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Monday, August 27, 2007


20th May 2004:
The glitz and glamour of Bollywood is in Singapore for a three day extravaganza featuring the icons of the Indian film industry. The event kicks off with Mani Ratnam's premiere of 'Yuva.' Its a multi-starrer, it's a World Premiere, the crush of fans is there even at 3:30 in the afternoon - the set up time given to us. The premiere is supposed to begin at 6:30pm, the stars only start arriving close to 7pm. You can spot families, girls dressed in their Friday best, Aunties in their rustling silk sarees, waiting for all the biggies to arrive and they all do. Starting with the Big B, Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukerji, Ajay Devgan, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor. Long after they have all stepped into Lido, there's still no sign of the crowd heading home. At 8:30pm, I decide to walk through the crowd, mike in hand, with the who are you waiting for question. Shah Rukh, Shah Rukh, they yell. Try telling the disbelievers, he hasn't arrived in town, you get stunned disbelief, then the look - how can you be so sure? By the time, we pack up, the moon is out in its glory, the stars are shining, yet the crowd is unrelenting. It's the King Khan or nothing.

22nd May 2004:
The action has shifted from Lido to the Singapore Indoor Stadium. The crowd is even larger. For the most part, they stay behind the barricades, cheering one arrival after the other. Then the world seems to come to a stop. You hear a collective gasp, followed by the cries, Shah Rukh, Shah Rukh. Soon the barricades look like they are going to give way. Extra security guards rush in. You know the King of Bollywood has arrived. Before him, so many of the other stars have simply walked past their fans, no handshakes, its the practised Hi's and Bye's and the 'I Love Yous.' He pauses, he shakes hands, he accepts gifts from his fans lining up on the right side. Then he turns around and gives the media their sound bytes. A superstar like no other.

1st April 2007:
Location : Genting, Malaysia.
Event: Zee Cine Awards

I've got my camera in hand, yet the organisers are kind enough to give me back stage access. No interviews, they remind me. And who do we have here? None other than the King Khan himself being put through his Don and KANK moves. It's high energy work, easy to tell by the sweat soaked shirts. If you think superstars have it easy, think again. Shah Rukh is put through the paces, it's tough work but everyone knows one step is all it takes to prevent a choreographed piece failing to achieve perfection. In the evening, the action will be live, there will be no chance for another take, they've got to make sure everything is in sync. It looks like it is. When the choreographer deems it perfect, King Khan taps everyone on the shoulders, has a quick exchange, then takes a break on the stage itself before getting off. Here's there till a little past 2pm, the red carpet action begins at 6:30pm. Lots of stars are here, no big ones yet. A couple of them who had been rehearsing till late didn't even get out of the venue appropriately titled - 'the Arena of the Stars.' Others who did have used the restricted entrance earmaked for them. So the red-carpet watchers are left to welcome the smaller stars till Salman Khan arrives. There are a few cries of joy, which turns into something loud and clear. It's 2004 once more. Fans are breaking security cordons, one little boy's family has helped him jump over the fence, the security perimeter is tightening. Yet, Shah Rukh is unfazed. He does his handshakes -there are fewer this time round. He's being rustled in, the show is being beamed live.

It is the story of one such fan that kicks off Anupama Chopra's brilliant book - King of Bollywood that tracks the life and career of Shah Rukh Khan together with the Seductive charm of Indian Cinema. It is September 3rd, 2004, "Elvis level hysteria" it is, the Temptation Tour is at the Gwinnett Center in Atlanta, where one man's life is about to be changed forever. He had dreamt of it, and when it comes to SRK, dreams do come true.

Wherever he goes, the evening is often best remembered for the biggest brand in Indian entertainment. Even when the audience is glued to their seats, you can count on him to get them swaying to a new beat.

He may have the world at his feet now, "But Shah Rukh's life is more than just a dramatic show-biz success story. He is a Muslim superstar in a Hindu-majority country and his life reflects the fundamental paradoxes of a post-liberalization nation attempting to thrive in a globalized world. His story provides a ringside view into the forces shaping Indian culture today," the author points out.

And it is some of those paradoxes that she sets out to trace. Shah Rukh's personal life is interspersed with all the changes taking place in Indian cinema through the years. With the access she has had to the star and through the many interviews she conducts as part of her research, Anupama takes you to the heart of the story. The heart break of partition followed by a bigger rejection in 'No Man's Land', his father's struggles and how his strong-willed mother put up a brave front all the time.

There is Shah Rukh's childhood, captured together with the poetry that flowed, ebbed, then disappeared after his father's death.

"Shah Rukh believed his father was a superhero who would defeat the disease."

The impact this had on his family simply couldn't be undone:

"For days, Shehnaz (Shah Rukh's sister) did not shed a tear. Instead she retreated into a depression from which she would never fully emerge."

Shah Rukh wasn't even 15 then and his struggles were just about to begin. He dabbled in theatre, auditioned for Pradip Kishen and Arundhati Roy's film 'In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones,' in which he only got a minor role - a slight he never forgot. Years later, when Arundhati won the Booker Prize and Shah Rukh was invited for a celebratory event, he declined. His career took off in a big way with television, with the series Fauji and just when things were falling into place career wise, he suffered another huge personal loss. This time it was the death of his mother.

Two weeks after his mother's death, he left Delhi to make movies. He took on roles other stars were saying no to, he challenged himself, he let his energy speak for itself and the audience loved every bit of it.

Shah Rukh's star was on the rise, though things started falling apart when he set up his company. Just as she tracks all the ups, the authors gets to the flip sides as well - his temper in the early days, the collapse of his company and through it all you see his pillar of strength, his wife - Gauri Khan.

In a lesser hand, this book could have easily fallen into the realm of another star-struck reflection, but Anupama Chopra, ranked as one of India's finest film critics, takes a fine lens to present the many facets of Bollywood's undisputed King. The key being the reflection of his vulnerability and his ability to keep his private space private. Beyond the subject, which is a huge draw anyway, anyone who wants to understand why Indian cinema is rapidly looking like the block busters it churns out year after year would do well do start with this book.

Did you know that in the early days Shah Rukh tamed his unruly mane with a homemade mixture of Camlin glue and water. Not that I'm recommending it, but the next time you run out of gel you know what to do.

When co-star Juhi Chawla first saw SRK on the sets of Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, she noticed his scrawny frame, his untidy hair and the same night called Viveck (Vaswani) to scream: "Eek, this is the next Aamir Khan?"

SRK Speak:
He is the unrivalled master of the soundbyte and there are several in the book, but this one did it for me:
"I have never done a film with the market in mind. Cinema is a mishran (mixture) of Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) and Saraswati (the Goddess of Knowledge). I've always gone for Saraswati and Lakshmi has followed. I may be stubborn and an idiot, but it works for me. I know this is a business but I always dole out art."

Publisher: Warner Books
Year: 2007
Pages: 250 (including references and index)
Category: Popular Culture

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