Book: King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema
Author: Anupama Chopra
Publisher: Warner Books
You've read one big, fat Shah-Rukh-opaedia (Still Reading Khan). You've watched the DVD (The Inner and Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan). You've seen him on KBC, making friends and asking your kids not to forget to brush at night. You've listened to him speak on everything from computers to chips.
After this deluge, is there anything that the world doesn't know about Shah Rukh Khan?
Plenty. Film journalist Anupama Chopra's King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema works for many reasons. Mainly because the story of how a brown, scrawny Delhi boy with defiantly untidy hair became the King of Bollywood beats the repeat value of even a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge.
Chopra's prose moves from pedantic to readable. The book, though written as an introduction to Hindi cinema for those who can't fathom what the song, dance and fuss is all about, stops short of reading like a version of Bollywood-for-Dummies.
Her story goes beyond the obvious to reveal how a fiercely driven outsider broke into an industry controlled by a few joint families and mobsters. She sees the rise of Shah Rukh Khan as a metaphor for a nation changing at breakneck speed. As the emblem of a new, consumerist India, the hero of a billion fantasies.
Chopra's Shah Rukh Khan is the star who helped a generation in the nineties and noughties discover their identity and aspire to be a part of his pretty,on-screen world. The one who told you it was cool to go to a temple every week, love your parents, and peel vegetables with the women of the house. That you could love your beer and your Harley Davidson jackets, and still celebrate homespun traditions like karva chauth.
But King of Bollywood is no hagiography. The book offers a rare insight into one of the most controversial episodes in Shah Rukh's life. The star opens up about his surreal, scary conversations with gangsters like Abu Salem and Chhota Shakeel. He once had to sing to Shakeel on the phone to prove that the song Chaiya Chaiya did not have "un-Islamic" overtones.
A drawback, however, is that the book has very few direct interviews with Shah Rukh Khan. While this ensures that King of Bollywood is not over-shadowed by SRK's gift for churning out quotable quotes, it also leaves you wanting to know more about the man behind the superstar mask.
You'd like to know more about his version of his childhood. More about the boy who wrote delightful lines like Log kehte hain meri aunty ke honth gulabi hain, main kehta hoon meri aunty ki aankhen sharabi hain in tribute to an aunt who wore bright pink lipstick. Shah Rukh, incidentally, stopped writing poetry after his father died.
Shah Rukh stubbornly reveals only what he wants you to see. He tells you what you want to hear. But the fragile veneer slips sometimes. One of my favourites occurs when the press began writing obituaries to Shah Rukh after the huge success of Hrithik Roshan's Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai and the failure of Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.
Chopra writes: "Shah Rukh Khan internalised his anger and disappointment. He became uncharacteristically quiet. He hunkered down at home, playing out comforting rituals in his garden with (son) Aryan. 'Who is the best?' Shah Rukh would ask. 'Papa, you are the best,' Aryan would reply. He was only three and did not understand what his father was asking or why he needed the encouragement. But Shah Rukh clung to the reassuring knowledge that at least one person, without reservation or hesitation, still thought that Shah Rukh Khan was unsurpassed."
If director Aditya Chopra feels Shah Rukh is driven by a desire to be loved, filmmaker Mani Kaul finds in him "something tragic". Wife Gauri says there are two Shah Rukhs: Shah Rukh One and Shah Rukh Two — "One is saying one thing, the other is saying the complete opposite, and both in the space of a minute."
King of Bollywood is too focussed on the big picture and of Hindi cinema's rightful place in the world to bring us the real Shah Rukh Khan.
Another biography, anyone?