Too caught up to read the story? Listen to it instead.
The brain of the average Salman Khan fan is in the Stone Age. Curb your cackle – so is yours. And mine. In 2004, a fairly controversial evolutionary psychologist called Satoshi Kanazawa came up with a term called the ‘Savanna Principle’. Very simply put, in terms that even a Salman bhakt would understand, this principle states that the human brain has not changed in its functioning in the last 10,000 years.
Explaining the ‘Salman Khan Effect’
While Kanazawa used this to explain various human behaviour patterns, I am going to attempt to explain the ‘Salman Khan effect’ using it.
Basically, this principle states that the human brain cannot differentiate between actual human beings and impressions of human beings that it sees either on television or in the films. Because in the Stone Age, when you saw a human being, it was just that – a human being. Therefore, your brain starts building empathy and relationships with characters that it sees either in the movies or on TV. It cannot distinguish between real and reel.
It is a controversial theory and apt to decode a man who is pretty chummy with controversy.
For his fans, Salman is the sum total of all his screen appearances. And they are mesmerised. They have probably never seen him in real life – but his on-screen persona is their only reality. Which is why the smartest thing that Salman could have done is to actively change it.
After all, he is the man who transports little lost girls to Pakistan, the man who rescues nurses stranded in Iraq, and the man who feeds biscuits to black bucks.
That they die then subsequently of gluten intolerance is hardly his fault. (The last didn’t happen in a film or in real life – but by now, we know, that is immaterial). Everything then gets glossed over – he is the misunderstood ‘good boy’. The man-child who errs but it is never intentional.
The buck never stops with him, as his films continue to bring in the big bucks. (This is the first and last bucks pun, I promise.)
What ‘Bhai’ Is Good at – Being Human
But nothing in the Savanna Principle explains the hold Salman Khan has over the entertainment media. These are people who meet him frequently in real life. And yet he inspires in them a mix of awe and deference. He is difficult, moody, doesn’t actively charm them like a charismatic Shahrukh Khan, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that they adore him almost as much as the average Salman fan does.
His unpredictability intimidates them, but on the flip side, if he ends up doing a routine publicity interview in a good-natured enough way, it gains exalted status. Other stars have to try a lot harder to get the media to like them – Salman just has to turn up and be in a good mood.
They too, like the fans, are convinced that in spite of repeated transgressions, he is a do-gooder. A good man, or as a news channel put it, an ‘accha insaan’. To a large extent, his ‘goodness’ can be ascribed to the philanthropy that his foundation ‘Being Human’ frequently does, but that’s not it.
It is perhaps the doting deference that huge success at the box office brings. Or he triggers off some other Stone Age impulse that psychologists will identify at a later date.
Where Sallu Bhai Belongs
Which is why it is far easier to understand the industry’s devotion to Salman Khan. He is their most sale-able superstar, and with the most reliable track record in recent times. Give and take a Tubelight. If Bollywood was on the stock exchange, today would be an all-time low. Hardnosed commerce is a lot easier to understand than evolutionary psychology in this case. Not to mention the many overweight star kids whom he sent to the gym and to a career in the movies. He is the ubiquitous ‘bhai’ (a term that he is believed to dislike).
Salman Khan should be out on bail soon – but tonight, he will spend the night in a cell. Next to Asaram Bapu.
And then, it will be back to business as usual. I am quite sure he has no clue who Kanazawa is or what the theory of the ‘Stone Age brain’ is. But he might relate to it – in the Stone Age, there was no bar on hunting animals.
For live updates on the black buck case, click here.
(Naomi Datta tweets @nowme_datta and in her previous incarnation as an entertainment journalist never really aced a Salman Khan interview. Regretfully. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)