By Sharan Saikumar Oct. 27, 2021
Shahrukh has saved the day on screen several times, but off it, his heroism stems from the many things he has chosen to ‘not’ do. He may be paying the price for that today, but in him, still resides our strongest hope, that a hero will emerge.
Mr Shah Rukh Khan, I’d like to dedicate a song to you this Wednesday morning.
‘Mrs Robinson’, you might argue, is really not the song anyone can think of in the surreal circumstances you find yourself in, since it is widely believed to be a homage to cinema’s first and finest cougar presented to us in The Graduate ( it’s actually not but that’s a subject for another time). Let me, however, draw your attention to the line that I have always loved, a strange line for that matter that jumps up out of nowhere in a song about a middle-aged seductress. It goes like this – Where have you gone Joe Di Maggio? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
I always wondered what the whereabouts of an ageing ballplayer had to do with Mrs Robinson’s quest for love and if indeed it was important to ask this question at all. Paul Simon was in fact a Micky Mantle fan so he should have asked ‘Where have you gone Micky Mantle? ‘ The answer can be derived from an exchange between Simon and Di Maggio themselves. It is said that Simon bumped into DiMaggio at a New York City restaurant in the 1970s, DiMaggio is rumoured to have asked “What I don’t understand, is why you ask where I’ve gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial, I’m a spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank and I haven’t gone anywhere!” Simon replied that he didn’t mean the lines literally, that rather, he thought of Di Maggio as an American hero and that genuine heroes were in short supply. Ergo, Micky Mantle was not Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘genuine hero.’ So why was Di Maggio?
When you consider the fact the song Mrs Robinson was not written for the Graduate at all, the mystery begins to clear. Mrs Robinson is a song that is considered to be a generational statement, a critique that a younger generation threw at their parents for their jaded values. In the America of the 1960s, stodgy middle-class morality was being questioned by a generation at the cusp of a sexual and political revolution. Anyway, not to make this about America’s issues – one wouldn’t even know where to begin – but suffice to say that they had their shit going on and we have ours and right now Mr Shah Rukh Khan, it’s playing out in your face.
You’re possibly bearing the brunt today of what we know could be our collective fate and the fate of our children tomorrow.
You’re possibly bearing the brunt today of what we know could be our collective fate and the fate of our children tomorrow. But let’s put the fears for our kids aside, and let’s stick with what makes Di Maggio a ‘genuine’ hero over Micky Mantle’s ordinary hero. Bear with me, I believe that may be at the heart of your situation.
You’re a hero. Well, obviously. Some would call that a gross underestimation of your celebrity but ‘megastar’ doesn’t really capture what I’m going for. Let’s stick with hero. You’re the guy we count upon to make bad people go away. You stand for what’s good and right and you don’t back down from a fight. And you do it so well that you get paid gajillions for it and we, sitting out there in the dark watching your face quiver with that familiar passion against whatever gross villainy the script has set you up with; happily granting you your riches because in that moment you speak to something good and honourable within us. Because somewhere we all hope to be heroes. IRL.
One might argue that Ajay Devgan or Akshay Kumar (and yes I pick these two names for fairly obvious reasons) embody ‘hero’ more successfully than you ever will because let’s admit it, their movies do rake in, to be crude, a shit ton more than yours but this is where it gets interesting. Joe Di Maggio may be a hero with his 56 game hitting streak but that’s not why he’s in the song instead of Micky. 1954, Di Maggio married blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe, only to be divorced by her less than a year later.
There were rumours of violence and a wickedly jealous temper, but he responded to these rumours with the same grace that he displayed on the playing field. Even though Monroe blamed DiMaggio for the divorce, he never said anything accusative about his former wife. In fact, it was DiMaggio who got Monroe released from a mental hospital in 1961, and reportedly asked her to remarry him to protect her more than anything else. He defended what was sacred to him with grace and refused to surrender his privacy to those obsessed with fame. Paul and Simon wrote Mrs Robinson in the years that followed this heroic rescue. The kind that doesn’t necessarily get headlines rolling, but is monumental in what it socially accomplishes.
What I’m suggesting, Mr Shah Rukh Khan, is that you may actually be in the genuine hero league.
What I’m suggesting, Mr Shah Rukh Khan, is that you may actually be in the genuine hero league. I’m not talking about the movies you’ve done (although thank you for Chak De!) but also the ones you’ve possibly rejected – you know jingoist, patriotic fare that is everyone’s go-to at the moment. For embracing characters brimming with anxiety and for falling for spirited women who outrank you in social status ( yes even Harry met Sejal has a silvery lining). Even for saying things like ‘I would like to tell the ladies: don’t give up your day jobs for your night husbands’.
In an unforgettable essay that you wrote for Outlook India, you said that whenever there is an act of violence in the name of Islam, you are called upon to air your views on it and “ …dispel the notion that by virtue of being a Muslim, I condone such senseless brutality…” Further down you added that “ Of course, I politely decline each time, citing such pressing reasons as sanitation works at my house preventing me from taking the good shower that’s needed before undertaking such an extensive journey.”
In your own charming way, you have declined to be drawn into making your religion, political and decided to keep it in your safely guarded personal space. The secret place where we all keep the things that we truly prize – in our homes, amongst our children. Never expecting or maybe even anticipating that the sanctum sanctorum would someday be so brutally violated that they would come for your children. Or maybe you always knew that they’d come for you.
And now they have. And you’re being called upon to defend what is sacred to you with grace and refuse to surrender your privacy to those obsessed with fame. And as we’re rooting for you (oh yes we are!) some part of us, the still hopeful, romantic parts of us that are created in the magical world of your movies, are secretly hoping that you will do more than just bear the brunt of the breakdown of our nation’s morality. That you will fight it tooth and nail and restore some amount of right in the world and give us the climax we know we deserve.
You didn’t ask for this burden to be placed upon your shoulders, but then a hero rarely does. Shit happens and the hero emerges. We’re rooting for our genuine hero and hoping that in saving yourself you may also save us.
Here’s to you Mr Shah Rukh Khan. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.