A recent drug raid on a cruise ship rave has unleashed a voyeuristic media spectacle around the arrest of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s 23-year-old son.
Even though no drugs were found on him, his now 10-day detainment has gripped the the imagination of billions of his father’s fans. Yes, billions.
His fan base is so huge, it even left David Letterman in awe. Shah Rukh Khan has 3.5 billion fans across the world, according to the Golden Globe Awards website. In 2011, a writer in the Los Angeles Times called him “the biggest movie star you’ve never heard of, perhaps the world’s biggest movie star, period.” His movies have hit the top 10 on U.S. charts as well.
Beloved by billions both within and beyond India, Shah Rukh Khan is receiving equal doses of support and flak from Indians, politicians and film critics.
His son, Aryan Khan, who has been denied bail, was detained by police in Mumbai along with several others on Oct. 3 following their arrest on a cruise ship for charges related to possession, consumption and sale of illegal substances.
His lawyers have maintained that he did not take any recreational drugs and that no contraband was found on his person. The Narcotics Control Bureau has acknowledged that authorities did not find illegal drugs in Aryan Khan’s possession. However, the agency claimed that authorities found incriminating evidence on one of his WhatsApp chats that they said pointed to involvement in international drug trafficking.
“One cannot say that just because he or she is found with [only] a small quantity [of drugs], they are entitled to bail,” the Bureau’s solicitor general Anil Singh said in court. “The accused here are high-profile persons who are considered as role models by regular persons.”
According to writer and news producer Nikhil Taneja, the media frenzy over the incident is disproportionate and discriminatory. “I’m not thinking of Aryan Khan, the son of Shah Rukh Khan, but of Aryan Khan the 23-year-old young boy who allegedly has been caught with a minor misdemeanor. I’m thinking about what it says about us as a society and as a country that we want to hold a 23-year-old more accountable than we hold our elected officials,” Taneja told VICE World News.
“What kind of conversations are we encouraging at home between parents and children who make mistakes? Or on the internet for young people whose misdemeanors are amplified in this public way? And at this time, nothing has even been proven.” added Taneja.
Some have branded the media coverage as a conspiracy to defame the film industry, while others have called it a smokescreen to the recent violence in farmer protests in Lakhimpur city where a government official's son was accused of driving a car into a group of protestors, killing a number of them.
Throngs of Shah Rukh Khan fans have been gathering outside his house in Mumbai with placards protesting his son’s arrest. Police have even had to escort them off the premises for security purposes.
On social media, supporters of the father-son duo are showing their solidarity under the viral hashtag #WeStandWithSRK. One fan tweeted, “No matter how dark the night gets, your knights will always be there with you, King.”
Another fan posted on Instagram, “This man has spent his 30 years in Bollywood, earning all the fame, love and money by all his hard work, and now he is going through such a bad phase. All his life he has worked hard to build his reputation in the world. You have to feel for Shah Rukh Khan.”
Opposite the adoring well-wishers, many have taken to social media to rejoice over the celebrity’s current predicament. Memes mocking the star have been peppered across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The hashtags #ArrestAryanKhan and #BollywoodDruggies, have been calling out the privilege celebrities enjoy and, for some of them, their alleged involvement in illegal drugs.
One person tweeted “We have had enough. We want to secure India for our children. No more secularism and victim card plays. Send Aryan to jail now and give a lesson to the youth of India.”
Another Twitter user said sarcastically, “Congratulations Shah Rukh Khan for producing such a son who consumes drugs at rave parties on cruise ships. Your service to society is commendable!”
Social media users have also started calling for the boycott of brands endorsed by the star. They questioned the actor’s status as a role model and a parent. One person tweeted, “An actor who cannot teach his son about the bad effects of drugs – how can he be a brand ambassador?”
The outcry has led educational technology company Byju’s to pause ads featuring Shah Rukh Khan. The move has generated media speculation regarding the celebrity’s brand endorsement career. Shah Rukh Khan is the face of 40 brands, and his brand worth is estimated to be around $50 million.
Some have also accused the media’s preoccupation with the incident as a case of bias against Shah Rukh Khan because of his Muslim faith. According to journalist Ankur Pathak, the media attention on the case is representative of the right-wing Hindu nationalist ruling party’s attempts to influence secular narratives in Bollywood.
“For us to contextualize the film industry vis-à-vis the politics of the country at this point, one has to understand the fact that it still remains one of the more secular institutions unlike others so far. They haven’t become victims to religious dogma just yet, and this makes the establishment very insecure. Add to it the notion that some of the biggest stars in the film industry are three Muslim men.” Pathak told VICE World News.
“For many of us cultural commentators who’ve been witnessing the steady inroads the government seems to be making to destabilize the industry, or basically trying to get the stars to toe the line in a bid to control the narrative – as far as exploiting Bollywood’s cultural capital is concerned, this is not shocking." Pathak added.
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