‘Bhai’sexual India: When Beloved Artists Get Away With Murder
Annalise Keating could use some lessons from Salman Khan.
(On 25 July 2016, Salman Khan was acquitted in the Jodhpur blackbuck and chinkara poaching cases. In light of this fact, we are reposting a piece from The Quint’s archives on our collective tendency to forgive beloved artists.)
As I write this, Salman Khan’s Sultan seems set to cross the coveted 500 crore mark. By the time you read this, I am sure it will already have.
Sultan released in theatres across the country on the heels of Salman’s insensitive rape remark (one he has yet to apologise for, by the by). The outrage it provoked reached its crescendo on news channels and social media but did not register itself at the box office. Khan’s latest offering was met with fan jubilation, packed theatres, effusive outpourings of love, and a cash register that has not stopped ringing.
Khan, despite a history of domestic abuse, manslaughter (if not murder), and general bullying, remains an object of fervent worship.
Which brings me to my question: How do we justify consuming, paying for, and loving the art created by a tainted person, an unconvicted criminal?
This dilemma is not a new one and neither is it one restricted to India. Similar debate arose in the US not too long ago when Roman Polanski, the director of acclaimed films like The Pianist and The Ghost Writer, pleaded guilty to the rape of a 13-year-old child in 1977.
The same clamour arose again in 2014, when Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter accusing adoptive father Woody Allen, yet another acclaimed director, of sexually abusing her as a child. With these men, as with Salman Khan, most A-list colleagues chose to either close ranks around them in defensive solidarity, or keep mum.
It is the audience reaction that is more intriguing, given that celebritydom depends entirely upon the adulation and money a mass of people choose to voluntarily offer to a person. There are those who choose to live in denial, refuting reports and dismissing testimonies, or finding ‘mitigating’ excuses.
What about the others, though? The ones who believe in the crime and the guilt but choose to engage with the movies/books/music/paintings anyway?
The Art is Not The Artist
There are those who believe in making clear distinctions between a conscious body capable of harbouring problematic views and committing crimes and the impersonal art they create. Their engagement, they will argue, is with an image on a screen, or words on a paper, or brush strokes on a canvas, and not with flawed biology.
They will also ask why Salman, the person with the criminal record, should dictate the fate of a collaborative effort. Why should Anushka Sharma, the director, the producer, the cinematographer and the hundreds of other artists involved in the making of Sultan pay the price for one demagogue’s crimes?
The Problem With Drawing Lines
Most art is problematic.
Even if it doesn’t come from a problematic source, it carries, unconsciously or otherwise, the prejudices and biases of its creator and its age. Directors, singers, lyricists, actors, writers, poets, painters – all are guilty of something, whether anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, elitism, or more subtle forms of hate and discrimination; traits which will almost inevitably find reflection in their work.
Is it morally wrong to find pleasure in the music of Eric Clapton, an unapologetic racist, or find oneself falling in love with the poetry of Neruda, who often objectified women in his work? What about the films of Rajesh Khanna, who married a 16-year-old Dimple Kapadia, only to completely curtail her freedom and intimidate her into submission? Or the music of Chris Brown, who pleaded guilty to assaulting singer and then-girlfriend Rihanna?
What one considers unacceptable when it comes to an idol, a beloved artist is something each of us will have to decide for ourselves. When we do have that dialogue with our conscience, especially in cases like Salman Khan’s and Woody Allen’s, we would do well to remember that the adulation and business we bestow upon them has very concrete manifestations.
Each movie ticket, each poster bought, each loving tweet contributes to the cult of celebrity that has ensured that they need never face the consequences of their actions. Each time we have chosen to add to their fame and their wallets, we have given tacit consent to structures that have steamrolled over the dignity and rights of their victims.
Is any piece of art worth that?
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.