Fan Power Vs Mob Power: Lesson From The Crazy Response To Pathaan

The resounding reception to Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Pathaan’, at the superficial level, is a tight slap on the face of the boycott gang and champions of the cancel culture. The slap may be well deserved but it surely is no permanent cure for the spiteful trend that has settled in. There’s a big lesson from the success of the film though: fan power is an effective antidote to vandal power. With governments indifferent to the nuisance of the boycott groups, actors have to subtly mobilise their fan bases to get even.

As in the case of Shah Rukh, his fans didn’t need to be in confrontation mode and resort to violence, they just had to express effusive love for him and make a public show of it. They blunted social media attacks on the actor and gave the impression of working in an organised way. Down South, strong fan bases of stars are an effective deterrent against the hate crowd. The Hindi film industry needed to have something similar. The Shah Rukh fan clubs have shown the way. It has been of help that the man himself has conducted himself with dignity even during the worst possible personal crisis and stayed away from controversies.

The good thing about fans is they transcend all divides – class, community, gender, caste, age group and politics. A Shah Rukh fan can be from anywhere, even the groups sending out boycott calls. As is evident now, not many among the latter were aware of what they were protesting against. The video footage of a young man who had entered a theatre to stop the screening of the movie and later promised to watch it again to support it tells the story. The Hindu-Muslim separation does not work for a fan of Salman Khan, Shah Rukh, Amir Khan or Hrithik Roshan. He/she simply loves the star and would go to any extent to defend him. If the groups issuing the boycott threat thought they could neutralise this, they have been proven wrong.

The wider angle to the boycott mob’s confidence to make threats involves politics. It is understood where it comes from. They are certain that their actions would invite no admonishment since the government is in alignment with their line of thinking. They have not received any so far. In fact, many BJP leaders had been vocal in their support of them till Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a mild disapproval of the film boycott trend recently. Common sense says that the BJP gains nothing from it. It only invites the ire of people who see no rhyme or reason in such mindless protests. Why get into a confrontation with the fan base of actors when it’s not politically productive at all? Don’t be surprised if the BJP carefully distances itself from the boycott mob in future.

At some point, the confrontation between the fans and the boycott crowd is likely to get sharper. Because it is not simply a matter of some groups disliking an actor or the theme of a movie, it’s a matter of people’s right to watch a film. In a free country nobody, not even the government, should be curtailing that right. The boycott mob has gone too far in imposing itself on others. The tremendous public approval of Pathaan shows that the pushback has begun. People would no more be tolerant to the senseless boycott calls and would make their own free choice.

The success of Pathaan must be read in the right context. It is a good sign for our democracy, which appears to have been hijacked by mobs hiding behind ideology to promote agendas of their own. The response to the film sends out the message that bullying would not be tolerated anymore. Also, the malicious crowd has no actual support among the masses. It’s people’s power in action. This is how a democracy is supposed to be, isn’t it?

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