Will Aryan Khan’s drugs case put a dent on SRK's brand value?

Delhi - The superstar is still in his prime, but his onscreen championing of middle-class success may take a hit

By Kaveree Bamzai

Published: Wed 13 Oct 2021, 11:38 AM

The powerlessness of the powerful is an awful thing to behold. For some, it’s a spectator sport — an occasion to indulge in schadenfreude.

For others with more empathy, it’s time to look inwards, to reflect upon their own families, their children, their own dysfunctions.

Shah Rukh Khan is one of the world’s biggest celebrities.

But he is also a father, trying to raise his children with love and understanding in a world very different from what he grew up in. It is easy to dismiss second-generation Bollywoodians as a bunch of entitled, privileged children who have never seen life outside the Mumbai-Manhattan-London bubble.

They walk through life thinking they’re invisible, that their parents’ fame gives them a bulletproof jacket, which enables them to dodge the deadly fire meant to engulf them.

For as much as the media puts them on a pedestal at a young age, stalking them on Instagram and in real life, it takes pleasure in bringing them down to earth. The interest in them moves very quickly from the cost of their Balenciaga shoes to the number of rotis they are eating in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail.

And no matter what adman Prahlad Kakkar says, in India a star son is seen as a son first and star later. The public humiliation of Sunil Dutt and Salim Khan is a classic case in point. Dutt ended his life fighting for his son Sanjay Dutt’s freedom — initially from his drug addiction and later to remove the terrorist tag in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts’ case.

Salim (Khan) has spent his retirement apologising for his famous son Salman’s infamous doings.

Yet, both Sanjay and Salman are still considered icons.

Sanjay even got a filmmaker as talented as Rajkumar Hirani to whitewash his image in the biopic Sanju, and Salman laundered his brand with box-office profits and philanthropy.

Bollywood and drugs

Ever since the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year and his alleged drug use raised the hackles of his fans, the public investigation of Bollywood by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has uncovered a significant nexus in the Hindi film industry.

It stretches from the suppliers — usually members of the builder-betting syndicate — to the facilitators — event organisers, star managers, restaurateurs — to the end users, who are purportedly several stars.

By focusing on high-profile users, who may or may not be addicts, the NCB is sending a message of zero tolerance for drug use across the board.

Is it also a message from the state to its ideological opponents as some are suggesting, given that it comes so close on the heels of political strategist Prashant Kishore’s very public meeting with Shah Rukh Khan? Or is it like what China recently did with Alibaba’s Jack Ma?

Was it a way to tell the world that China is a communist nation, which brooks no nonsense about the wealth gap between the haves and the have-nots?

However, the facts don’t get altered that Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan was on the cruise, which was raided by the NCB authorities.

Though drugs were not found on Aryan, his phone records seem to suggest he may be part of a chain that kept a truck with drug peddlers.

The case has exposed the chasm in Bollywood yet again — between the dynasts such as Aryan Khan and the outsiders like the ‘ultra-nationalist’ Kangana Ranaut. It’s an echo of the probe into Rajput’s death.

Twists and turns

Aryan’s case has taken a curious turn.

NCB’s zonal head Sameer Wankhede has accused the Mumbai Police of following him.

He has backed up his allegations with close-circuit TV (CCTV) footage. The raging row has also acquired echoes of another raging debate between the Narendra Modi government-led Centre and the Opposition-led Maharashtra government.

Will Brand Shah Rukh take a hit? Is BYJU’s — an Indian multinational educational technology company — reportedly halting its association with the star?

There are those who are convinced that both he and his brand will emerge stronger.

He is shooting for two films, Yash Raj Films’ (YRF) Pathan and Atlee’s untitled action movie.

Besides, a third film is being planned with Hirani.

Should they do well at the box-office, it will be time to raise a toast to King Khan again.

If they don’t, the lingering legalities around Aryan Khan’s case may well cast a permanent cloud over Mannat, the superstar’s residence in Bandra in suburban Mumbai.

Superstars on their knees do not make a pretty sight.

So far, Shah Rukh has refrained from making any public reaction even though the media has not spared photographing his wife Gauri grieving quietly for her son.

To quote acclaimed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy: all happy families are alike; but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Unfortunately, nothing makes for more addictive viewing than a picture perfect, seemingly happy family amid unhappy times.

The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India

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