Shah Rukh Khan as popular as Pope: German media

By Manik Mehta

Berlin, Feb 10 (IANS) As German fans drooled over Shah Rukh Khan, the national media shed its perceptions of "bullock cart India" and trained its attention on the Bollywood superstar when he landed here, with one journalist even saying "he is as popular as the Pope".

Shah Rukh was here for the screening of "Om Shanti Om" at the Berlin Film Festival. Some German television channels suddenly turned their cameras from the Hollywood glitterati to Khan as excited fans let out loud shrieks to greet him at the Berlinale Friday night.

Some channels narrated details of Khan's personal life, his wife Gauri and their two children.

The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which was highly critical about India and Indians until the mid-1990s, when the world began to notice the South Asian country's economic and technological prowess, said that many people from all over Europe had descended on Berlin to see their favourite star.

"He is as popular as the Pope, but he (Khan) has more sex appeal," wrote Ekkehard Knoerer in the Berlin tabloid Die Tageszeitung, while trying to capture the mood at the Berlinale.

Many Germany-based Indians and their German friends agree that two factors have gradually changed perceptions about "bullock cart India", as it was contemptuously referred to in the past by the German media which often resorted to clichés of beggars with maimed bodies on the streets, the sacred cows, the corrupt politicians and the catastrophes.

"The IT revolution and Bollywood have together contributed to a vastly improved image of India's prowess," said Rudolf Schweizer, a German businessman who frequently visits Bangalore and Hyderabad to oversee work contracted to Indian companies.

"India, along with China, is seen as an economic powerhouse and one of the two fastest growing economies of the world," he added.

Shah Rukh Friday also announced that he had plans to direct a film in Berlin, but admitted that he had no concrete dates for the shooting.

A spokesman of Eros Entertainment, a film distribution company which has handled many Bollywood blockbusters in Germany, said that 50 prints of "Om Shanti Om" or OSO, as it is popularly known, would be distributed all over Germany.

"We hope this film will also open the entire European market for us," he added.

Aside from the film's star-studded cast, particularly Shah Rukh, the theme of reincarnation as depicted in OSO fascinates Germans, many of whom are drawn to Hindu philosophy and the teachings of Indian gurus.

"It's a different and very interesting perspective for many Germans. We may not entirely understand the nuances of Indian culture, but rebirth and reincarnation appeal to many of us," Ursula Roth, who works as a teacher near Berlin, told IANS.

Perhaps it is the "illogical and supernatural aspect of the subject which appeals to an otherwise logical-minded people", Roth tried to explain the phenomenal German interest in OSO.

Bollywood has also created a greater interest in Indian cuisine and it is not uncommon to find many Germans frequently shopping for spices in Indian grocery stores that are sprouting in many German cities.

In capital Berlin alone, the number of Indian restaurants has risen sharply from 150 in 2001 to 250 now, according to the Berlin Economic Development Agency.

"This increase augurs well for our business," says an employee of Choudry Food Traders, which supplies all kinds of products to Indian restaurants and also sells them in its own store.

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