The extremely loud and endless hubbub around 'Besharam Rang', a track from Shah Rukh Khan’s eagerly anticipated action film, ‘Pathaan’ is so typical of our times. Having set the internet on fire, this song has remained in the news for dubious reasons with everybody and their distant cousin weighing in, eager to criticise or defend. Hardly a classic, composers - Vishal and Sheykhar’s latest offering is not even the catchy earworm it aspires to be. But people can’t stop talking about it, which might just be the point.
In the age of social media, public sentiment is a fragile thing forever running the risk of getting perilously hurt and infected with the pus–filled discharge spewing forth with reckless abandon to hit the unwary in the eye. The song features the gorgeous and glam Deepika Padukone sporting an array of risqué bikinis, sensuously gyrating away to glory while a ripped Shah Rukh Khan looks on embodying a world of coolth the way only he can. While most oohed and aahed over the eye candy, this writer couldn’t help marvelling at all the insecurity on display. While it makes sense that the ante has to be upped given that nobody reacts to the mere sight of even an itsy-bitsy bikini anymore since it has been done to death and porn is just a click away, it boggles the mind that even a beauty of Deepika Padukone’s stature feels the desperate need to establish that marriage has not eroded her hotness quotient. As for SRK, it sucks that following a parade of box-office disasters he has chosen to hit the gym and pump himself full of steroids to give the likes of Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan a run for their money instead of opting for a great script with a decent writer at the helm, which is the actual shot in the arm his career needs.
The trolls looked at things with a different eye though. They harumphed over Deepika’s ‘immodesty’ and questioned her husband, Ranveer Singh’s decision to ‘allow’ her to subject her body to the lewd gaze of the masses. Their counterparts on the other side of the ideological divide insisted that a woman, especially a grown one has the right to make her own decisions without being judged and shamed for it.
As the outrage boiled over, right-wingers leapt into the fray decrying the costume designer’s choice to use the colour saffron for the dimpled darling’s bikini, especially in a song, the title of which may be roughly translated to ‘Shameless Colour’ which was perceived to be an affront to religious beliefs. An apology was demanded from Shak Rukh Khan and the makers or else…Effigies were burnt, lawsuits and violence were threatened while the clowns from the Circus of the Absurd have been unleashed. In response, many voices have decried the attack on freedom of expression and the weaponisation of religious sentiment to stifle artists.
While the jury is still out on whether this is the best or worst of times, we can all certainly agree that this is definitely the stupidest of times. This extreme obsession with Bollywood whether it is manifested in the form of creepy adoration or vicious hate has gotten entirely out of hand with only the stars and the talking head studio types profiting from all this. Controversy sells. The entire entertainment ecosystem is fuelled by generating outrage and endless feuds which is why we get these carefully computed seemingly arbitrary lyrics which double as hashtags and SEO keywords – bloody chum for the ever-present sharks, endlessly circling the waters for a taste of juicy scandal. None of this amounts to much in the grander scheme of things. This entire controversy distilled to its essence amounts to little more than a trending topic, to be forgotten in the blink of an eye or until Ananya Pandey opens her mouth to utter something inane, ensuring that the spotlight is turned, full blast on her.
The more rational amongst us can choose to distance ourselves from the fray and shout ourselves hoarse to draw attention to wars being fought, people living below the poverty line with no way to afford a single meal, the threat of being decimated by the looming threat of a pandemic; nuclear apocalypse; or the grand culmination of global warming and environmental degradation but who cares? People’s attention has been very successfully diverted by raging non–issues pertaining to Deepika Padukone’s strategically displayed side boob, SRK’s chiselled abs, Alia Bhatt’s new baby and Malaika Arora’s reality show. And since, it is painfully obvious that you cannot beat ’em you might as well join ’em and make sure to add your own contribution to an entirely nonsensical discourse by writing at length about a song that is definitely not worth writing home about and trying to convince your editor you deserve a bigger fee so that you can find an affordable stylist to help you look like Janhvi Kapoor for Karan Johar’s glitzy entirely newsworthy New Year’s bash that you haven’t yet been invited to.
(Disclaimer: Anuja Chandramouli is an author of mythology and historical fiction. Views expressed are personal.)