The reaction in India to Aamir Khan appearing nude in a poster for his forthcoming film PK has been swift, harsh and trigger-happy. We ask - what's the big fuss?
Yes, Aamir Khan is nude - but we’ve seen worse from Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif
A law student in Kanpur filed a case against Khan. A women’s right’s group forced a cinema owner in Mumbai to take down the offending images. A few days ago, a Mumbai-based politician called Krishna Hegde announced his intention to “clothe” one of the cut-outs, then went and clad it in a pair of green shorts and T-shirt, to uproarious applause from the crowd attending this “symbolic” event. Such an established actor, Hegde declared, does not need this kind of publicity to promote his movie.
But this is exactly the point.
In our haste to condemn and denounce, we seem to have forgotten who actually figures in the promotional advert. It’s not Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan but that other Khan – Aamir, one of the Hindi film industry’s most intelligent actors and producers, who has a string of excellent films to his credit, one of them Oscar-nominated. He hosts Satyamev Jayate (Only Truth Prevails), a quality television show on Indian television that takes on the worst of the country’s social problems. He also actively campaigns to spread awareness of these issues.
Which brings us to the PK poster, and an important question we need to ask ourselves: “Why is Aamir not wearing any clothes?”
Aamir has always belonged to that rare breed of celebrities who do not court publicity. He does not perform or accept gongs at awards ceremonies. He does not attend the weddings of rich industrialists for large sums of money. He does not give half as many interviews as his colleagues do. To put it simply, Aamir stays out of the limelight because he prefers it that way.
Therefore, what he says in defence of his nudity must be true: “It’s not meant to be sensational. When you watch the film, you will understand what it means. But the kind of writer and filmmaker that Raju [Hirani] is, he always gives out big and meaningful messages with his art … This is key art.”
But Hegde is too busy promoting “Indian cultures and values” to listen, and said this was one of the purposes of his “clothe the cut-out” event. Excuse me, Mr Hegde, but have you watched a Bollywood film of late? It usually has at least one “item number” in which an actress, clad in practically nothing, gyrates suggestively around men, and any number of graphic sex scenes, not to mention senseless violence. It’s surprising the censors aren’t slapping an A-certificate (India’s tame equivalent of the “R” rating) on every other movie this massive industry churns out.
Take, for example, 2 States, the romantic comedy that was adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s novel and was released earlier this year to both audience and critical acclaim. It didn’t have an item number but the film’s main protagonists (Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor) did have a lot of sex. The premarital kind.
Now, Indian values do not allow for premarital sex. No self-respecting parent will tolerate their daughter (and to a certain extent, son) indulging in such shameful pursuits. But the film hardly registered a blip on India’s moral radar, despite boldly portraying two university students who keep ripping each other’s clothes off when not busy persuading their parents to let them marry. The teaser poster, in fact, had Bhatt sitting astride Kapoor, with her hand inside his shirt.
Then there’s the poster for the forthcoming action drama Bang Bang, starring Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif. It has Kaif, all cleavage and thighs, sitting astride Roshan (see the pattern here?), who is clutching a gun that’s just been fired. It’s borderline obscene but did not trigger protests by conservatives. It did, however, rack up millions of hits on YouTube.
Aamir’s PK poster is nowhere as raunchy. It shows him standing on a railway track in broad daylight, with a boombox over his privates and a goofy expression on his face that’s reminiscent of his comic role in the blockbuster comedy 3 Idiots (2009), also a Rajkumar Hirani film.
Interestingly, in 2 States, Bhatt plays a girl from one of India’s more conservative communities who leads a double life. It’s quite the metaphor for our hypocrisy over what constitutes obscenity, just as the PK poster has become. It’s something for which Aamir Khan – of all the people in this industry – should not have to pay the price.