Salman Khan Vs critics: Brand Salman braves all criticism of his high-voltage escapist masala 'Radhe'

Critics are doing their number and Salman Khan his. The two have no connection to each other. Whether or not Radhe is Bhai’s most disappointing film is for the viewers to tell and Box Office to report

Salman Khan (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @ReviewBollywoo1)
Salman Khan (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @ReviewBollywoo1)

Monojit Lahiri

Yesterday, my mobile phone rang, flashing Mr Panga! I sighed. Here comes another of those budmash and provocative issues that my iconoclastic friend was about to unleash on me. I wasn’t disappointed and he proceeded to oblige me with touching concern. “Gurudev, ek baat bata. Why are our so-called film critics so damn sanctimonious, predictable and repetitive? I mean, post Radhe’s release, every single review has barbecued Salman Khan and his film, with different degrees of separation and in the process showed off flair and command of the English language, with sarcy wit taking centre-stage. No problem, but isn’t quality criticism about being educative and constructive instead of being one-dimensional, damning and judgemental? Doesn’t perspective play a role in terms of what’s the product, who is its target group and whether the brand fit is right in terms of bottom-line and ROI? Just a thought, Sirjee!”

I did a quick check-out and saw he was spot on. Witticisms, canards, put-downers – in 'high-faultin’ angliss' – flew thick and fast. Investigating further, I discovered an interesting and revealing flip-side. Despite the tsunami of OMG posts and mocking reviews and despite no theatrical release in India, Radhe crashed the streaming server with an unprecedented one million hits on release!

Overseas too, despite the massive restrictions, it did make an impact in a modest fashion. Underwhelming? Yes – but is there one single other big star who had the marbles to have promised his fans about a release and kept his word? So, the question that demands immediate response is: Don’t critics in all their uppity and high-brow wisdom realise – after reviewing Bhai’s astonishing Box Office track record – that their reviews have less than zero impact on his film’s result? That Brand Salman’s movies [Wanted, Kick, Bodyguard, Dabangg franchise, Tiger Zinda Hain, etc] overall, have remained near-invincible at the BO and near flop-proof? That his loyal and monster fan-base across the world [whatever their profile] continues to root for him and his movies with scary passion and forever freak out, at his bare chest, swag and stylish one-liners like 'Radhe, Jane Ke Liye Nahin, Bhejne ke liye Aaya hai!' So what are they writing, for whom and why??

The fact is, observes a veteran critic with telling insight, “our critics have a job to do and [this is seldom discussed but critical] an image to maintain. In a world where perception is reality and persona, painstakingly created and promoted is the key, taking your eyes off the ball could mean wooing peril. The Salman movies are therefore consciously trashed as nothing more than glossy, down-market tamashas designed to be laughed at and any resemblance to cinema is a startling coincidence! This point of view ensures that their position as an evolved and informed fraternity remains sound and intact. This process, willy nilly, type-casts them – like the stars – full-on!”

He is bang-on. I personally know several film critics for whom Salman’s films are guilty pleasures, a cheat thing, but never to be disclosed in public! To confess would be to ruin his/her image and invite lifelong quarantines.

Extending this narrative, like Stars and Critics, the viewing public also continue to play out the image thing in right royal fashion. Here again, I know several well-heeled, educated, sophisticated Cocktail circuit/Clubs type who do a fabulous "OMG, Bollywood film? Salman Khan eeeek!" act. Scratch the surface, many of them admit they love his dhamkedar mad-cap, turbo-charged stress-busters, but would they be guilty enough to admit? Nuts? Izzat ka faluda, boss! I’ve also seen and known many of these fakes, blank and ashen-faced at International Film Festivals or musical soirees cursing themselves at being dragged to these cultural events, with the express objective to be seen and perceived as an arty type. At upwardly mobile parties too – where money not class rules – the Bword or Salman movies is taboo. Instead, names of the latest in world cinema playing across OTT are flung around with no one daring to go beyond the synopsis or other superficial aspects. A self-appointed intellectual of this frat once privately confessed this to me too.

So, everything considered, the critics are doing their number and Salman Khan his, and the two have no link, context or connection to each other. Whether or not Radhe is Bhai’s most disappointing film is for the viewers to tell and box office to report. Why Bhai’s heroines are getting hotter and younger [excuse me, remember Dilip-Saira in Gopi and Leena in Bairag? SRK & Deepika in several films, Aamir & Asin and others, Akshay & Ajay ...] is a no-brainer.

Fact is, Salman Khan has never pretended or desired to offer anything other than high-voltage escapist masala, take it or leave it. His films have always been, in-your-face and what-you-see is what-you-get. Unlike SRK [Swadesh & Chak De] or Aamir [Dhobi Ghat, Earth, Lagaan, Taare Zameen Par], he has never moved from his Ek baar maine commitment kardi to phir mein apne aap ki bhi nahi sunta stance. Once that is understood, recognised and accepted, life gets less complicated between Salman, his critics and the audiences. He was never and will never be a surprise package. Tiger tiger hi rahega until there comes a day when he will need to re-think. Till then, the Brand Salman remains a force to reckon with and no amount of snooty wisecracks can totally diminish his roar.

Finally, in these miserably bleak, depressing and scary times with no light at the end of the tunnel, a Salman Khan bindaas, masaledar distraction is just what the doctor ordered for the common man not wanting to get into the heavies but ... just chill!

Views are personal

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