At a time when the cult of celebrity has been deeply eroded, thanks to the global pandemic, superstar Shah Rukh Khan, India’s biggest celebrity, has to play the most difficult role of his lifetime — that of a good parent and an impeccable public figure in exceedingly trying circumstances.
Ever since news of Khan’s eldest son, Aryan, being taken into custody by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) broke on our timelines, the battle lines have been drawn in the perception game. Khan’s superstardom, secular credentials, and brand of cheeky flamboyance obviously make him a favourite object of ridicule for those who have a beef with showbiz celebrities.
Being the high-profile public figure that Khan is, brickbats were inevitable. However, of all the unkind barbs thrown at him, the sharpest one was about his shoddy parenting. An excerpt from an old interview with actor/anchor Simi Garewal, where he is seen jesting about how he would indulge his kids, has since been widely circulated as proof of the star’s poor parenting. And then, adding insult to injury, there appeared reports in the media of Aryan saying (in the course of his interrogation with the NCB) that his father was a very busy man and that he was required to make an appointment with his dad. This is being touted as incontrovertible proof that the superstar was an inattentive father.
Shah Rukh Khan’s parenting style
Having interacted with him for a decade or so over professional commitments, among the many good qualities that I, for one, noticed about him, was the manner in which he included his children in his interactions with people. He encouraged them to participate outside the tight inner circle of family. Aryan, Suhana, and later AbRam, were a frequent sight during media interactions with the star, especially if they took place at his residence, Mannat, or even at the office at the Mannat Annexe.
I recall this one time, on the occasion of Eid, when it was customary for him to interact with the media and greet his fans who trooped to the gates of Mannat, Khan affectionately persuaded the kids — now shy teenagers — to come and greet everyone before they melted away in the privacy of the indoors.
The simple grace of that endearing gesture was unmistakable.
Unlike what the popular opinion may be about children from a privileged background, Shah Rukh Khan’s kids have always been down to earth and courteous in their public interactions. They have been so despite the media’s rude intrusion in their private lives — a testimony of good upbringing by both their parents. The youngest one, AbRam, of course, has been a scene-stealer with his cute antics, with the proud papa holding his hand through public proceedings, his paternal love shining brightly through.
Aryan Khan controversy
Parenting, especially for famous public figures, as history has shown, is riddled with difficulties. The very fact that there is an immense demand on public figures and their time due to multiple commitments outside of family duties, makes the job even harder. In the case of film stars, the blinding spotlight that follows them inevitably shifts to their children as well, even without their consent; and getting accustomed to it is extremely challenging.
Two primary dangers that children of celebrities face, according to studies in the field, are an excessive intrusion in their lives and unwarranted pressure that a child may not be able to live up to their parent’s public success. Not to mention the constant judgement and reprimand, especially reserved for the young ones.
Khan’s children have not been spared from unkind public scrutiny either, but it has mostly been passed over without too much fuss, until now.
The baiters are now out in full force. The brouhaha, whipped up by vigilant conscience-keepers on social media suggesting Khan apologise for Aryan’s alleged involvement with drugs, keeps rising in a never-ending crescendo.
Khan, however, after three decades in public life, knows better than to bite the bait. He has cooperated with the authorities and not criticised them or played victim despite outrage on his behalf from friends and admirers. Instead, he has taken all the criticism on the chin with stoic silence.
Here’s what haters need to know
What does this maelstrom mean for the brand Shah Rukh Khan? Here’s a thought for naysayers who have written off Khan because of films that failed or his advancing years. For those who sniggered and scoffed, saying that the superstar had become a caricature of himself. Or those filling up ink in their pens, ready to write his epitaph.
If anything, this unfortunate turn of events has shown Khan’s resilience and his enduring appeal. Despite his deep personal grief and dismay at his eldest son’s arrest, Khan has not abandoned the responsibility of being a much-loved public figure. On the contrary, he is striking that impossible balance between being a strong, supportive, and concerned father, while also being a model law-abiding, Indian citizen. His conduct as a parent is a fitting example of restraint, a welcome change from the mollycoddling that over-indulgent Indian parents resort to when it comes to their progeny.
As he walked to Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail to meet his son, the sadness that sat on Khan’s shoulders did not go unnoticed by the countless people who watched him on multiple screens. Everyone hung on to that heart-breaking moment when the superstar, on his way out, greeted with folded hands, family members of under-trials awaiting their turn. That moment of Khan’s pure humility, which many would have considered humiliation, reignited and strengthened the admiration of millions of adoring fans. In one fell swoop, the matinee idol’s magic has been revived.
And this time, like the proverbial phoenix, Shah Rukh Khan, may rise from the ashes and soar to even greater heights.
Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior editor, author, and media practitioner who comments extensively across Bollywood, celebrities and popular culture. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)