Giving Shah Rukh Khan the benefit of doubt

I started my day on Thursday morning in a high rage over the behaviour of Shah Rukh Khan, top film star and owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). I am not a cricket fan and feel the Indian Premier League (IPL) is simply a waste of precious time and money, so I never tune in to the games. I, therefore, thought KKR had lost the match the previous night and Shah Rukh might have gone on a rampage at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay in a fit of rage against his players.

But why he should celebrate a victory with a brawl, I just did not understand. I put that down to sheer arrogance arising out of not just his star status but also his proximity to the ruling dispensation. After all, the Maharashtra government had stretched itself to the limits a couple of years ago to ensure that his film My Name Is Khan had a smooth running against the Shiv Sena’s threats of disrupting its screening. The union external affairs minister had personally expressed his annoyance to US authorities when Shah Rukh was detained at an airport in the US (although there are many other film stars, including Kamal Haasan, who were meted out similar treatment in past years who the Indian government did not think were worth a protest). All that comes from his proximity to the Nehru-Gandhis, I thought, and he thinks he can get away with anything just because of that political clout.

By evening, though, talking to friends and sources in the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), I quite changed my mind and am prepared to give Shah Rukh the benefit of doubt. For, as some unimpeachable sources have told me, Shah Rukh’s refusal to apologise for the incident is not out of arrogance but because he felt genuinely aggrieved and he may be right when he claims that he was provoked into the brawl (though I still believe he could have walked away from the situation with a lot more dignity intact).

What the MCA officials will not state on the record is the fact that there is a conflict of interest in this regard. The complainant is a police officer, a member of the MCA with tremndous sway over the politicians on the body, who, many eye witnesses confirm, is the one who started the brawl by manhandling Shah Rukh Khan. He allowed the natural outrage to play out and Shah Rukh thus probably played into his hands.

I know from past experience that Shahrukh is so full of his star status that he just cannot bear to be treated like a common citizen. More than a decade ago, when diamond merchant Bharat Shah, a film financier of those times, was picked up by the cops for allegedly fronting for the underworld, one of the film stars brought in for questioning – apart from Salman Khan – was Shah Rukh Khan. A friend of a friend of his called me a couple of days later to say that Shah Rukh was outraged and close to becoming a nervous wreck because an ordinary havaldar had been manhandling him during the questioning. I was told the constable would slap Shah Rukh on his chest, saying, “Bahut kadak hai!’’ and then – this I found difficult to believe even then — run his hand up his legs with some similar comment but without quite actually assaulting the star. Nevertheless that was enough to violate the man’s dignity and he wanted the cops called off.

When I called the then police commissioner to confirm that indeed this kind of `fourth’ degree treatment was being meted out to the reigning film star of the time, I was flatly told, “Don’t interfere. It is none of your business.’’

But later the cops softened enough to tell me that since they could not physically assault a man of Shah Rukh’s star status their questioning methods focused on breaking down his emotional dignity. They had earlier successfully broken down Sanjay Dutt in similar fashion – by simply threatening to have his sisters “raped’’ if he did not tell them the truth (about possession of a submachine gun in a notified area during the 1992-93 riots) – a fact that was confirmed to me by his father Sunil Dutt, who was even then a Member of Parliament from the ruling party (Congress) that automatically insulated Sanjay from use any kind of third degree treatment by the cops. Sanjay just gave in within a few minutes while Salman, despite five hours of tough questioning by the cops on his own alleged involvement with the uderworld, did not lose his cool even once and did not turn a single hair. The cops got nothing out of this particular Khan. Shah Rukh proved to be somewhere in between and this cop who allegedly first manhandled him at Wankhede Stadium perhaps knew of this chink in his armour and allowed his need for vengeance to take over his good sense.

Now why should a cop hold a grudge against Shah Rukh Khan? An esteemed colleague of mine who covers the beat and is a fount of information on cops and robbers which no one can challenge at the best of times, explained the motives to me – and his story is very plausible.

According to him, this cop has a son who is very interested in cricket and the father wanted his son to play for the IPL. But even his position as a member of the MCA could not get his son into any team – he had first tried with the Rajasthan Royals (and Lalit Modi had to pay the price with the leak of a lot of information against him to the media and to Sharad Pawar by this cop) and then with the Mumbai Indians. When even MI turned him down in one of the previous seasons, this cop tried a sleight of hand with the Ambanis but at the most could only succeed in demolishing a private lift that had been specially built for the Ambanis’ rather bulky son who is unable to climb stairs. The lift opened out right into the Ambanis’ box but the cop had it declared illegal and demolished immediately.

This year, allegedly, he tried his luck with KKR but Shah Rukh’s reasons for turning down the boy were the same as that of RR and MI: the boy, I am told, weighs nearly 200 kilos and is a liability on all cricket fields, both in terms of victories and health – all officials feared that the heat and dust of the games might prove too much for the boy’s health and, apart from his inability to run despite playing some club cricket, lead to his collapse on the grounds.

Having nothing against Shah Rukh to hurt his interests, I believe the cop acted on his psychology to get the desired result. But this is something that the MCA officials will not put on the record – it is worth noting that they decided to dispense with a committee to probe the incident for someone then might have been compelled to speak the truth.

Moreover, Shah Rukh’s clear identification with the Congress camp, I am told, is being used by some officials to bring him down a peg or two to bring home to him that he is as much of an ordinary citizen as the rest of us. Which is okay so far as the principle goes but I disagree with the dishonesty of the intentions and their motives.

Knowing what I do now, I can understand why Shah Rukh will not apologise and, in a way, I believe he is right to challenge the unfairness of it all. However, if the MCA officials do not reign in this rogue cop, I am afraid more than one owner might be compelled to withdraw and their own brand – the IPL, already wracked with more than just this controversy – will be the ultimate loser.

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