Joined: 25 February 2009
At the recent India Today Conclave, among such enormous crowd-pullers as Sarah Palin and Narendra Modi, there was no question that SRK was still the headliner. With extreme seriousness, he read a lucid speech largely about the business end of Bollywood. No sentimental anecdotes, no stories about his mother or his love for home-cooking—a tune so familiar in celebrity speech that after a while you only see lips moving.
What was intriguing was what came later—a high voltage act of a man who knows that no one really expects him to say anything intelligent, that he would be congratulated for developing a thought. Through the speech and the Q&A session, he calibrated his needle-sharp wit.
He began ironic and self-referential but these gags cracked not a smile out of the well-heeled gathering. When he casually tossed out a few in-law jokes he got the easy guffaws. The weighing of the crowd's expectations was visibly fine-tuned down to what level of vocabulary a Bollywood actor is expected to use without drawing attention to himself as a 'serious' person.
So when SRK used the word 'frisky' to describe himself, a split second later he followed it up with an ingnue's disclaimer—half sly, half-sexy. 'Frisky? Is that the right word?' Marilyn Monroe would have been so proud.
No one expects truth-telling in question-answer sessions of conferences—whether big or small. We all know it is a ritual. But what if someone refuses to play along? For every time that SRK said something banal, such as his children making him happy, there were also plenty of hair-pricking moments when he said almost talking to himself—such as his mood swings making the whole family unhappy. Not a reaction from the crowd. How do you know when you are a superstar? When you tell the truth and people only hear lullabies.
Of course the clown is sad, that is how the story goes. But the session ended with a heart-stopping moment. It was as if the naked emperor—knowing his citizens are all sycophants—announced he has no clothes, he will have no clothes, and he is turning a nudist, damn you.
The final question. A female journalist asked, "We are all dying to know. Is there still a six-pack under your shirt?" SRK responded to this familiarity with a practiced revelation of his flat, brown stomach. "This interview can continue if you like. Shall I show the rest, to show I am a Muslim?".
Who does SRK have more contempt for? Himself or the people who love a cipher? He's never going to tell. As the session broke for tea, the crowd murmured in satisfaction of having been entertained, pigeons convinced the cat had danced for them.
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