Perpetuating myth of caste supremacy, lack of respect for religious sentiments of fellow citizens and cultural incompetency, the Sharukh Khan starring spy thriller Pathaan is a classic example irresponsible PR/positioning tactics in a plural society which disregard respect and fraternity over commercial gains.
Pathaan or Pashtun refers sub-caste of Muslims in Indian subcontinent (North-west India, Pakistan and Afghanistan), they usually bear Khan surname and were fierce fighters in the history (though Genghis Khan was a mongol and the notoriously brutal, Timur was a Durrani; both were not Pathaan). Because of centuries of unique social-cultural milieu of the sub-continent, the Pathaan word comes with a ‘supremacist’ connotation of a warrior ruler or a hardened fighter, especially in North-West region and rural India where it takes the form of caste-superiority.
Pathaan movie comes with this baggage of sub-continental social history – the usage of the name, just like Rajput, may fill some with pride thus smoothly steering their free-will into buying theatre tickets. Otherwise, why a spy thriller be named after a so-called warrior caste and not be inspired by the spymasters like R.N. Kao or M.K. Narayanan or Ajit Doval? Unfortunately, trumpeting caste name can also potentially perpetuate inferiority in those at the lower rung of Muslim society.
Further, entertainment or any commercial enterprise operating in a multi-ethnic, plural society should be respectful and sensitive towards cultural and religious sensibilities of their customers. Therefore, it would have been a good practice to spare saffron colour (which is commonly associated with sacred realms in Buddhism, traditional Hinduism and Sikhism alike) of any disrespectful reference or any suggestive association with vulgarity. Or, was it a deliberate (political) messaging aimed at provocation and generating pre-release controversy? Communication strategists know well that negativities are most easily noticed by the people.
But what if the affected communities ignore and decide not to buy tickets of this movie? No problem! Pathaans and Sharukh Khan admirers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East region, diaspora and rest of India are still a very big market to rely on.
One can only remember and admire legendary Dilip Kumar, the original iconic Pathaan of Bollywood.