2 - Who Is Shah Rukh?

29 March 2023

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First, the Bombay film is a spectacle, not an artistic endeavour. To accuse it of not being artsy is to chastise Muhammad Ali for


being Charlie Chaplin.

-Ashis Nandy, 1981 I sell dreams and peddle love to millions of people back home in India, who all assume that I am the best lover in the world. -Shah Rukh Khan, 2017

f you haven't heard of Shah Rukh Khan, you stand to be judged as provincial and clueless in the places I come from. So global, so pervasive is his fame that it has become tradition for foreign politicians and pop stars to pay homage to him during their encounters with India. 'Senorita ... bade bade deshon mein,' Barack Obama said. in a speech during his presidential visit to Delhi, instantly winning the crowd's goodwill by quoting a famous Shah Rukh line from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ; 1995). Popstar Zayn Malik and footballer Mesut Ozil are Shah Rukh fans. Actor Riz Ahmed tweeted about 'geeking out' when he received praise from Khan. Korean soap stars and boybands love him, recreating his songs and moves. He has active fan clubs from Nigeria to Peru. Singapore has named an orchid after him. At Davos in 2018, he won the World Economic Forum's Crystal Award with Elton John and Cate Blanchett. The actor was awarded for his 'leadership in championing children's and women's rights in India'. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is lit up in honour of Shah Rukh on his birthday. As Fatima Bhutto wrote in New Kings of the World, her study of the growing reach of Asian popular culture: "Today, Khan though little known in the West, is one of the icons of a vast cultural movement emerging from the Global South... Truly global in its range and allure, it is the biggest challenge yet to America's monopoly on soft-power since the end of World War II.'

It feels impossible to write anything original about an icon as self- aware and intelligent as Mr Khan. During an interview in 2019 with the American late-night legend David Letterman, the actor described himself as an employee of the myth of Shah Rukh Khan'. In 2016, the actor entered into an uncanny dialogue with his own celebrity in a film titled Fan, in which he played both a fanboy and the fanboy's favourite film star. Popular Indian film critic Baradwaj Rangan described the film as a 'risky deconstruction of his inherent Shah Rukh-ness'. Many commend the film as being one of the actor's greatest performances. In 2009, he starred in Billu, a film which shows the electrifying effect a star very similar to Shah Rukh has on village life and young rural women. One of my favourite Shah Rukh fan-service films is a small-budget movie called Shahrukh Bola 'Khoobsurat Hai Tu'. The film, released in 2010, features a remarkable performance by Preetika Chawla as a young woman who sells flowers on the street. A mad Shah Rukh fan, she yearns to meet her hero. One magical day, she happens to sell flowers to Shah Rukh himself. The actor appears in the film for a minute-long cameo. As he pays for the flowers, Shah Rukh tells the young girl that she is beautiful. When she narrates these events to her friends, they scoff, especially when she tells them Shah Rukh complimented her appearance. The plot is focused on how the fan daydreams and fights to prove that her story is true-she met Shah Rukh, and she is beautiful.

In 2017, Shah Rukh delivered a TED talk in Vancouver. He drew an amusing parallel between the journey of humanity and his own journey as an ageing film star, emphasizing the need for compassionate love as an overarching principle for how humans should approach global policy, automation and each other. 

More Books by HarperCollins India

Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh
Blowing open the struggles, aspirations, loneliness and lived experiences of Indian women who seek financial independence in one of the most male-dominated economies in the world, Shrayana Bhattacharya’s pathbreaking bestseller shows why women who hold paid jobs form a meagre minority, even in cities. Abandoning traditional modes of social science research, she relies on the fandom of Shah Rukh Khan to glean intimate details of what women think about men, markets, beauty, money and marriage. Discussing Khan’s icon allows a diverse set of women—from upper-caste engineers, tribal migrant domestic workers to Muslim garment workers—to talk about their everyday battles for freedom, revealing how India became one of the world’s most gender-unequal economies. With arresting candour, Bhattacharya also examines her personal anguish against the biases of contemporary India. Funny, furious and fresh, Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh exhorts us towards a true modernity.