Shah Rukh Khan—Women’s quest for independence, escape from patriarchy | Bengaluru News – Times of India

BENGALURU: What’s common between women agarbatti workers of Ahmedabad, a young girl from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, in-flight attendant from Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer and swish ‘girls in pearls who lunch’ of Jor Bagh, Delhi? Long answer: Their search for financial empowerment and escape from stifling patriarchy. Short answer: Bollywood heartthrob Shah Rukh Khan.
How does a Bollywood star fit in the equation? Shrayana Bhattacharya, economist with the World Bank and an author with extensive work spread over 15 years to her credit, says love for an icon like Shah Rukh Khan was the common thread that inspired many to share with her their economic struggles, expectations from men, and strife with the patriarchal system when she tried to collect data on wages and women’s participation in the job market as a young research assistant.

Shrayana Bhattacharya
Bhattacharya said women across the country related to Khan in diverse ways – from looking at him as a masculine ideal, to providing escape and comfort from daily struggles. “The project was with agarbatti workers and I had designed a questionnaire. But when I asked questions, they stared blankly at me,” she recalls. Those women were in fact fighting for their labour rights and were aware of their realities, but did not want an outside researcher to come and tell them what they already knew.
Keeping aside her formal questions, Bhattacharya slipped into a ‘survey recess’ and began chatting with them. Soon enough, their talks veered into a discussion on their favourite actors and a man most women seemed to adore – from rural Uttar Pradesh to the tribes of Jharkhand – Shah Rukh Khan.
Suddenly, the tone changed, opening up conversations that revealed how even fandom is economic, she says. “The women told me how none of them had watched a film of Khan. They knew of him from snippets of his interviews, songs, etc. They neither had the money nor the leisure to watch his movie. According to the National Family Health Survey, only 8 percent of women in India watch a film every month,” she says, adding conversations around Khan offered a sneak peak at their economic struggles too.
It also helped in finding paths to discuss the idea of masculinity and women’s idea of an ideal man. “Women in rural UP complained that men around them are like Salman Khan and they preferred Shah Rukh Khan,” Bhattacharya says, adding that in addition to the crisis of a job, women faced a crisis of love and they wished men in their lives spoke to them as Khan does. “The word that they kept repeating was ‘Tameez’ (mannered).”
“When women step outside their home and do what society prefers them to not do, they face isolation. They are lonely in the workforce and also in the kitchen,” she says. India, along with South Korea and Pakistan, is in the bottom-five list globally in women getting help from men in doing household chores, she adds.
Author Manu Pillai who was in conversation with Bhattacharaya at an event at Bangalore International Centre, says: “Women who manage to get out of home, work and occupy space in economic areas juggle dignity, deadlines and dishes.” Khan’s imagery of helping women in the kitchen or even his wife off screen makes him widely popular, he adds.
Bhattacharya is sure that for the current generation the Shah Rukh-equivalent would be a woman. “They no longer want a Shah Rukh in their lives. They want to be him with his opportunities, earning capacity and potential. Increasingly, the women today look at a Priyanka Chopra or a Deepika Padukone,” she adds.


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Sagar Biswas

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