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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Fathers, sons and a plot that thickens

Anubha Yadav writes: The vilification of Bollywood, as seen in the Aryan Khan case, has become a way to manufacture enemies.

Written by Anubha Yadav |
Updated: October 30, 2021 9:31:23 am
Shah Rukh Khan with his children.

Just around Gandhi Jayanti, two powerful fathers and their sons were in the news, a few hours from each other, the events almost overlapping, one happening in Mumbai and the other in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

One son is the prime accused in the brutal mauling of four farmers and a journalist to death (three others were killed in the subsequent violence) in Lakhimpur Kheri. The other is accused of involvement in consumption, sale and purchase under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. In the former, after six days of no action, the Supreme Court had to intervene for the Uttar Pradesh state machinery to find the absconding son and put him in judicial custody. In the latter, the son was taken into judicial custody in a few hours and was later shifted to Arthur jail — he got bail on Thursday, after 25 days in jail.

If you are not living under a rock, you know who is who in this story. The former is Ashish Mishra, the son of the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra, and the latter is Aryan Khan, the son of actor Shah Rukh Khan. This is almost routine-India, where individual rights seem subject to religious identity. Public discourse has been replaced by performance, and a constant spectacle of emotionally charged populism is projected as the “voice of the people”.

Majoritarianism keeps inventing new enemies to sustain itself. They are chosen with diligent attention. This “enemy” is often constructed through a chain of events akin to a very gripping plot, a popular thriller. This time, the plot has a narcotics officer, Sameer Wankhede, who is being hailed by some for his zealous honesty — a real life “hero” fighting against the reel “hero”. Wankhede has said he is performing a “cleansing of the city”. Some news reports say that, on the first day of custody, Aryan Khan promised Wankhede that he will be a “good boy” after his release.

The plot keeps thickening. The frustrated middle class, which has lost more than they can bear to remember in the pandemic, is hooked. Walter Benjamin gave us the concept of “aestheticisation of politics” and noted how spectacles allow the masses to “express themselves” without seeing their “rights recognised”. For Bollywood, the problem is peculiar as it has itself often chosen to be a sedating spectacle. The ones who consumed one spectacle are now, with the same devotion, consuming the other, with little distinction between the two.

I am told WhatsApp groups are rife with imagined acts of moral depravity in Bollywood. Their secret double lives. Words have become psychotropics: “Drugs”, “Rave”, “Cruise”, “Party”. History knows there is no end to the depravity of an imagination.

A few days ago, a liberal middle class friend noted that Aryan Khan might learn some precious lessons for life from this “adversity”. I asked him if he would appreciate his teenage son getting a similar lesson? He felt cornered and accused me of misunderstanding him.

A year ago, we saw a prequel of the same plot when actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide. The enemy is the same: Bollywood. The plot is a spiral. If the leviathan can get Shah Rukh Khan’s son, who can escape? The message is clear. Your identity itself is a crime.

India is famous for its father-son stories. The father who sent his eldest son to 14 years of vanvas — that mythical narrative lives in various Hindi films. One of them was the 1980s’ blockbuster Shakti, in which honest-to-a-fault father Ashwin Kumar (Dilip Kumar), the commissioner of police, refuses to cut a deal for his kidnapped son with a dreaded gangster. The son remembers the betrayal. The father regrets his choice. There is redemption.

As to the story of these two fathers, Shah Rukh Khan’s son, Aryan Khan is trending on Twitter every day. He is guilty until proven innocent. There is a thundering silence on the Twitter handle of Shah Rukh Khan. One of his last tweets, greeting his fans on Ganesh Chaturthi, mocks us. Ajay Mishra’s son is absent on most days from public memory or media. He is innocent until proven guilty. The honourable minister is still the honourable minister at the Centre.

This column first appeared in the print edition on October 29, 2021 under the title ‘Sons, fathers and a plot’. Yadav is a writer-academic-filmmaker, who teaches at Kamala Nehru College, DU.

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