Salman Khan: Batman Without a Conscience

Salman Khan is basically Batman; a rebel, a revolutionary. Even with a jail sentence, his life could generously be described as a superhero’s – with the minor fact that he’s missing a conscience.

When I grow up, I want to be Salman Khan.I was instantaneously reminded of this infantile wish today as Brother Tiger is forced to stand the test of the Indian judiciary. Proof that nothing good ever came out of Hum Saath Saath Hain, Salman Khan was found guilty and convicted in the infamous blackbuck poaching case while his squad comprising Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu, and Neelam Kothari were acquitted. For a case that took 20 years to come to fruition, Innocent Khan aka CEO @ Acquittals, faces (only) five years in jail and a fine of Rs 10,000 (or what Being Human calls “sutta allowance”).

In my late 20s, I realise the time may have passed for such lofty ambitions, but I’m still clinging on to a glimmer of hope. Despite his conviction, Salman Khan is a model citizen of an India that rational, young, privileged males live in, and he leads the life we all secretly want. He’s self-assured, bold, does what he wants, and has people bending over backwards to accommodate him. It’s the Great Indian Dream – one that women and poor people are expressly barred from having.

Basically Salman Khan is Batman; he’s a rebel and a revolutionary. What he has could generously, but not inaccurately, be described as the superhero life (with the minor fact that he’s missing a conscience). He has lived through a string of unbelievably hot women with a jaunty disregard of the law of the land, and has done so with absolute power and zero accountability. Add to this utopian situation the fact that each of his movies pocket a few hundred crores – some of which is rumoured to be stuffed in the back of his Toyota Land Cruiser in case his “driver” messes up again – and you’ve got yourself a superhero for the kids of today.

As kids, especially ones belonging to the not-really-oppressed-but-very-jaded-middle-class, we’re taught to buy into the just-world fallacy and ideas of morality and virtue, only to realise later that that isn’t how the world works. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to terrible people. This leads to cognitive dissonance, followed by disillusionment and simmering anger.

Enter Brother Salman.

Salman Khan was once a scrawny twerp with a penchant for tilting his head sideways to express puppy love. He picked up a dumbbell in the early ’90s (and hasn’t let go of it until today); at a time when our race didn’t even know what gyms were (unlike now, when people have more gym memberships than savings). In a short while, Bhai became the amalgam of every alpha male fantasy. He’s adored by literally millions of people – young boys want to be like him, young girls want to marry him. He teaches us that rules are meant to be broken, that respect is a bourgeois conceit.

Some of us who’ve been weaned on the old-fashioned “what goes around comes around” spiel, think he is biding his time to his ultimate demise.

Just look at all the women who’ve been a part of his life. Salman Khan has had, ever since I can remember, a conveyor belt of often talented, always attractive, powerful, young, famous girlfriends. He is a passionate and sensitive guy, so sometimes it’s understandable that he reacts impulsively when he’s unable to control the love in his heart. Then he gets accused of assault or abuse – emotional or physical – but the next girl recognises who he really is, deep down. It’s the victory we all crave, and we experience it through him. He’s also lived out the ultimate male fantasy of threatening to beat the shit out of the new flame of an ex-girlfriend.

Add to this how delightfully oblivious he is to any kowtowing or political correctness in this PC-gone-mad world. In fact, a while ago, he stuck it to the (wo)man, by refusing to apologise for a “harmless little remark” that led to “hysterical hissy fits” by all those “bloody feminist types”.

Wherever you go in Mumbai, you’ll hear of at least one or two apocryphal tales about Salman Khan’s whimsies and eccentricities. How he’ll apparently show up six hours late for an event and then charm your socks off; how he’ll hear a singer at an event, kidnap him and take him to his house for drinks. He’s famous for such random acts of kindness and charity – some are documented, some fabricated. (In fact, one completely made-up story of his that I admit to having spread among my friends was that he’d visit Arthur Road Jail every weekend with a carton of Royal Stag to polish off with old pal Sanjay Dutt.)

Sometimes, though, he finds himself in legal trouble, like we all do. Most people have to, at some point, witness the true face of Middle India – of inertia, sinister cynicism, and babudom. We want to tear our hair out, but we just have to grin and bear getting tossed around from room to room, official to official, treated like scum for a moment of madness. It could happen to anyone. But Salman Khan doesn’t follow the rules of the universe. He gets out of these things – using charm, innocence, cash, influence, whatever – the way we’d all want to but can’t. He pisses some people off along the way, but so what? (“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”) At least he’s not cowering to authority; at least he’s grabbing destiny with both hands. And having lots of fun with it. The Great Indian Dream.

Some of us who’ve been weaned on the old-fashioned “what goes around comes around” spiel, think he is biding his time to his ultimate demise. We think he is the same tragic creature as Doctor Faustus who struck a deal with the devil for limitless worldly pleasures in exchange for his soul. Faustus had 24 years – followed by an eternity in, well, hell. Maybe Salman will go the same way and finally self-detonate into a flaming ball of hubris.

But then again, maybe not.

Chances are that this mower-of-sleeping-men and hunter-of-endangered-species will zoom into a gold-flecked sunset in a yet-to-be-invented white, high-end SUV, with one hand on the automatic steering wheel and the other on the thigh of a woman quarter his age. In the immediate aftermath of the sentencing, I imagine the launch of sympathetic public campaigns that will go hoarse crying “Tiger Innocent Hai”, “Tiger Manchild Hai”, and “Tiger Being Human Hai”. For all we know, Khan will find a shortcut to get back to Galaxy, scot-free.

I guess it’s too late for me to grow up to be Salman but it’s not too late for our kids. This Great Indian Dream shines in their eyes and every time their hero pulls a stunt like this, it shines stronger.

The future is Bhai.

Akhil Sood

Akhil Sood writes about music and culture and struggles with the concept of Diet Coke.

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