Main Hoon Na – When so much else was possible


07/06/2004 – By Viswam Sundar


Take Shahrukh Khan’s phenomenal genius. Add it to Farah Khan’s unbelievable talent. Stir in the grace and presence of the stylish Sushmita. Expressive and versatile, these three alone possess years of experience in the magic of film making, both behind and in front of the camera. And then there’s the wealth and influence at their command, backed by the increasing availability of the most modern technology in Bollywood. Multiply all this by the richness of India’s emotional culture and the people’s love of movies and movie stars, and the potential is immeasurable, the possibilities endless.


And yet, all they could come up with was “Main Hoon Na”.


I think it is a measure of India’s ultimate tragedy that people as talented as these choose to waste themselves on making absolutely mindless movies such as MHN. It is also a pity that the rest of the country chooses to spend its time watching them. It should not surprise me - after all, if ‘Munnabhai” can win the best picture award, then “Main Hoon Na” is equally, if not more, stupid and deserves its viewers as much as its viewers deserve it.


People say Shahrukh rescues the film; he redeems it like he redeemed “Kal Ho No Ho” and countless others, they say. To me, it seems the other way around. The film’s absolute senselessness makes his talent look pathetic and tragic. It’s like watching with bated breath while Picasso paints - a road sign. When so much else is possible.


There is something that needs to be said about SRK. There are some people in the world so brilliant that they can lift even the most banal to the heights of greatness. And there are some people so mediocre that they can drag even genius to the depths of ordinariness. But there are some who have greatness within their grasp but just enjoy wearing the millstone of mediocrity around their necks and going down with the rest of us.


Don’t you wonder sometimes? Wouldn’t these educated and seemingly intelligent, articulate actors and actresses tell the directors that it is just not possible for normal human beings to decimate twenty thugs with one punch or fly backwards through the air to land on the second floor railing with absolute precision? Why should it be that our action needs to be impossible, our comedies brainless, our stories totally unreal and illogical? Why do we allow the MHNs and KHNH to become super hits? Why do we call movies like Dev and Ardha Satya ‘intellectual’ movies that are meant for a ‘serious’ audience? As though the suspension of intelligence is a virtue in itself.


The silver screen, be it small on big, is perhaps the most powerful medium of mass communication ever invented and has the force to change the lives of millions, even the course of a nation’s destiny. Nothing has ever had the potential to change so much. And stars are like their medium themselves. These are people who are worshipped and revered all over their country, whose pictures are hung up and prayed to in remote villages, whose every word is hung on to, whose face and voice can launch a million trends. Can you imagine the power and influence that these people hold in their hands?


And yet, what is it that they are launching? What is the message that they send? That it is ‘cool’ to use words like ‘Wassup’ and ‘Say what’ and ‘Chill it? In one movie, one hero prefers baseball, it seems, while the other preferred basketball. In one serial, one of the heroes has even coined a combo ‘Chillax’. That is the limit of their message. Isn’t it ironic that despite living in the US, we have not picked up on American slang, but our brethren in India have?


The US has so much that we can pick up, but like the tragedy of movies like Main Hoon No, we pick up only the language and the clothes and the hairdo. Here is a country that became the world’s most powerful in a matter of just 200 years when countries such as ours have floundered along for five thousand years, as we proudly like to claim. This country is made up of people who automatically convert a failed traffic light into an all-way stop. That is the discipline that made America what it is today and all we wont to copy from them are hip-hop jeans and bubble gum.


The most common refrain you can hear about this is ‘But that’s what the public wants!” That’s like a doctor at a detoxification clinic saying ‘But that’s what the addict wants!” That is the nature of opium and brainlessness is the opium of the film-going mosses. The more you provide it, the more they want it. And yet, the very people who will be enraged by the thought of a doctor saying that will be equally enraged by anybody who says that movies can be a powerful detoxifier of society, an antidote to many a poison, even a wonderful booster.


Is it not possible to laugh by making movies like Chupke Chupke or Khatta Meetha? Didn’t those movies succeed? Why do we need to stretch even ridiculousness to its limit? Does fun always hove to be mindless?


I have no doubt that all actors and actresses like Shahrukh Khan do a lot of good in the private lives, very sincerely and very quietly. But their private lives are just that - private. Their messages are unseen, unheard, unknown except by their beneficiaries, their impact lost in their own anonymity. They are public icons and their messages have to be public too.


Before independence, it was the politicians of the time who brought ordinary people into the streets to fight the British. That is no longer possible, for today’s politicians neither care nor con. Given the depth of public cynicism and disillusionment, it is no surprise that the mantle for public leadership has fallen on its icons. Nothing less than the brightness of its stars can reach through the pessimism and disenchantment of the common man. They have the power to change the system and the wherewithal to beat it. I hope the current trend of actors joining politics is just the dawn of that realization.


I have nothing against Shahrukh Khan, the man, but to me, Shahrukh Khan, master actor, super hero, artiste nonpareil, is also a colossal waste.