Shah Rukh Khan: King of Bollywood

Culture and Media, Films

My copy of Anupama Chopra’s King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema finally arrived from the village post office. Amardeep has a great review and Filmiholic has a group interview with the author. Culled from thirty hours of interviews with Shah Rukh and interviews with eighty other people, the book is a very readable account of Shah Rukh’s rise to stardom. I particularly enjoyed the skill with which Anupama Chopra works in the history of the Hindi film industry and how it functions in order to allow for the SRK phenomenon. As she says:

I hope that I’ve managed to create a picture of Bollywood with Shah Rukh in the foreground and many, many other things in the background. The ambition was to create a window to a superstar’s life, Bollywood and India.

SrkIt keeps the book from becoming a hagiography, despite the obvious affection the author feels for her subject.

The book briefly mentions the year Shah Rukh spent as a student at the Mass Communication Research Center, in Jamia Millia Islamia, where he was a class mate of mine. This is one of those things that gives me mucho cool points with my nieces and nephews. Unfortunately he was not allowed to continue in the Masters program because of low attendance. In that year we were in the same project groups, and even then Shah Rukh was very charismatic and completely confident about his success. The boys in my class all made fun of his acting ability and looks, I guess all those jokes have backfired, big time.

One of my most vivid memories is of a time when we had just started in the Masters program, we were sitting on the lawn, while the other students were milling about, Shah Rukh looked at each of our classmates and with great accuracy described what everybody’s greatest fears and hopes were. Years later, I think of that conversation as being uncannily prescient. Shah Rukh was extremely intelligent and could read people with a frightening accuracy. I suppose that is one his greatest skills, the ability to recognize who a person is and how to negotiate with them. The book’s account of his life while being vivid and detailed is very aligned to the persona of its subject, almost unconsciously so. I very clearly remember Shah Rukh talking about going to Bombay to do mainstream films, it wasn’t some after thought subsequent to doing high-brow” theatre (was English theatre in Delhi high-brow is for another blog post) but perhaps Fellini like, the biographical narrative has acquired its own life. Certainly, his sense of himself as a movie star was pretty well formed even back then. Recently a friend reminded me how we were recruited to pass notes in History textbooks to his then girl friend, Gauri. Oh yes, it was all very filmy, and I was never certain how much of his persona was really him, and how much an image he had cultivated so vigorously that it became him. But no matter what, Shah Rukh was one of the nicest people in my class, and quite different from a lot of the boys who delighted in telling the women that they were stupid and incompetent. Not that he wasn’t sexist. I distinctly remember him telling me he didn’t want to work with Mira Nair because he thought he couldn’t learn anything from a woman director. Who knows what was behind that, but there it is. And oh yes, Pradeep Krishen and Arundhati Roy annoyed him exceedingly, and not just because of the role he didn’t get in Annie…but now I am descending into gossip, so I will stop.