an unfortunate instance of how a frivolous remark from the past can surface to punch you in the face when you’re vulnerable.
On the other hand, to close ranks and whine, “Aryan’s just a kid, leave him alone,” leaves this Bandstand family open to criticism. Because Aryan is not just another 23-year-old. How many 23-year-olds who haven’t done a jot of work so far have 1.5 million followers on Insta or get to be a VIP guest on a high-end cruise? Why does it go viral when this 23-year-old helps a beggar with an infant outside a restaurant? How many such acts by other 23-year-olds get any notice?
Nobody’s grudging Aryan or any celebrity offspring these privileges. But privileges are double-edged. They can’t be switched on and off at will.
Another reality is the media that puts SRK on a pedestal as the ideal brother/husband/father, and the advertising community that amplifies his image in commercials will also react to his occasional stumble. Already, even fan-journalists are doing pieces on how Brand Family Man has got dented.
To step back into SRK’s side, any parent would want to protect his child. So you can’t help but understand it when his presence emits an assuring, “Don’t worry, son, I’ve got your back.” But given the politics around SRK, he’s also got a mix of anger and his trademark, “Don’t mess with me; you don’t know how mean my reach is,” a line certain journalists have heard over the years.
Lastly, couched in the embroidered reactions is actually a compliment. There’s disappointment because SRK is a role model millions look up to. If it was learnt that Dawood’s son was doing drugs, there’d hardly be the same level of outrage.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author