Opinion: Row over Pathaan song Besharam Rang shows Twitter will needlessly outrage over just about anything today

Dec 16, 2022 04:00 PM IST

The outrage over Pathaan song Besharam Rang--featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone--and the boycott calls for the film on Twitter are proof that trolls will outrage even when there is hardly anything offensive in the content.

Pathaan is a month away from release right now. The promotions have not even begun in full swing. We are yet to see the full trailer or the faces of Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone plastered all over. And yet, the film is already facing calls of boycott. Twitter has been quicker than Yash Raj Films in that regard. The bone of contention right now is the song Besharam Rang, and a multitude of things that several people--including politicians--find offensive in it. But even as the outrage machinery went into overdrive, Shah Rukh Khan did something that not many stars these days do. He shot back, of course not directly, but quite smartly and in his signature way. His response can perhaps be a template in how to dictate the balance of power in dealing with faceless, nameless trolls. Also read: As Pathaan faces boycott calls, Shah Rukh says 'duniya chahe kuch bhi kar le...'

Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in the song Besharam Rang from their upcoming film Pathaan.
Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone in the song Besharam Rang from their upcoming film Pathaan.

The outrage is that the song Besharam Rang has been created ‘with a dirty mindset’. That is something Madhya Pradesh minister Norattam Mishra alleged and Twitter users followed suit. There have been allegations that the colours of the costumes worn by Shah Rukh and Deepika in the song are intended to depict something communal. Others even say it is deliberate propaganda. Those are some heavy allegations for a beach dance song that is chiefly about a woman serenading her hero.

What amazes me is that people outraging about this song and the film also often trend ‘boycott Bollywood’ on the same site. In doing so, their main grievances are that Bollywood is dumbing down its content. They allege that filmmakers don’t have the brains to deal with complex subjects and hence they are dishing out brain dead films. The same people are now alleging that the same Bollywood is including subliminal messages of communal disharmony in the colours of the clothes worn by the lead actors in what can only be described as an item number. The dissonance here is strange. Bollywood can either be so dumb that it is dumbing down the national discourse or it can be so devious and clever that it can use costume design as a propaganda tool. It cannot be both. But who will tell the trolls?

Then there are those who find it ‘distasteful’ how Shah Rukh’s character is ‘molesting’ Deepika’s character in the song. I am no fan of Besharam Rang’s choreography, visuals, or music. I am not here to defend it’s artistic merits. But I do have an issue with those accusing it of being vulgar and crass. There have been music videos far more overt, far more sensual, and at times with much more skin show in the past. They have not been objected to with such vehemence. That Besharam Rang is being singled out for this treatment is because of who it features is no state secret. The outrage is not against the content, but against the subjects. Twitter would have trended #BoycottPathaan even if Deepika was in a saree and Shah Rukh in a kurta-pyjama. The trolls would have found something objectionable in everything these two would do.

Many even tagged Deepika Padukone’s husband, actor Ranveer Singh, asking how he ‘allowed’ her to shoot it. And that tells you everything you need to know. It was Deepika’s choice to do this song. The question of Ranveer ‘allowing’ her and Shah Rukh’s character ‘molesting’ her reeks of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. The argument ignores that this 36-year-old extremely successful woman makes her own choices and cannot be goaded into doing anything. She is not your damsel to be saved and not your agenda to be furthered. She is just a woman whose agency you refuse to recognise, yet again.

And yet, Shah Rukh Khan remains unfazed. The actor appeared at the inauguration of the Kolkata International Film Festival 2022 on Thursday and delivered a speech on the negativity on social media and how cinema can counter it. “Social media is often driven by a certain narrowness of view that limits human nature to its baser self,” he said, adding, “cinema exposes the vulnerability of human nature by telling stories in their simplest form as they are lived…In a way, it is best placed to sustain a collective counter narrative that speaks to the larger nature of human kind--a narrative that brings to the fore humanity’s immense capacity for compassion, unity, and brotherhood.”

And as a parting note, he delivered a message in Hindi. “The world has become normal. We are all happy, I am the happiest. And I have no objection in stating that duniya kuch bhi kar le, main aur aap log aur jitney bhi positive log hain sab ke sab, zinda hain (me, you all and all the positive people are alive).” His final ‘zinda hain’, delivered in the style of his character from Pathaan, drew cheers from the large crowd gathered there.

And that, right there, is the most effective way to deal with trolling. Constructive criticism is always welcome as it helps you improve. But trolling for the sake of trolling is only intended to provoke. As Shah Rukh shows, the best way to deal with is to show that it can’t wear you down. That you still have the power over your actions and you will continue to do things your way. You may fail or succeed but at least, it will be on your own terms.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

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    Abhimanyu Mathur is an entertainment journalist with Hindustan Times. He writes about cinema, TV, and OTT, churning out interviews, reviews, and good old news stories.

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