HARDtalk: Shah Rukh Khan speaks to Zeinab Badawi about gender equality and Bollywood
BBC HARDtalk’s Zeinab Badawi speaks to the actor Shah Rukh Khan at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Bollywood star has been given an award for his philanthropic work advancing women’s rights. His fan base runs into the billions and he says he wants to make the world a better place, but how far is he really using his voice to do that?
Zeinab Badawi: Listen, you work in an industry that, to put it bluntly, is sexist; men get paid more than the women, and we’ve heard about the #MeToo campaign obviously in Hollywood - I mean, that kind of thing must go on. We know it does because some actors have actually talked about that. Kangana Ranaut is one of the few Bollywood actresses who has publicly spoken about sexual assault and harassment. She’s appeared in about 30 films and she told Reuters she had faced “severe sexual exploitation and harassment at the work place”. I mean have you witnessed this kind of thing, have you done anything about it?
Khan: You know personally, at a level when I’m making films or working in films, we’re very clear about the attitude to women. Even the smallest aspects, of the names coming first in title, which is not going to do anything, but the kind of respectability -
Badawi: - that’s the thing you started a few years ago so that your female co-star, her name appears before yours.
Khan: Her name appears before…
Badawi: But that’s just an empty gesture isn’t it, go on admit it?
Khan: Yeah it is, it is yeah. Yeah. You don’t have to push me too far to agree with this, but it’s a way of trying to say even this small thing needs to be done just to bring about the equality, just see what we’ve reduced ourselves to. You know, to put a girl’s name in front just to show what little guys we are, thinking of them as equals. And that is sad and that is strangely dichotomous when you’re talking about creativity, and you have boys and girls working together. I’ve never personally, first hand and nobody, if I may say, nobody dared misbehave with a woman on my set, I’m very clear on that.
Badawi: And your fellow actors haven’t in the past come and said to you, you know what Shah Rukh, this and that happened to me, or it’s not been on your radar?
Khan: I’m very close to the women I work with. Nobody has said this. This interview you talk about yeah, perhaps…
Khan: Yeah, but I’ve never personally been told on my sets. You know Zeinab maybe it also stems from the fact I’ve just been, mother, my sister, my wife, my daughter, I’ve just been with women. I’ve been brought up by women.
Badawi: You said last November that you believe in story-telling. You said, “I believe no matter what your language, no matter what country your story comes from, no matter what your ideology is, story-telling and listening should be a familial experience which binds us all together, makes relationships stronger - even in the face of dissent and discussion”. I mean could that refer to some of the inter-communal tensions and divisions that we see in modern-day India?
Khan: You see I think that is essential. There will be dissent for everything and I think like you would also believe and we all believe, there has to be a discussion on it. There can’t be a radical standoff when there is dissent. I think you can have a discussion and then you talk about in our country - we are the biggest democracy - and if you are the biggest democracy, dissent is a part and parcel of that and as much is discussion. So when you have a story and you know when you go out sometimes there’s dissent, but as a film maker, as a citizen of a country, as a citizen of the world, you know when there’s dissent can we just have a little bit of discussion about it and sort it out instead of you know taking standoff positions so it is possible.
Badawi: Are you worried about standoff positions, as you put it, because there is a current of opinion, I’ve heard it expressed here at Davos from Indian delegates I’ve talked to, about you know, there is a certain tension, some people feel there is a kind of Hindu nationalism that really is not fostering good inter-communal ties?
Khan: No I don’t think so. I think, I was just telling people outside. Because of social media, you know, whenever a certain thing, when small factions or fractions of things happen now they seem a little bigger, but the beauty of all this is that within all this trolling and anger and people expressing themselves, they’re all also connecting. So I feel this is, we’re on the cusp of something amazingly inclusive, and integrating in this kind of dissent. I just see it on social media. I don’t see it live anywhere and I would be wrong to comment on it that way, but I think if you have this kind of dissent or whatever if people claim it, I think just a bit of discussion especially, finally, if it’s not going to be inclusive everybody will suffer. But I think we’re not at that stage at all in our country.
The full interview with Shah Rukh Khan will air as part of HARDtalk on BBC World News, tonight at 9pm along with a repeat on Thursday 1st Feb at 2am