It is difficult to imagine that only a few months ago a trial court had declared that Salman Khan would have to spend five years in jail in connection with the hit-and-run case. The Bombay High Court’s decision to acquit Salman from all charges has understandably raised hackles of the common man, most of whom know deep down that the actor is guilty of the crime he was accused of.
A clever strategy of transforming himself and a series of coincidences today culminated in the reprieve given to Salman. It is too simplistic to believe that the judges simply ignored all the evidence or just punched holes in the prosecution’s theory and let Salman off. By building an aura around his personality, getting himself involved with his charity and mentoring half the star kids of tinsel town, Salman Khan effectively scripted his own escape from the judiciary’s clutches. Here is how he helped himself get out of the hit-and-run case – one step at a time.
The first step actually happened all by itself apparently. The evidence against Salman Khan had been gradually reducing or getting lost ever since the accident case occurred in September 28, 2002. The files containing evidence by witnesses were burnt down in a fire that engulfed Mantralaya in 2012. The Bombay High Court also found discrepancies in the blood samples taken from Salman, raising doubt on the prosecution’s handling of the case.
Since the onus is on the prosecution to prove that Salman Khan was drunk and behind the wheel when the accident took place, messing with the evidence is the textbook copy of proving your guilt. Without proper documents and other evidence, everything becomes circumstantial, making it easy for Salman Khan to walk free.
It is no coincidence that Salman Khan remodelled his entire career to play the good guy in his movies. From ‘Dabangg’ to ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ and ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, his roles are carefully chosen to project an image of a protector of good in roles of a policeman, secret agent or even a common man. These films push the soft power of reinforcing the goodness of Salman Khan the person through Salman Khan the actor.
While this may sound like a ridiculous point when you read it first, you really need to see Salman’s acting graph since 2002. He stayed away from controversial subjects, took on films that played on his masculinity and endeared himself to masses and classes alike with his irreverent humour and comebacks. Actors sometimes create an oeuvre all by themselves, be it Emraan Hashmi known for his kissing spree at the start of his career or Salman Khan being known for being the large-hearted heartthrob who will always stand up for the right cause.
The biggest marketing genius in Salman Khan’s arsenal was definitely Being Human. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this could affect Salman’s standing. Remember this is the same person who was known to allegedly beat up his girlfriends and had a bad reputation with the media not too long ago. Secure in his superstar status and surrounded by sycophants, change came slowly but surely to Salman Khan. Being Human helped to show, well, the human side of Salman Khan.
Pretty soon though, the charity brand became a lifestyle brand. Being Human’s revenue model is quite unusual and sounds like the brand is doing CSR for its charity. In a 2013 interview with Business Today, Manisha Mandhana, whose company makes the apparels for Being Human brand said quite plainly, “At the front end, it is a lifestyle brand and at the back end, it is a philanthropic organisation. All royalties from the lifestyle brand support the philanthropy we do,” he says.
Salman Khan, meanwhile, successfully transformed his bad boy image into that of a sensitive and caring person through the help of Being Human.
He probably didn’t have any selfish motives behind supporting industry kids but their words of praise definitely support the narrative of good boy Salman Khan and even misunderstood Salman. His generosity and big heart are always spoken of in volumes by his industry protégés. Sample some of these tweets from celebrities when the trial court held him guilty in the hit-and-run case in May this year!
This point can best be explained with an interview with Soumyadipta Banerjee who began Bollywood Journalist as a serious Bollywood blog and posted two articles against Salman Khan. Soon enough, substantial threats ensured that the posts had to be taken down because they dared to show a different side of the story than the one Salman was scripting.
In this exclusive interview with MensXP, Banerjee talks about his Bollywood blog and those dark days without going into specifics. This will prove to even the biggest fan of Bhai that he will do anything to muzzle dissent against him.
1) What prompted you to start Bollywood Journalist?
There came a point in my professional life when I was utterly bored. I thought I was vegetating and nothing excited me. It was a very strange situation because soon the boredom gave way to depression. There came a time when I started suffering from insomnia too. Every day I used to lie down on my bed and ask myself, ‘what have I done today?’ I never used to get a proper answer. That feeling didn’t let me sleep, didn’t let me start my day and soon everyday became a struggle. I realised I am in depression and I needed to do something about it. One night, I just started punching the keyboard. I wrote a blog. I felt happy. I started blogging frequently because it made me happy. Blogging kept me occupied. I had opened a blog on Blogspot earlier but it was kept private as I used to upload draft chapters of a book that I was writing. I started this blog on WordPress and it was public from day one. People started appreciating some of my blogs. Soon my depression was gone. I looked at blogging to vent out my frustration. It really helped.
2) How often do you have to deal with controversies and hate mail?
Often. There is an army out there. They are sometimes called trolls though I prefer to call them idiots. If you don’t write good things about a superstar or a superstar director, they attack you. They don’t write hate mails often. But they attack your mother and your sister on the social media. If you are a woman, they threaten to rape you. In rare cases, some may also threaten to kill you. Most of them are super religious, while some of them are fundamentalists.
3) What have you learned about Bollywood after starting this blog?
The stars can’t handle criticism. Their managers can’t stand critics. Their PRs are constantly devising ways to silence critics. There was a person in the PR team of a Superstar Khan who used to man-mark me. His job was to ensure that I didn’t attend any press conference or my office didn’t depute me for any interview of the star. His team made sure (through phone calls and mails) that I should not be anywhere near the star (even as an audience of an event) because they felt that I write ‘negative’ reports. To tell you the truth, I have never written anything ‘negative’ about that Khan ever. It was just a perception. But PRs in Bollywood will go to any extent to stonewall you if they don’t like you or perceive you as a threat. Life is difficult for a Bollywood journalist if you don’t have the PRs on your side. So, most entertainment journalists try to become best friends with the PR. In the entertainment beat, it’s not the PRs who chase journalists, it is quite the other way round.
4) Tell us briefly about the Ravindra Patil article and the subsequent apology to Salman Khan.
I am under strict instructions not to talk about that episode. I respect the country’s judicial process.
5) Please describe the state of your blog and yourself during that phase.
It was a very tough phase for me and my family as well. My blog was suspended briefly. I still don’t want to remember what I went through. It made me value my friends and family. Also, I realised that when you are in trouble, help and support pours in from unexpected quarters. At the same time, it made me realise when I am in trouble, some of my best friends will turn their faces away from me. Post that episode, I have stopped believing that you can have friends in the media.
6) Do you feel readers want to know the truth about their favourite stars or do they expect you to feed their thinking of star behaviour?
Readers only want to know the truth about a star they don’t like. They refuse to believe that most of the stars are abnormal human beings with abnormal behavioural traits. They think the stars can do no wrong. Most refuse to accept that the Bollywood stars lead a kind of life that you and me won’t choose to lead. They refuse to accept that Bollywood stars are actually brands and they have an army around them who ensure that the actual faces behind the star-brands never get exposed. Most stars are terribly unhappy human beings. Some are addicts and are into substance abuse. There are a few who have used to steroids to gain that six-pack abs. A lot of them have gone through painful surgeries to enhance their assets or features. I wouldn’t choose their lives even under gunpoint. I am happier than most of the Bollywood stars I know personally. Trust me, most of you are happier than them.
7) Despite being so popular, why is there no original blogging on entertainment in India?
It is very difficult to be an entertainment blogger in India. Entertainment in India typically means Bollywood (like most entertainment supplements with Indian newspapers). Unfortunately, most of the stuff on Bollywood in the traditional media (which some refer to as ‘news’) is paid for. It’s tacit or blatant brand promotion. Most ‘news’ articles will either promote the actor as a brand, a movie (again a brand) or the brands that an actor endorses. It’s just advertising in some form or the other. Being an entertainment journalist is very depressing because you realise after a point that you are into advertising and not journalism. Now you will tell me that why are people adhering to these perverse standards of journalism? What is the difficulty? The difficulty is: you don’t get access to the stars or a movie, if you don’t promote it. The understanding is: You promote my star or the movie and we will drive visitors to your site by giving you access to the stars or exclusive news bytes about a film. Most bloggers and entertainment websites have fallen in line. At the end of the day, none of the ‘beats’ like Business, Politics, Crime, City or Sports is Business. Entertainment is pure business because Bollywood is the be-all and end-all of the Entertainment beat.
8) What are the pros and cons of having an original blog only on Bollywood?
If you are an original entertainment blogger (who wouldn’t promote a star or a movie), you will be very popular and you will get many dedicated readers who will egg you on to do better work. On the flip side, you can forget access to the stars for interviews or junkets to award functions because the PRs won’t like you.
9) With the steady rise of social media, is it still difficult to have a dedicated blog on entertainment?
Blogging is also a part of social media in my opinion. It is not difficult at all. In fact, which so many social media outlets today, I feel that you get across many more readers that what you could, say, 10 years back.
10) There is a steady emphasis on writing more news content than the earlier blogs. Is your blog also giving up on pure entertainment journalism?
Bollywood Journalist is a boutique news agency on Bollywood that serves exclusive Bollywood news to others websites, magazines and even newspapers. The website is still a blogging platform where some of my old co-bloggers still blog. I had stopped blogging there when it became a limited company as I was working with a media company full time. I will soon start blogging there again because I have recently resigned. I have joined an educational institute and I plan to revive my blogging career as soon as I settle down in my new job. I plan to start blogging with a few prominent sites as well.
11) What qualities do you think are needed to succeed as a entertainment blogger without giving up on any ideals and compromising on your personal safety? Or is that a myth?
I don’t think people who attack you on Twitter or Facebook actually have the guts to attack you in reality. They are cowards, who just love to mess around with you behind a mask of anonymity. They are faceless, nameless dolts (as Suhel Seth would say).
12) Is the Indian culture wired to treat actors like demi-gods? Can honest reporting save us?
We are wired to worship film stars as demi-Gods and not understand that they are professionals or brands. I remember that my fellow blogger (author Amrita Mukherjee) had thrown an open challenge to entertainment journalists to answer the questions that she has posed at the end of her blog.