Ra.One: What’s At stake?
Stardom, brand value, ambition, reputation: Shahrukh’s bet it all on Ra.One. No wonder he has never hardsold a film like this one.
Filmmaker-writer Paromita Vohra, a diehard fan of Shahrukh Khan, is looking ahead at Diwali with excitement as well as anxiety. It’s the day when her favourite star returns to the silver screen after a gap of almost two years, and for the first time in the role of a superhero. Vohra has been in awe of the impulsive, exuberant Shahrukh, in love with his arched brow, deep dimples, perennially outstretched arms and sarcastic half-smile. She wonders how SRK will shed this overwhelmingly romantic image of his and reinvent himself in the futuristic body suit. “Will the superhero have traces of the SRK I love or not?” she wonders.
It’s a question on many people’s minds. Will a sci-fi film get the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, brothers-in-law—SRK’s regular clientele—to the theatres? And will the schoolkid, his teenage sister, her boyfriend—the rest of SRK’s fan base—rather watch Tron? The superstar’s high-profile brush with this new genre comes riding several such questions. Author and cultural commentator Supriya Madangarli points out how the SRK persona has not been so much about aggressive masculinity as about nostalgia, the reason why Ra.One seems a “big risk” to her. Jigna Kotheri, who has researched on two books on the SRK phenomenon, agrees that the actor has never been more daring with his image. “Will we accept him as the new superhero?” she asks.
It is very ordinary reasons, though, that have prompted Shahrukh’s extraordinary venture. SRK is no more the lone King Khan he has been for almost two decades. In his absence from the box-office, the actor has continued to retain the No. 1 slot in the overseas market but his domestic ranking has tumbled (see graphic). The other rival Khans—Aamir and Salman—seem to have figured out their niches, but the love from the audience doesn’t seem as unconditional for SRK as before. “It’s not so much about money as about prestige, about getting the rightful plank back,” says columnist Anil Thakraney. So will his playing to the gallery match up to the masculinity of Salman and the relatively cerebral persona of Aamir? Will his Ra.One set a new benchmark for success after Bodyguard’s record performance?
For the 46-year-old Shahrukh Khan, who has 70-odd films behind him, Ra.One is not just flamboyance and daring. He has managed, built and promoted Brand SRK in a manner that has given it an unmatched recall for over two decades now. He has also redefined stardom for contemporary times. He doesn’t just star in films but also in ads and TV shows. He has been endorsing innumerable products. He sings and dances at private marriage functions and owns the Kolkata Knight Riders IPL cricket team. SRK is not just a performer but also a producer-businessman. How seriously he has taken the second role shows in the unprecedented marketing blitz he has launched (see box). He has spread himself thin—in promo events, hoardings, endorsements and TV shows. “He understands the 360 degrees of the game, is available to the consumer at any touch point,” says Prasoon Joshi. To do so, he is exploring newer ways. He is using gaming as not just a promotional tool but a future revenue-churner. He could well have outsourced the SFX but trained people in the country to get them done indigenously. He is building the film as a franchise much as Hollywood studios do. “It’s like bludgeoning the market into submission,” says image guru Dilip Cherian.
However, the battle now is different. “There has always been an air of Teflon infallibility about him,” says adman Santosh Desai. “Till two years ago, nothing could go wrong, there was an ability to charm effortlessly.” Now he seems to be trying too hard, the jokes seem more dark and bitter than fun. Controversies have been dogging him, be it his statement on inluding Pakistani players in the IPL auction or the ban on My Name Is Khan by the Shiv Sena. He has also been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons—for his clashes with Aamir, Salman and Amitabh Bachchan. His desperation shows, when he opts to do low-end TV shows like Zor Ka Jhatka just so that he can make money. His home productions like Billu or Always Kabhi Kabhi too have come a cropper.
Also, SRK’s stardom has been about entertainment—squarely and relentlessly—and he has been least apologetic about it. “Given the current economic scenario, an SRK film is not at risk commercially. What is at risk is meeting public expectations,” says Pritish Nandy. So will this SRK film entertain? Already, it is eliciting comparisons with Robot and Krrish. There has been unseemly talk about the Tron-like costume of G.One, SRK’s character in the film, and of its poster having been lifted from Batman. “Why do something Hollywood already does a great job of?” asks Thakraney. Cherian too thinks it’s a high-risk genre. “It is an unexplored, uncharted territory in India,” admits director Anubhav Sinha, who has bet five years of his life and career on it.
Ra.One comes at an important juncture in Shahrukh’s life as a star. A product of his times, he has, through all those Rajs and Rahuls, personified the restless spirit of post-liberalisation, ambitious, assertive and yet feelgood India—just as Big B’s Angry Young Man represented the angst-ridden India of the ’70s and ’80s. However, society doesn’t need a brand ambassador for consumption any more because it has already become a way of life in urban India. So where does SRK go from here? And how does he attract newer audiences without alienating loyal fans like Paromita Vohra? He has encashed his brand equity and reinvented himself as an action hero, targeting himself at the younger generation, the 8-18 age group, that may not count him in its first three favourites. He is betting on G.One as a gamechanger that may lead us to a Brand New SRK. More than anything else, with Ra.One, the new epoch in the life of a superstar is at stake.
SRK’s Greatest Hits
Apropos G.One, with the Wind (Oct 24), at one point, films were popular because of their songs and singers. Then came the phase of love stories like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Dil to Pagal Hai etc. Following them were ‘inspirational’ films like Lagaan, Chak de India, Swadesh, Taare Zameen Par. Now it’s the era of technology, with graphics and sfx doing all the talking. Shahrukh’s Ra.One won’t be the first and last to set the silver screen ablaze. It’s nice to see cinema adapting to the changing tastes of its audiences.
Prerna Priyakshi, Bangalore
Hardly surprising that our desi Ra.One has strong echoes of Superman 1 and 2.
Aditya Mookerjee, Belgaum
Some years ago, there was a beautiful ad for Heineken, a tall, visibly cold glass, a bit of the head spilling over the side, with the tag line: “When you make a great beer, you don’t have to make a great fuss.”
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
I wish Outlook had put Steve Jobs on the cover instead. It might have inspired many of us. Alas, it’s the same old Bollywood tripe.
Ayoung Konyak, Kohima
So far only Hollywood was using VFX. Bollywood has now belatedly caught up with the trend. One only hopes storylines don’t get submerged in the sea of special effects.
Shailesh Kumar, Bangalore
Wonder if the younger generation—exposed to the very best in SFX thanks to Hollywood—will be impressed by Shahrukh the superhero. He looks least like one.
Sajit Nambudiripad, Wayanad
Ok, SRK, I give up. I will see the movie. Now kindly spare us the onslaught on TV and the adspace. One can tolerate nausea only so much.
K. Suresh, Bangalore
Movies that come with too much hype usually end up in the can. This too might flop, SRK or no SRK.
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
The comet has a burning tail, signifying its eventual burnout. SRK knows this.
Harsh Rai Puri, Bhopal
Bollywood and superheroes? The last great superhero from India was Shaktimaan! Let’s leave the superheroes to the Americans and the Japs and get enthralled with their DC vs Marvel and the Manga series.
Anoop Hosmath, Mysore
You have wrongly captioned a still from Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna as Kal Ho Na Ho. Careful, Outlook!
A very basic error—KBC is aired on Sony, not Star!
Vivek Malik, New Delhi
We regret the errors—Editor
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Quite unwittingly, the one real hero to emerge in the movie is the SUV, Volkswagen Toureg!
It comes out almost unscathed, hurtling past London sundry cars, ripping through a double-decker bus, with RA.One in hot pursuit.
Yet, like all movie lore machos, in whom a tender heart beats beneath their tough exterior, it simply crumbles when 'rewarded' with a parking ticket by the cop for all its heroics!
So, at least one brand partner should not whinge, if things don't quite work out for the movie.
Ra.deal - What audience got.
OK SRK. I give up. I will see the movie. Now kindly take off your images/slots from TV. I can tolerate nausea only so much.
Movies that generate too much hype usually end up in the dust bin. This one with an unpronouncable name might just flop, SRK or no SRK.
Wow!.. what a waste that is funded by financial institutions... come on ...lets stop this nonsense and lend money to real talent.
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