Variety

No.One messes with King Khan

Shashi Baliga | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on February 09, 2012

Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Ra.One.

Never question, much less ridicule, the box-office collection — Bollywood jungle law.

When Shah Rukh Khan allegedly roughed up Shirish Kunder last week, few industry insiders were surprised. Shocked, yes; surprised, no — this was an explosion waiting to happen. When Kunder dashed off those tweets about Khan's dream project Ra.One (‘The superhero in Ra One has all the powers in the world but to entertain'; ‘I just heard a 150 cr firework fizzle') he pretty much wrote this scene for himself along with those tweets.

For one, Shah Rukh Khan has Pathan blood in his veins; he is not a man known to take challenges or insults lightly, least of all from those arrayed in the enemy camp. He usually has two reactions in such situations: either he cuts the person cold or he attacks. Having exercised the former option with Kunder and his wife Farah Khan for some years now, an attack was pretty much on the cards. Only, everyone thought it would be strictly verbal.

Second, Kunder broke the law of the Bollywood jungle: You don't take on someone higher up the food chain; not in public at least. And you most certainly don't take on a superstar — unless you're one yourself. Salman Khan can growl or sneer when Shah Rukh's name is mentioned. Aamir Khan can blog, “Shah Rukh is licking my feet and I am feeding him biscuits every now and then. What more can I ask for?” (turned out this Shah Rukh was a pet dog in case you came in late). They can get away with it.

But Shirish Kunder is no mega-Khan, he's a director who has made one resounding flop, Jaan-E-Mann, and is currently working on his second film, Joker; a film which Shah Rukh Khan refused, thereby triggering this war. As a film editor, the biggest hits in Kunder's filmography are movies directed by his wife. Not exactly the most exciting CV in the business. To needle a superstar publicly from that position was near-suicidal. Kunder will now officially be stamped a ‘trouble-maker”, a label that can be the kiss of death in Bollywood.

As it very nearly was for Vivek Oberoi, who paid the price for challenging Salman Khan. Like Oberoi, Kunder will now have realised that Davids don't win easily against Goliaths in B-town. Usually it's the man who's done the bashing who trudges to his victim's home, seeking a truce; in this case it was the victim who made the journey!

By this jungle law, even superstars have to watch their step with supernovas. Shah Rukh Khan would not be able to take on an Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Kumar openly, for instance. Put simply, you don't mess with a bigger luminary. This is ridiculously obvious, of course, but who's to read the rule book to two men high on alcohol and rage?

However, the most dangerous mistake Kunder made was hitting a filmwallah where it hurts most: his box-office performance. This is when it gets serious. No… repeat, no star, director or producer likes to have their box-office collections questioned, much less ridiculed. Write about their affairs and they will protest half-heartedly if they're married, good naturedly if they're single. They know stories of their sexual escapades add a frisson of excitement to their image and sex it up.

Criticise their acting and they'll be miffed and never forget the slight. But they can always flaunt box-office collections to counter it or dismiss it as a prejudiced or ignorant critic's opinion. Question the collections themselves, however, and you enter dangerous territory. The ‘below the belt' zone in Bollywood is focused on the box-office.

Most stars, producers and directors will make disparaging remarks about competitors' revenues — in private. No one will question them openly; it's simply not done. Because everyone in B-town lives and dies by the box-office. Anything that can affect your box-office standing has to be dealt with swiftly and surely. So, some buzz around a star's love life helps, but not when it begins to overshadow their work.

Remember how refreshingly open Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor were about their romance? Unfortunately, they discovered there was more attention being paid to their liaison and lip-locks than their movies. After they broke up and moved on, both refused to even acknowledge their new partners in public, much less discuss them.

Sonam Kapoor has always refused to talk about her personal life, but revelled in the fashionista crown the media accorded her. She chattered about her designer labels, she preened on magazine covers, she posed endlessly for the paparazzi. But when she realised that the press was showing little interest in her work, she did a turnaround and declared loftily that she did not want to be a fashion icon any more, she wanted to concentrate on her work (and high time, too). Because designer threads don't bring audiences in, acting does.

Slapgate, as it has been dubbed, is not likely to do Kunder much good at the box-office. A director is the person in control of a film and its destiny. If he can't get a hold on himself, that doesn't bode too well.

Shah Rukh Khan, on the other hand, will probably benefit from this episode. He's behaved like a true Hindi film hero, simmering for years and finally exploding with his fists.

Most neutral observers believe he was provoked long enough; his die-hard fans are applauding him all the way. It takes a lot for a star's loyalty brigade to dump him. Ask Sanjay Dutt or Salman Khan, who have survived criminal cases and jail stints. Bad boy behaviour rarely affects a big star's popularity. What does is bad acting, tepid movies, even unflattering photographs. The film fan is an amoral creature. Excitement on the screen or off it is what sells.

Published on February 09, 2012
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