This appeared in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle
Why Rahul G is a lot like Salman K
Amazing but true - these guys have more in common than most people would like to accept.For one, they are both in the same business – politics by any other name is still showbiz. At forty (plus or minus a year idhar –udhar), they are determinedly single, mothers across India consider them super eligible dulhas, they definitely fall into the ‘hotties’ category with a vast female fan following panting after them, both are dubbed mama’s boys by those in the know, both adore their sister(s), and qualify as eye candy in every which way. Of course there are significant differences – Rahul Gandhi keeps his kurta on in public, Salman can’t wait to peel his shirt off – anytime, anywhere. Gandhi looks like a lean and mean fighting machine, but nobody has seen his pack ( four, six or eight, only his trainer knows for sure). Salman is the original Sando – possibly the most famous actor in the world to flaunt his gut and guts. Salman’s rippling muscles get more media coverage than his leading ladies – which is not such a bad thing, going by some of the recent samples. Salman’s roster of girl friends qualifies him as a true blue marathon man. Not much is known about Rahul’s love life. Salman is an unapologetic alpha male, Rahul G , far more new age and metro, even charmingly retro. Perhaps, Rahul is happy to conform to the strong-silent matinee idol style of the ‘60’s, while Salman’s abs do most of the emoting, on and off the screen. Both come from established- in- the- chosen- field families – the Gandhis have run politics in India for decades. The Khans have been around in Bollywood for decades, too. Parivaar is key. The Khan clan sticks together through good and terrible times. Ditto for the Gandhis ( even though theirs is a more compact unit).Despite their hitting forty ( Rahul is a whisker away from the landmark birthday), they continue to be perceived as ‘Bachchas’ – Salman as the Bad Boy, Rahul as the Good Guy. India is waiting for both to grow up – but not in a hurry. At the end of the day it boils down to just one quality – mass appeal. And as any marketing guru will tell you – that’s one thing nobody can manufacture. It’s like Lycra – either you have it or you don’t. Synthetic charisma works only to a limited degree. Merely pumping someone up with an inventive hard sell strategy that overstates the image can lead to a serious case of overkill. But both these guys exude the real thing – they are bona fide icons , worshipped by fans and damned by critics. They arouse passion. And passion is always a positive attribute – it attracts the janata. Since their survival depends on the faith their constituency displays in their leadership, these boy-men are fortunate indeed that we have not packed them off so far, despite everything.
Now, here comes the clincher: Salman’s future as a big star depends entirely on the box office. Rivals may come and fade away ( as they have), but for Salman to hang on to his position, he must prove himself from one Friday to the next. He has had a string of pricey flops in the recent past. Now , with his Eid offering of ‘Dabbang’, Salman needs a super mega hit in order to hang in there as one of the film industry’s most bankable stars. If Chulbul Pandey does not click with the aam aadmi on the expected scale, Salman’s future will be somewhat dheela. With Rahul, we are likely to be much kinder. He is a lambey race ka ghoda. For one, he doesn’t shoot his mouth off, and when he does care to open it, he speaks thoughtfully and uses a direct, simple lingo that his followers can understand instantly. He listens more and promises very little. This is a perfect strategy, especially since nobody really knows what he stands for, or what his political plans mean in real terms. Since he is the closest thing to a Bollywood star ( good looks, gora-chikna , photogenic) in a country led by really old people, he can get away with token gestures and populist moves (‘ sipahi’ of Orissa tribals – most of whom looked totally blank during his much publicized visit to their neglected, even wretched mohalla). Never mind, he is at least making the right noises, and as we well know, in politics, that’s half the battle won. Bad Boy Salman is forever putting his foot into some place much worse than his mouth. That’s very much a part of his USP – that’s also why his hysterical fans love him. At the end of the day, both men are looking at numbers. It is numbers alone that keep them where they are. Rahul, as his party’s general secretary in charge of IYC and NSUI, is on a crazy recruitment spree. He has to enroll members on a war footing… or else. Given that about 50 to 70 million voters between the ages of 18 and 23 are being added between two general elections. It is Rahul’s primary job to chase this pool of youngsters and get them on board. Luckily for Rahul, there isn’t a rival in sight. Unless, of course, the incredible Priyanka decides to jump in (unlikely at this stage, but who knows?). Salman, poor fellow, risks losing that hardly worn shirt off his back each time a film tanks, and there’s no dearth of younger, hungry rivals snapping at his ankles.
I have a suggestion: Why not a Rahul Gandhi Reality Show on television? Salman had his very own Dus Ka Dum and will soon be the Bigg Boss. Rahul’s minders would do well to pitch him as the Next Big Thing on tv as he goes around the countryside screening fresh candidates and recruits. It will accomplish two major feats in one go – viewers will be trated to a spectacular Bharat Darshan and India will witness the birth of a Political Superstar. Perhaps Katrina can be roped in as co-anchor, now that she is… ummmm, officially single??
What an idea, Sirji… err… Madamji!!