In an analytical feature titled Being Salman: The dangerous innocence of Bollywood’s most controversial superstar, film journalist Anna M Vetticad traces the life, struggles, relationships and superstardom of Salman Khan. The story traces his journey from an insolent young boy to a criminal whose toxic masculinity is being protected by an entire industry, and his numerous fans.
Salman Khan has been accused of killing a man and injuring four others. He has been accused of shooting a blackbuck. But before all this happened, he was accused of a crime that is often overlooked, made excuses for, and outrightly denied: that of domestic violence.
In the olden days, there were always stories, rumours and reports of him being abusive towards the women in his life. Sangeeta Bijlani had once described her relationship with Salman as one of the most emotionally traumatic phases of her life. There were reports of him hitting, abusing, and even once allegedly smashing a bottle over his next girlfriend, Somy Ali’s head.
Even though Somy Ali denied this, explaining that he was upset because she drank rum and coke and was in the “wrong” company, so he poured the drink on the table in front of her. As Vetticad rightly observes, “She did not notice that even her description of Salman suggested that he was prone to intimidating, controlling behaviour, nor did she point out the hypocrisy of a man known for his drunken brawls objecting to his girlfriend drinking.” Ali, like many others, swears by Salman’s kindness and generosity.
horrifying justifications are only too commonly used by men in power to delegitimize the abused woman’s experience.
Then happened his tumultuous affair with Aishwarya Rai, whom he started dating while they were shooting for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. An inebriated Salman broke into Rai’s house (this has been confirmed by Mumbai police). Aishwarya’s father lodged a complaint against him. He showed up drunk at her workplace on the sets of Chalte Chalte and created a scene there. He rammed her car with his on the sets of Kuchh Naa Kaho.
“If you don’t fight, there’s no love. I will not fight with an outsider.” – Salman Khan
“Was it a mere coincidence that Salman rammed his Toyota Land Cruiser onto the pavement in suburban Bandra a day after Aishwarya made their break up public in The Times of India interview? A person lost his life in the incident and Salman had to go to jail for his crime. Many of Salman’s friends and colleagues visited him in jail to show their solidarity, but not Aishwarya.” – Jasim Khan, in his book Being Salman
“Has he (Salman Khan) ever spoken ill about any of them (ex-girlfriends), even under provocation? His exes call him a difficult man to get along with, but I ask them, why were you with him for 7 years?” – Salim Khan, Salman’s father, in an interview to Cineblitz
“None of the girls who broke Salman’s heart were interested in starting a family.” – Salim Khan in Being Salman
Through the use of rhetorical ploys and logical fallacies, the above statements push the blame fairly off Salman’s broad shoulders and onto the women who decided to date him and had to find the strength to leave him. These horrifying justifications are only too commonly used by men in power to delegitimize the abused woman’s experience.
This institutionalized protection of toxic masculinity shows the power enjoyed by abusive men as their vulnerability. It’s the women who are after him because they want to become successful actors. A system that makes powerful men vulnerable, just by the power they have. Women are after him for his powerful position.
Vivek Oberoi, who dated Aishwarya Rai briefly after her escape from Salman, came out to the press and spoke about an incident where Salman drunk-dialed and threatened him. Oberoi’s actions not only almost destroyed his career, but also made him a scapegoat to show what happens to people who speak against bhai.
From the instances mentioned in the Caravan feature, the entire industry seems to be in an abusive relationship with Salman bhai. From Subhash Ghai, Anil Kapoor, Shilpa Shetty, to even Aamir Khan, everyone acknowledges his obvious flaws. They mention instances where he was rude and disrespectful.
This institutionalized protection of toxic masculinity shows the power enjoyed by abusive men as their vulnerability.
But they also vouch for his big-heartedness, his selfless generosity, and mention kind gestures done by him, risky career decisions made by him, all to help someone out. These actions, in turn, are supposed to somehow rid him of his controlling, abusive, and even criminal behaviour.
Aishwarya, till date, remains the only woman to have spoken up against Khan’s emotional and physical abuse. His controlling behaviour is even said to have cost her a few films.
“It’s sad that I’m being projected as unprofessional and calculating. Filmmakers who have signed me know that the only healing factor in my life is my work. This is a male-dominated industry and I guess it has been difficult for many to digest a woman holding her own with dignity”, she had said in an interview in 2002.
Had this happened in 2017, with the #MeToo movement gaining ground, maybe Aishwarya would have received the support and respect that she deserved. She showed strength and got out of an abusive relationship. She spoke up against it. She continued going to work in spite of Salman creating a ruckus there as well.
Then, we turned our back on her. But even with the knowledge of abuse and power that we are equipped with today, we fail to give Aishwarya Rai her rightful credit as one of the first women from Bollywood to identify and oppose violence.
Featured Image Credit: Zee News