Published: Verve Magazine, October 2012, Verve Man supplement
The Mysterious Appeal of These Men: Salman, Chetan, Rahul, Karan and Sachin. (Admit it – you knew their last names as you read it.)
In a perfect world, we want to see people who are famous because they know their craft exceedingly well – the ones who are untouchable because you can’t surpass their talent. It puts them on a pedestal of excellence and it silences detractors. Sometimes there are those who may or may not have talent, but have an x-factor, which makes them incredibly appealing to a large number of people. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh decodes the controversial appeal of five successful men across industries
Salman Khan, actor
In a recent TV interview, Salman Khan said something that sounded ridiculously ostentatious. But if you take it in context of who he is as a person – simple and direct – you would understand that he was just stating the obvious. Ek Tha Tiger’s release and people’s reaction to that movie and others before it, Dabangg and Bodyguard in particular, lend complete strength to the fact that Salman Khan exists in the industry for his fans. (And he has many of them.) As he points out, if you need an actor to play a role, there are many people to choose from. A director and producer will think of Salman Khan, only when they want the full Salman-Khan-ness in a particular film. He’s unapologetic about who he is or what makes him popular among the masses. He’s also matter-of-fact about his popularity, without being self-propagandizing. It doesn’t matter whether the movie has a story, or whether the film is completely OTT, or even that the character does the strangest things – like manage to pop the buttons of his shirt as he struts. His style of dancing – not updated over the years, but true to form with certain pelvic thrusts or iconic hand gestures; his action sequences, where he isn’t a hero, he is a super hero; his romancing – which is stilted and subdued; are all aspects of the Salman Khan phenomena that his viewers expect. It’s suggested that he dresses like James Dean and picks nuances from Dharmendra; two actors he believes should be closely watched. And in his smile, lies his resemblance to Dean, though he doesn’t smile enough – off screen and on it. While his cinema may be regressive in it’s form, it’s appeal – rather his appeal – remains eternal. He has consciously chosen to be a performer and entertainer, and removed himself from being an actor. And yet, maybe it was his cleverest move, the secret formula to being one of the biggest movie stars of the Indian film industry. Behind his rather simplistic appeal, quotes and choices, lies a sharp brain that has managed to find a bankable spot in the industry. He has, very possibly gauged his strengths and weaknesses, and put his money in just the right place.
Chetan Bhagat, writer
Some time ago, on an episode of Love2HateU, the celebrity guest was Chetan Bhagat. The poor girl – the ‘hater’ – stood no chance against Bhagat’s generous Gandhi-ism, so beatifically patronizing and condescending. But that’s Chetan Bhagat – a huge icon and idol to some and an even huger eyebrow raiser to others. Bhagat’s success – and he is astonishingly successful – is because he has crawled through the cracks and found his target audience. And what a target audience that is. The non-readers. Instead of churning out a highbrow book filled with beautiful metaphors and aiming for the Booker-reading intellectuals, Bhagat does what he does best – appeal to those that have admittedly never read a book before. And therein lies his claim to fame. Bhagat has automatically found his safety in numbers. While Bhagat makes no pretentions about his literary aspirations, he basks in his own stupendous success, often lying on a raft of self-appreciation. And what irks people is that his raft never, ever capsizes. Top models can have a bad hair day, brilliant directors can have a box office flop, the Sensex can crash, but Chetan Bhagat only goes from strength to strength. As he smugly states, ‘I’m happy to be on this show (Love2HateU) because my new book has just released and I want to know that there are people who don’t like what I do, not just people who enjoy my books.’
Rahul Gandhi, politician
Is it possible to bank a country’s future, its political aspirations on a set of irrepressible dimples? While our democracy is far more discerning than that (we hope) it is true that as the younger Gandhi scion grew up, a great deal of hope was vested on his future. He had the political pedigree, and most importantly he looked the part. It didn’t really matter what he said – or didn’t say – he was just so easy on the eye. Every woman could imagine him at the helm of India, attending the topmost international discussions and global summit roundtables looking stupendous representing India. And yet, that hasn’t really played out well for him – while remaining a member of Parliament, he hasn’t proven himself as a strong candidate for the topmost office of the country – despite the looks. Whether he manages to get any further, we can only wait and watch, and hope that there is more depth to him than his dimples, or India may end up having her own frat-boy-politician in the making, served up American style.
Karan Johar, director
You watch Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and you see that plump friend of the hero, put there so that the hero can shine. A school misfit, no one would have guessed that Karan Johar would become a phenomenon. Johar has lived his high school misses through his films – creating the candy-floss make-believe world that he would have liked to be a part of, making his protagonist (more often than not played by his buddy Shah Rukh Khan) the popular kid in school. The kid Johar should have been, going by his current personality. What he may have been unable to achieve in his school years, he’s more than managed in his adult life. He is the force behind one of the biggest production houses in Hindi cinema, Dharma Productions, his movies do record business, he can make or break an actor or director, and often can control the future of a movie star, as evidenced by his power over the future of one top actress who wound up in his bad books. His talk show became an iconic talking point at every Koffee-table conversation. His rapid-fire questions allowed for his sharp wit, humour and personality to shine through, even if he did demonstrate that he lives happily in his own industry bubble. Only on Simi Garewal’s show did any of his vulnerability come to the fore. Johar is a complex animal, but his success is because of these complexities and layers to his personality. With Student of the Year in the offing, we wish we would move beyond the chasm of his youth to the brilliant success of his grown-up years in his directorial offerings. But would that be a cathartic story worth telling?
Sachin Tendulkar, sportsman
The Master Blaster. Anything said against him is akin to blasphemy. How did a supremely talented teenage kid manage to bear the weight of a nation’s hopes on his young shoulders? One who should just concentrate on the game is made to feel like the savior of the country. Every poor man’s hopes, every rich man’s dreams are with Sachin Tendulkar as he takes strike after strike. As if that were not enough, he had to attempt captaining the Indian cricket team. It’s a wonder he didn’t retire early, just to find inner peace. He has dealt with it all with equanimity – reminiscent of great players like Roger Federer in tennis – where nothing sways him. Victory brings a smile
, and when he’s down, he’s generally outwardly calm. Children are named after him in quick succession, he is revered to the point of blind faith, and he can do no wrong. Even if he gets out in duck thrice in a row, it’s okay because he has given us many centuries before. People cannot be logical around Tendulkar, he is more than human, he is God. With anyone else it would be dangerous, this blind idolization. As Wright Thompson in an insightful study on his charisma pointed out – Tendulkar’s meteoric rise took place in parallel to India as a country and economy opening up. He symbolizes everything we dream and wish for, all that is balanced and good. He steadies our racing hearts; he lives our greatest hopes. And he does it all with a clean chit. He makes people feel good – about themselves and their country, and he gives people a sense that we can be better, that we can be the best. And he forms the bridge – between the insecurity of the past and the brash confidence of the future.