Monday, January 30, 2012

How (Not) To Do Crisis Management in Four Simple Lessons

As soon as the news of what would soon be tagged “Slapgate” broke this morning, the Bollywood-tinged corners of the Internet exploded in a mass of journalistic speculation, full-on hate, passive-aggressive hate, and jokes (both snarky and mean-spirited).

The accepted facts, as confirmed by both Shirish Kunder and Sanjay Dutt, are as follows: 1) Shirish Kunder was at Sanjay Dutt’s Agneepath success party; 2) Shahrukh arrived post-Filmfare Awards at Sanjay Dutt’s Agneepath party; 3) Shahrukh Khan gave Shirish a smack; and 4) Sanjay Dutt separated them.

Shahrukh Khan has denied this has happened.

Now, leaving aside the actual slapping here is what I think we can take away from the reaction to this incident.

LESSON ONE: People really hate Shirish Kunder. A lot.

I’m sure Shirish would be the first guy to admit that he’s not Mr. Congeniality but the level of vitriol that both the media and a large number of Bollywood fans have for him is incredible. He’s a sharp-witted, straight-talking guy who is prone to put his foot in his mouth in the manner of your Ram Gopal Varma’s. In an industry where unmitigated praise is the preferred form of communication, I can see how he might earn himself some hate for that from industry folks. (I certainly have been on the receiving end for giving honest opinions.) That doesn’t explain the media, though.

(Did he give a Vivek Oberoi style press conference about what a douche Shahrukh Khan is that I missed?)

I admit I have a lot of respect for Shirish. He’s a very talented editor and came up in the industry through hard work. Jaan-e-Mann might have flopped but it has become something of a cult classic in the years since. And I’m happy enough to admit that I saw Tees Maar Khan twice in the theater on opening weekend because I enjoyed it that much.

AND two actors I hold in high esteem (Alexx O’Nell and Pitobash) are part of his upcoming Joker. When I talked with Alexx ages ago for Outsider in Bollywood, he said Shirish was very introverted with a analytical mind. You all probably have friends like that - a little socially stupid, prone to shooting their mouths off, but not bad people. Can you imagine what would happen if your big mouth friend had a larger platform? Might he or she not make a mess like this?

LESSON TWO: The Shahrukh Khan Media Machine is unstoppable.

When the story first broke this morning, I was all set to like Shahrukh Khan again. Not because he slapped (or didn’t slap) Shirish but because it was a crack in the facade. For months now, we’ve been treated to the glib Shahrukh Khan show: “Ra.One was a success! Don 2 was a success! Awards! Awards! Awards! Awards are so important!” Then came the Filmfare Awards and no award for Shahrukh, not even the Critics Choice. And he must have been feeling the sting of having Agneepath break his record so soon after he set it - and with seemingly less effort.

Now, I’ll believe that this kind of Awards-Box Office-Filmi Show means very little to a guy like Salman Khan beyond making his producers and distributor friends happy.

But I do not for a second believe that it means nothing to Shahrukh. He talks about both things way too much. It’s like Sonam Kapoor and her food obsession. She can claim all she wants that she’s well fed but her constant talk about ice cream says differently.

Failure hurts. Not meeting your own expectations hurts. Being the butt of jokes hurts.

What I liked (initially) about this story was finally seeing a glimpse from Shahrukh that maybe the picture wasn’t as rosy as he had been shoving down our throats. His pride was hurting and in a real way. I can appreciate that.

And then the Media Machine took over.

Ideally, Shahrukh should have called up Farah and tried to work out some sort of PR deal - he apologizes; Shirish apologizes; they hug it out and go back to feuding in private.

Instead he decided to deny that it happened while the press went into overtime with things that could only have come from the SRK camp, blaming Shirish for getting smacked.

That’s right, according to certain parts of the media, it’s Shirish’s fault that he got smacked. Did Shirish purposely put his face right where Shahrukh was smacking?

Initial reports had Shahrukh upset at Shirish making fun of his films - later reports had Shirish doing everything from groping random party goers to sending filthy SMS messages to Sanjay Dutt’s wife to accosting Shahrukh in the bathroom. So, Shahrukh attacked Shirish not because he was butthurt over his failure of a 2011 being pointed but because he was either a) PROTECTING WOMEN FOLK or b) DEFENDING HIMSELF FROM SCARY SHIRISH DESPITE THE FACT THAT SRK HAS THREE BODYGUARDS HIRED FOR THAT PURPOSE AND SHIRISH IS SCRAWNY.

That is some major turd polishing.

LESSON THREE: Fans be whack, yo.

I’m going to get in trouble for this (maybe my sympathy for Shirish lies in our similar propensity for putting our feet in our mouth) but super-duper Shahrukh Khan fans are crazy. The same folk who would have me believe that Shahrukh Khan was just defending some ladies at the party were calling me a bitch and slut today on twitter for merely expressing the opinion that perhaps grown men shouldn't go around hitting each other as a way of conflict resolution. Do you see the irony?

Now, Shahrukh hasn’t admitted that he hit anybody but I’m going to make a blanket statement that people shouldn’t go around hitting each other as a way of conflict resolution. It was wrong when Saif Ali Khan thrashed that journalist and it was wrong all those times Ameesha Patel’s brother Ashmit got into fights (with Upen Patel, Sikander Kher, etc.) and always. Petty violence like this is just immature and thuggish and nothing to be celebrated.

What makes this incident any different from Ashmit Patel thrashing Sikander Kher outside a nightclub?

Let me figure it out. Oh, right... Shahrukh did it. Therefore it’s right. Therefore anybody speaking against it is wrong. Therefore Shirish must have done something really terrible to earn it.

Did I put my finger on it?

At the end of the day, the only thing this incident says to me is that Shahrukh has really lost the plot if he can’t handle one loudmouth director without snapping into violence. To steal from Danny - A real King doesn’t bother to listen to the court jester... I guess that means the King is now Badshaah in name only. Long live the Court Jester.


Did Shirish say something stupid at Sanjay Dutt’s party? I’m going to say probably, yes. Shirish Kunder says stupid stuff, everybody knows that.

BUT of the two of the them, Shahrukh is supposed to be the big star. Would anybody have cared if Ashmit Patel gave Shirish a tight slap? Probably not.

So, who is the real loser here? Is it Shirish Kunder for shooting his mouth off or Shahrukh Khan for letting him get under his skin?

Do you know what I did to those idiots who were calling me a slut earlier today? I didn’t slap them; I ignored them.

Our final lesson is that there is only one place Shahrukh is king of now and that is the press because let me share with you something I realized this afternoon: The day after the Filmfare Awards where Shahrukh didn’t win a thing, nobody is talking about Vidya Balan or Ranbir Kapoor or Zoya Akhtar.

Everybody is talking about Shahrukh Khan.


Rum said...

This is a fabulous piece, and I'm definitely with you on seeing a different side to SRK. But I was very shocked at the amount of nonsense and vitriol aimed at Shirish, and how RIGHT SRK was. But hopefully the media blockout of the we-can't-criticize-SRK vein might just stop and report that violence totally wasn't necessary here.

But i do have a bad feeling of minor HUZZAH with SRK getting a comeuppance!

Sal said...

I totally agree with you about how inappropriate it was for Shahrukh to hit someone at a party. The bit about how they could have handled the PR on the wholle fight is also keen analysis. But it's very hard for me to feel any sympathy for someone who used a homophobic slur on a public forum as a response to being hit. That's never defensible, even from one's socially awkward friend. That's always gross.

Filmi Girl said...

@Rum Thanks! :) Glad you enjoyed!

@Sal Yeah, that was really uncalled for from Shirish. Would love to see him apologize for that one... He's no saint for sure.

maxqnz said...

"Did Shirish purposely put his face right where Shahrukh was smacking?" I couldn't have said it better myself :)

But I really think you nailed with "fans be whack, yo" - it could be viewed as a testament to the depth and breadth of the creative imagination that his worshippers have come up with so many different variations on the "it's all Sirish's fault, SRK can do no wrong". One thing is for sure, if it had happened the other round, Sirish would, quite literally, be a dead man by now.

Beth said...

Nice analysis! I kinda think that if SRK had been most any other big male star slapping Shirish (or any other comparable figure), fans would twist it to be NOT MY HERO'S FAULT NO WAAAAY NO DAY (e.g. Salman has actually caused someone's death but is still beloved), but I am so with you on the fans be whack. I'm really, really sorry to hear that you got called mean and irrelevant things over this. I don't know why it's so hard for people just to disagree, state a bit of an argument (in the sense of laying out thoughts and context and analysis) politely and then moving the F on.

My word verification term is "undesh." HOW FITTING!

Moimeme said...

Filmi Girl, thank you so very, very much for this post. It is the only sane voice I have encountered on the net today.

What does it matter whether Shirish is a jerk or a saint? He's a human being, and so deserves not to be hit for comments, no matter how rude.

I haven't even read any media reports since this morning, and now, with your warning about the SRK spin machine in action, I don't want to read any.

And thanks for calling out the SRK fans. I have been in utter shock since the morning, as I read the reactions of people I used to think rational and balanced, as they rush to SRK's defense -- especially because most of the defense centers on "Shirish is a jerk, anyway."

@Beth -- here's a shining example of the different ways media and fans react to Salman and SRK. No, Salman has not "actually caused" someone's death. He was in a car which accidentally caused someone's death. It is yet to be established whether he was driving or not. Contradictory testimony has been given since the time of the accident till now, both in multiple police reports (taken over several days after the accident) and in court. Let us wait for the final verdict before passing judgment. But I must thank you for saying he "caused someone's death" rather than that he is a killer or a murderer, as others do.

This whole incident has confirmed for me once again that people in general have their minds made up before they ever read any news story, which depresses me no end.

shailin said...

This is not even an analysis srk was hosting filmfare he knew he was not winning this year, he still did his job..Everyone know what a jerk shirish is..Also I know he is not going to hit someone and if he does he wont deny it..Talking about and Don2 they both crossed 110 crores at Indian box india declared both of them as hits..only reason they were not blockbuster was that they were high budget movies..srk has 16 filmfare award trophies and 8 of them are best actor u really think he will hit someone because he didn't win one year..also he wud host it with someone who was a possible candidate to win the best actor..also u r the only person i know who liked tees maar khan..please get your facts right before you write about a man who has world recognization..your eligibility to write can be known from the fact that you deleted all the negative comments against you and you expect people to share your point of view..who will share it if you don't share theirs..I know my comment wud probably get deleted as well..but i hope whoever reads it understand..

Filmi Girl said...

your eligibility to write can be known from the fact that you deleted all the negative comments against you and you expect people to share your point of view

@Shaillin HA HA HA! Actually, yours is the FIRST negative comment I received on this piece. And you know what they say about assumptions...

shailin said...

I intentionally said that so that u don't delete my comments..and what you are doing is complete assumption and non fact..and I am the man of facts..neither number lies..nor the history..

onish said...

Agree wth u Shalin, srk must hav already known that he is not going to win..Shirish is a big jerk..and u miss filmy u r taking shirish side bcos u r like him. Everything has a limit..shirish had already crossed his by tweeting negative abt Ra1 which was WRONG..Srk ofcourse is NO god..he's a human..frm Delhi..kunder made him cross his limits and the result is in front of happens everyday everywhere bt Intellactuals like u r more cocerned abt this bcos It's SRK

Filmi Girl said...

Oh for the love of God... I spoke too soon. That's it. Any further Trolling comments will be deleted.

-The Management.

Bastard Keith said...

Let me cover my bases here:

1. Shirish Kunder didn't deserve a slap no matter what he did or didn't say. Physical violence is pointless and morally wrong.

2. If Shirish Kunder had been, as many have reported, dogging SRK around the party, following him and continually mocking him to the point of harrassment, he STILL didn't deserve a slap. But he couldn't have been surprised to get it.

3. Yes, Ra.One undershot at the box office (while still making over 200 crore worldwide). Don 2 did not. It was a bona fide hit, making more money that Ra.One on half the budget, and that again in the aftermath of the mixed feelings brought on by Ra.One. If anything, Shahrukh OUGHT to be puffing out his chest about the success of Don 2. That, following a backlash, was what we call a comeback. Still, it has to get exhausting at some point hearing about how it's never good enough. I can't begin to imagine what it's like in the head of a guy whose image has been so defined by "being number one." That has to DO something to you.

4. Shirish Kunder is an odd case of a super-talented, visionary auteur who keeps getting the chance to do things his way. And losing people money. Frankly, as a massive fan, I hope he does it forever. His Twitter account is a mixture of savagely funny and unbearably smug; Ram Gopal Varma is a good comparison. Both are hard-core capitalist idealogues and shit-stirrers.

5. The publicity follow-through has been a massive balls-up on every level, from SRK's denial to Shirish's homophobic slur to the fanboys' manic defensiveness (as an SRK fan, it's like when I hear idiots defending Occupy; STOP SOUNDING DUMB ABOUT SOMETHING I LOVE).

Put a guy with a big mouth next to a guy with a chip on his shoulder, and this is one of those inevitable outcomes. Is this a couch-jump moment for SRK? Hard to say. But the aftermath was a golden opportunity for both participants to act like grown-ups, and they both fucked it up in high style.

Basically, no sir, I don't like it. Any of it.

Filmi Girl said...

But the aftermath was a golden opportunity for both participants to act like grown-ups, and they both fucked it up in high style.

Very true words, my friend.

Nobody comes off looking good here - not Shirish, not Shahrukh, not the media, and certainly not the SRK mega-fans who have been harassing everybody.

They are honestly the only trolls I've gotten outside of the occasional ALL MUSLIMS ARE EVIL wackadoos that pop up when I write anything positive about Ali Zafar.

Sal said...

FG, keep doing your thing and pay no attention to the trolls. I often disagree with you (and my thoughts on this whole situation are probably quite different from yours), but that's the great bit about your blog. You're one of the very few people writing intelligently and articulately (and divisively) about the crazy, complex, mad world of modern-day Bollywood.
To the crazies out there - by trolling people who are not on your side, you're making your own idol look bad in a way. It's not very different from the types who post "Trashwhoreya" on every Ash video because they're rabid Salman fans. Get a grip, people. These dudes are multimillionaires - an opinion piece on a blog, inoffensively and thoughtfully written, is not going to make a smidgen of difference to their lives,

June ♥ JA said...

Very well written. I don't get the whole SRK adoration thing anyway. I'm a JA fan. He's the only Bollywood celeb I follow. I totally ignore the rest and the JA trolls.

This was an interesting piece for me to read for a change of pace. I'll be reading your blog in the future!


Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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