Something has happened to Bollywood. For the good news, look to the yellow turban, and a Sikh character promoted from sidekick to hero.
The bad news stands in silent solitude. When Shah Rukh Khan’s Raju Ban Gaya (became a) Gentleman in 1992, he sang and danced his way past the seductions of corruption and asserted the possibility of an Indian meritocracy.
Rocket’s rise to wealth and power never demands he dance. Indeed, he gives up drink and dance as part of his transformation from slacker to self-starter. Rocket Singh’s turban nears necessity as a sign that this is a Hindi movie. The cubicle-dwelling, smarmy salesmen Singh outsmarts have little to identify their cultural affiliation – global capitalism reigns.
Singh’s Sikh grandfather’s practice of “work as worship” simultaneously posits a critique of corruption and an endorsement of capitalism familiar to western ears as a Calvinist-Weberian mantra. Bollywood enjoyed a rebirth when Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge showed the Swiss Alps to a new audience. Shah Rukh Khan’s Raja sang and danced his way into adulthood, ethics, Simran’s, and India’s heart while suffused in passive parallels between Punjabi and alpine popular culture. Singh dates a client then makes her a partner in his firm. The shared profit flirts with Das Kapital in a narrative otherwise wed to proving Weber wrong: South Asians can be ethical and entrepreneurial. I need no convincing on this point. I just harbor a fantasy that they can make music and money. Surely Shah Rukh Khan’s career proves that point.