By Faridoon Shahryar, IndiaFM
Shahrukh Khan is the proverbial outsider who has made it Huge in the big and complex world of Hindi Films. In spite of being pitched against three generation of superstars he continues to lord over the Box Office. It was apt for Author/ Journalist Anupama Chopra to choose him as the pivotal character in her brilliant book King of Bollywood Shahrukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema (Warner Books) where she chronicles the growth of Hindi Films industry (popularly known as Bollywood) from a disorganized murky business to corporate sophistication through the life and times of one of its biggest stars Shahrukh Khan.
The interesting part about this book is that it effortlessly meshes together the happenings in the film world with the socio-political and economic changes in the country. SRK has been presented as the symbol of a new modern India in the era of globalization that is hungry for success and yet remains glued to the ground realities of family-n-friendships. The class-divide, the cultural upheavals, the gradual shift from poverty to relative affluence has been wonderfully conjoined with the growth of SRK, the struggling actor who got a three scene obsolete role in Pradip Kishan’s In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, becomes nation’s rage with his first TV serial Fauji, enters films and becomes the biggest draw at the ticket window.
Chopra in an uncharacteristic manner starts off with the story of Bhavesh Sheth, a portly spectacled fan who danced with SRK during the Temptations Tour in 2005 in US. Sheth’s admiration and reverence for Khan symbolizes the global icon that Shahrukh Khan has become over the years. In a surprising move, after the first chapter Bollywood Dreams, the author traces the roots of this big superstar in the next chapter Peshawar: The Street of the Storytellers, to small gullies of Peshawar in Pakistan where his father Meer Taj Mohammad was born (ironically, Dilip Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor belonged to Peshawar as well). Chopra with her riveting style binds the interest as Meer an upright freedom fighter makes a tumultuous journey from Pakistan to India after 1947 as the train of humanity burned on the pyre of hatred.
It is worthy of note that Shahrukh Khan’s dad made a half hearted attempt in films (the father-son duo have an uncharacteristic similarity) and in a typical filmi style he pulled out his would-be wife Fatima Latif from an accident site and gave her his own blood. Here one must note that as you get engrossed in reading the book, you can notice that it moves almost like a film script as the visuals keep flashing. The writer has based her narrative on exhaustive interviews that she has conducted with Shahrukh Khan and lots of people related with him whom she has credited at the end.
The obvious question that one may ask is that, is it a biography? Well, yes and no. It is a biography because it tells the story of Shahrukh Khan from the times when he wasn’t even born, till today. But then one realizes it is more than a biography. It is actually a comment on the varied changes in India and Bollywood (which it seems is the mirror that portrays the picture of change happening in the country). Like for example, the parallel between birth of SRK in 1965 in a lower middle class family and the humungous ascendance of Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s makes for gripping reading. For a couple of decades later both were pitched against each other as to who the bigger Don in the Hindi Films is.
The two biggest events that altered SRK are the untimely deaths of his parents at relatively young age. Chopra sensitively delves into the most horrendous times in the chapter Life after Death that proved as turning points in Khan’s life. He had nothing left to do except hoping to make it big in the world of films. His love story with Gauri was another ordeal for it took a couple of years for the lady to accept his proposal. The author’s details of Khan finding Gauri on the far flung Gorai Beach in Mumbai are straight out of a Hindi film. It makes for amorous reading though.
Several chapters in the book are spent on Shahrukh’s transition from being a television star to a big movie star in spite of his unconventional looks and no filmi connections, how the second lead in Deewana and last choice roles of Baazigar and Darr made him a name to be reckoned with. But one knows most of this stuff as it is part of the folk lore. It’s when Mobsters and Movies starts off on an ominous note of underworld ringing in havoc in the film world that you read on unabated. Once again the author details the circumstances that lead to the rise of underworld in Bollywood, the chills that Gulshan Kumar’s cold blooded murder sent down the film fraternity and then SRK received his first call from Abu Salem, “Haan kya chal raha hai”.
Khan had been warned by senior police officer Rakesh Maria that he is on the hit list of underworld and SRK was amongst the first few from the film industry to have been provided by police protection. The insecurity of the big star when faced with the looming underworld or when a new star in Hrithik Roshan is said to have usurped him has been poignantly presented by Chopra. In fact these passages are so engrossing that you can hear the soundtrack of life playing in your ears as the visuals dissolve from one to another.
There are times when you feel that Chopra is presenting things from SRK’s angle but she also balances by objectively assessing his failures (especially the debacle called Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani) and the adverse feedback to the Pepsi ad that showed a Hrithik look-alike with braces being made fun of. In all, it’s a well rounded package that entertains you with its zestful pace. The author obviously likes the Raj-Rahul phenomenon associated with Shahrukh Khan and it seems she is endorsing his point of view when she says, “In 2005 alone, he endorsed approximately 34 different products. Shah Rukh was the ubiquitous symbol and conduit of the new consumerist society.”
Anupama Chopra’s writing style is simple, informative, engrossing and at no point of time she tries hard to grab attention. It just flows. The only eye sore of the book is the attempt at translating some of the Hindi film names to English. How would you react when you’d see the following: Maine Pyaar Kiya (I Have Loved), Hum Aapke Hain Kyun (Who Am I To You?), Dil To Pagal Hai (The Heart is Crazy) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something is Happening)? Lost in translation, isn’t it!
One of the reasons that makes this book special is some rare pictures of Shahrukh’s family, his TAG theatre days but the one that stands out is a twenty year old scrawny Shahrukh holding Gauri by her elbow. When you see this picture you realize it has really been a long road for this man from the by-lanes of Okhla in Delhi to the realization of his Mannat at Bandra Bandstand. The fairy tale continues….
King of Bollywood Shahrukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema: A must buy for anyone who wants a better perspective on the workings of Hindi Films.
Star Rating: ****