On a long plane ride to India recently, I read Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence (2021,) economist Shrayana Bhattacharya’s ethnographic examination of legions of the superstar’s female fans.
Bollywood offers a diversion from the humdrum—and a reprieve from life’s many injustices. Female fans idealize Shah Rukh Khan in his portrayal of romantic, sensitive, vulnerable characters who’re utterly devoted to the women they love. But author Bhattacharya uses the escapism that Bollywood provides as a frame to paint a picture of feminism and socioeconomic inequity. Makes for interesting reading.
All forms of entertainment offer pleasant escapism—a balm against life’s slings and arrows. But Bollywood melodramas go a step further. Amid the predictable storylines and emotional dialog is the kind and brave hero—the ones typically played by Shah Rukh Khan—who fights for the affections of a pretty damsel against all adversities and vile thugs. Its heroes embody all the desirable qualities and fill fans’ heads with dreams of romance and resolution that may never come.
Their fantasies are—can I get married and be happy? Can I own a small car and not worry about petrol prices? Life can be very hard in India, so for two hours, I’ll give them real fantasy.
—Shah Rukh Khan, quoted in The Australian 10-Aug-2013
And that isn’t so bad. When everything in the film is so pleasing to the hearts—pretty locales, vibrant colors, rhythmic music, and spirited dancing included—no one cares about the predicable hollowness, cheesy dialogues, and the lousy acting.
Idea for Impact: Escapism from quotidian existence makes the world a more optimistic place, waiting to be filled with its own color and song.