The Silent Movie Star

I have written on this blog in the past about my concern with regards the negativity on Twitter*, and last month, it claimed a victim in actor Shah Rukh Khan who went off Twitter indefinitely. A piece I wrote about this aspect of social media, especially connected with Bollywood, was carried by the Mumbai Mirror newspaper today. Here’s the entire, unedited piece:

shahrukh-khan-dabboo-ratnanis-2013-calendar

One of the reasons I admired this young television actor Shah Rukh Khan, even before I knew him personally, even before he would be called ‘the biggest star in the world’, was his refreshing candor in interviews. It wasn’t just about humorously taking on rivals and loving himself with childlike frankness – he could equally take potshots at himself publicly. He was articulate, he made sense – but didn’t he know, I always wondered, celebrities shouldn’t say such things!

Fans don’t need it. Having fallen in love with a carefully scripted screen character, they are happier to not break the fantasy. Moreover, distant stars, when they come too near can often be revealed to be as dim as lamppost lights. And it is not their fault. Beyond a genetically-gifted physicality and acting talent, why would we expect them to not be flawed and human like the rest of us? Why would we demand from them an informed point of view on politics, society, culture and life? Shah Rukh Khan, it turned out, did have one and he shared it freely.

Celebrities learn quickly that it’s safer to stay with the lowest common denominator of public opinion – to talk in platitudes against corruption, for women empowerment and praise colleagues, especially dead ones. But something inexplicable within Shah Rukh always rebelled against playing the role of a Barbie-doll celebrity. He shared the truth about the insomnia he sometimes faced and his terror of losing fame. He admitted his imperfections and lampooned his own flops. Against all marketing logic, it worked in his favor.

People began praising him for being a canny publicist, but he was also a publicist’s nightmare because he didn’t stick to any pre-written script. A few months ago, his company’s digital marketing person lamented to me that he could be so much bigger on social media if he just followed some basic ground rules. But he just never listened, she complained.

In the honeymoon days of Twitter, many stars entered this Twitter heaven with Karan Johar as Saint Peter welcoming them aboard. Stars began chattily calling their fans ‘tweeple’ and using cool acronyms like LOL and ROFL. This new platform promised stars not only direct access to their fans but also a way to comment and clarify without being misquoted. For younger stars, it could become a great way to create an identity and build a reliable, quantifiable fan base for that all-important Friday.

But with it came an unexpected dark side. One actress, after a terrible home production, was shocked off Twitter upon receiving an unprecedented barrage of lewd, personal hate tweets. Stars, who had been used to being psychologically protected by their coterie, began to directly face the brutal wrath of the teenaged boys and fanatic groups. Then came the humorists – the stand-up comics who found a career in being nasty to the celebrity target of the day. One small typo, such as the unfortunate misspelling of the final alphabet of ‘my girl gang’ by a young actor last year, could mean weeks of viral embarrassment.

With thicker skin and professional support, stars reworked their online strategy.

Many stayed off Twitter till a film release drew near, a few hired professionals to tweet on their behalf. Bollywood on Twitter slowly began to get organized around powerful fan groups – with nicknames like the Shahid Shanatics, the Akkians, the Salman Khan FC – some of whom became a nightmare for film critics and haters.

Haters, known as Trolls in Twitterverse, hit out at every star, including Shah Rukh. Some of it is genuine opinion, some of it fuelled by vested interests. For someone familiar with Twitter, it’s easy to see from a timeline (a Twitter word which simply means the history of their tweets) if accounts had been created for the sole purpose of criticizing one person. Such accounts had almost no followers and did not tweet about anything else day after day. This was all part of the new social media battlefield and every major star today takes it in their stride.

But gradually, something even more dangerous had begun evolving. Journalists who could not get access to Shah Rukh would juxtapose a few personal tweets about his family or religion, fill in their own assumptions in between, and put it out as an original interview. Others would launch online attacks on the basis of a fragment of a sentence. Fanatic Twitter gangs, from all ends of the religious spectrum, would use his words to attack him… and worse, each other. Even political leaders began using his words to fire salvos against each other’s countries. Everyone, it seemed, had begun using the glitter of his stardust to shine their cause.

On January 9, Shah Rukh posted one final tweet to his 3,624,395 followers – almost equivalent to the population of Singapore: “Sad, I read so much judgments, jingoism, religious intolerance on the net & I used to think this platform will change narrow-mindedness, but no!” (sic) It was retweeted 2255 times and continues to be retweeted every day even today. A month later, his fans, desperate to have him back, trended the hashtag topic #WeLoveSRK at a worldwide level for 24 hours on Valentine’s Day. But he has not tweeted since.

It is a wilder world today than it was when the outspoken TV actor with a dimpled smile who spoke at 2x speed made his debut. And one in which, I personally, would not grouse Shah Rukh Khan his decision to hold his peace for now. Whether he returns or not remains to be seen, but if he doesn’t, I would feel saddened because the media would become a little more manicured and the online world would become a little more plastic in his absence.

TIMELINE: Some of my favourite tweets from the @iamsrk account:

  1. On a beach alone. Stars,big brave & brite inspite of the dark. If it wasn’t for the night v wouldn’t see them so strong. That’s how v should be

    the now silent @iamsrk page

  2. Most of the time ppl dont want to get to know u, instead they want to tell u, who they think u are. Let them maintain their fictions about u
  3. Still am not used to the fact that when I meet new ppl I am a bit awkward, while they meet me with a familiarity of years…its sweet.
  4. Watching Bambi on tv. Is it ok for a grown up man to feel moved watching cartoons or should I switch to Expendables & be all grown up macho
  5. Comparisons, as unavoidable as they are, make u one of many. It leads towards fear of freedom. Only thing to do in numbers is to laugh together
  6. My son. Have a face not just arms. Be a name not a number. Be a human beıng not just human resource. Worry not who u could be… just be who u are.
  7. Just read this… Superstars live on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Superstar, do u know who ur real friends are?
  8. The illusion that you could hold to yourself the things you most want & lose the things you least wanted to keep is the struggle of lıfe…
  9. You cannot live hollow within urself & fill ur hollowness with empty things, empty promises, conveniences and fear of confrontations…
  10. (His final tweet on January 9) Sad, I read so much judgements, jingoism, religious intolerance on the net & I used to think this platform will change narrowmindedness, but no!

Update: Since the article has come out, I have been overwhelmed at the emotional response from people around the world. Some fans have taken it upon themselves to translate it into various languages. Here are the links for the German translation, Russian translation, French and the Arabic Translation.

Moved by the hundreds of touching messages, I compiled and emailed them to Shah Rukh to remind him of the heartwarming support he still has on Twitter. Click HERE to download the compilation. 

*Read Also: Angry Birds – The Addictive Nastiness of Twitter

Title photo by Dabboo Ratnani. All Rights Reserved.

303 thoughts on “The Silent Movie Star

  1. 这篇文章写的确实是太好了,说实话我真的想不通有些印度人为什么这样针对沙鲁克汗???我并不是说印度人有多么不好或者别的,其实每个国家都有那样的人,我们拦也拦不住。。。所以我只想说不管别人说什么或做什么,你永远都是那么的正直,善良,坦荡,风趣,可爱,尽职尽责,自制力强,开朗,乐观,优雅,迷人,精力充沛,爱憎分明,张扬又内敛,专情又风情,纯真又性感,温柔又彪悍的矛盾的混合体,但一切又是恰到好处,总之是非常MAN的性格。。。我相信中国的粉丝们对你的爱永远都不会改变!!!希望你和你的家人永远健康幸福快乐!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Dearest Shah Rukh Khan!
    “Oh dear … Shah Rukh I can not wait to read you here again … you know somehow it is lonely here without you, and your thoughts … please come back soon, yes? …
    Éva (Hungary)

  3. so sad…. i missed this opportunity Aalif bhai, bcoz i was in hospital. but the important thing is Our Man @iamsrk come back to twitter. Thanks for the article, we missing him very badly. Aalif bhai, may i know your email address please, i just want to say something to you, it’s about all Rukhster in Indonesia. We need ur help bhai….. 🙂 Lots of Love.

  4. ارجع والنبى ارجع ربنا يخليك
    صدقنى بحبك وبموت فيك ونفسى افضل جمبك وتفضل جمبى على طول
    انا مش مصدقة ان احنا يجيلنا يوم ونتفارق
    الفراق دا حاجة بنت ميتين تيت
    ilove you srk come back come back pleaaaaaaaaaaaase
    دا الحب دح دح والهجر كخ كخ والضلمة عو بخ

  5. I missed SRK very much.pls tell him come back to the twitter.thats the only way I can chat with him.I am Sri Lankan and love SRK more than life….God bless him!!!!

  6. Mr. Aalif I thank you a big thank you for the effort put into delivering our words to Shahrukh Khan and you really polite man Did I send you some of my writings and my designs to you?? I have already sent them to you via Twitter, but I do not see any response from you.Please tell me what to do in order to send them to you

  7. While surfing SRK’s last tweets, there was a young tweeter’s comments and replies which shocked the life out of me.. The person looked so innocent, barely 20 years.. the kind of religious and communal hatred and that appeared in the words were akin to poison.. We, the young of India, often boast that we are the broad-minded ones, and the last generation is conservative. But if even one youth in India believes so pathetically in bigotry, fanaticism and hatred, how can we still say that Gen X is broadminded? So sad. I never believed Indian youth could think like this. Ashamed of being one myself.

  8. هاي شارو انا بنت صغيرة لكن موهوبة كتير انا في 11من عمري في نفس سن بنتك انا بعرف الهندي وبحفظ الاغاني بسرعة رهيبة وبعرف ارقص ورشيقة وبحفظ الافلام كمان بطريقة مثل الممثلين الهندين ونفسي اسافر الهند عشان اقابل نجم زيك بجد عشان هيكون شرف ليا بجد اني اقابل نجمي المفضل شارو خان بنفسه لو بسافر الهند راح بندم الي فريقك الرياضي بس انا بدعي اني اوح مع تحيات بنت مصر حبيبة

  9. Dear Aalifji, thanks for your article reg. the “Silent Movie Star”. I believe in Shahrukh Khan, I believe he will be back on Twitter after a time, cause he knows & feels the warmth & love we, his fans, bring to him. We were standing in deep cold Berlin winters, 1 hour after the other, wainting for him….for just ONE smile, ONE waving hand….or even ONE HUG! After all our screen dreams, he became a real man….with eloquence, intelligence, wittiness & witticism, sweet like a child, attractive as man, ‘women’s dream come true’ as a loving father & hubby……we know this, he knows us…..we are more than 3.5 mil on Twitter…..although if there were 100.000 (which I don’t believe!) who hate & bother…..NOTHING CAN STOP OUR LOVE FOR SRK…..see it, Shahji, believe it, Shahrukh & come back…don’t put us on hold for so long. LUV, MO
    TKS again, Mr. Superaalifragilistic, expialidocious greetz from Germany. :o)

  10. Thanks for the article..feeling so sad & missing SRK very badly on twitter..he shd come back for his fans..as for us,this is the only medium to get in touch with him…

  11. He is one of a kind and is irreplaceable.him being on twitter made us,his fans feel close to him & now I’m truly sad that he’s gone!well its not like he’s dead but we appreciated his tweets and all!twitter can be fun yet it is dangerous!the trolls,haters and hypocrites will always be there,we just have to avoid being hurt by their words!I don’t blame any celeb for avoiding twitter coz they’re also humans & deserve respect.people are just insensitive and shallow!they need deliverance!anyways,I respect SRK’s decision & wish him all the best.I also wish to have a closer connection to him via another social media platform or so.

  12. I live in Russia and I don’t know English therefore I am sorry for mistakes! I thank for fine article! I want to address to all who wrote here messages I love you, I read your letters and cried with happiness that you are and that there is our sun Shahrukh who the love, warmth, solar energy connected so many beautiful people, we became one family regardless of skin color, religion and a nationality, you wrote letters since all ends of Earth and for me huge happiness to feel this communication. I am sorry that I already forgot English, too long didn’t speak this language, I am sorry because I would like to tell so much to you and my darling Shahrukh. But I very much hope that you will be able to understand that I write. I know as you want that he returned on twitter, each his tweet as a fresh breeze as a touch to a live source having drunk from which you all the time feel thirst! His mind, wisdom, love, kindness, wit gave us force, rest, happiness, a smile every day. I too wait for its return, but I remember also pain which felt, I remember the tears, I remember as my heart when I read vile articles which wrote about it was broken off! I didn’t understand as people who wrote these articles can consider myself as journalists, can quietly sleep, live, breathe! So much negative and insults in relation to the person who is the face of India for the whole world which always with such pride and love spoke about the country which so hard worked and everything achieved which always thanked people that it became that who is he is! He always said to people that is their merit, he proved that if much to work, study, believe in the dream and not to be given before difficulties it is possible to achieve everything! The latest events very strongly shocked me! He wrote such fine article calling people for tolerance, love and equality, and in reply received so much rage and insults from people which at all didn’t read article and which too envy its situation or which well paid for that they wrote about he such awful articles, distorted his words, created scandals, it is their bread, on another they aren’t able to earn, to create garbage their lifestyle and the most bitter that these people, which deprived of all of us opportunity to watch its magnificent frank interviews remained unpunished! He very strong and he never gives up how it was heavy it always goes forward you know it, but only he knows what price it is given! And if to me it is so sick that heart seems will become torn when to it so much poison and rage is directed, I even am afraid to present as painfully it when he is compelled to read offensive comments on the relatives, on, on the religion and other things, but the most awful that his children can read it. It is very hard.
    Today at a press conference he told that loves us! I love it 9 years, I love very much and with all the heart and its happiness, rest, health for me is much more important than my own desires and if for it it is important that I heard it, understood that despite of everything, despite lack of its tweets it always nearby, through the movies, the work, I heard it and also my support, my love, my prayers always with it. And as I want to tell all these representatives of mass media that even if they will write thousand vile articles, to me it will be sick, but my opinion on it won’t change, my love to it remains same strong, they have no force to take away from me it! Because his soul is so beautiful, his mind is genius, his kindness is boundless also it that I see always when I look at his! I ask it from you, simply love his, will return he on the twitter or not, we are necessary to it, are very necessary, now especially, he gave us so much, now came to give our time, without egoism, regardless of our desires, openheartedly. I very much love you, to be among you, to be sharukians a great honor. Today I looked shootings of advertizing of juice and to see its smile such happiness, he is had so long ago no reasons for a smile! It everything that I wanted to tell. I am afraid to present as it will translate online translator, even i dread to think, :))) but very much I hope that you will hear the main thing! Aalif ji once again many thanks for your article and for your help to all who loves Shahrukh!

    P.S. And I wanted to ask about one if you follow Shahrukh on the twitter, he will return or not please don’t delete itself from its page, after all it is healthy to know that we overtook by number of followers of Tom Cruise! ;))

  13. I am a Russian woman. But if you only knew, Mr. Shah Rukh. how many of your fans in this country, as we look forward to communicating with you, your tweets, full of deep meaning, so alive, opens your heart and soul, full of love, open up for us to your country, your world, but if some of the accusations brought you pain and disappointment, do not write. We know what you think about all of us with a love that knows no boundaries. Take care of yourself.

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