Shahrukh Khan fanatics hardly ever just write fan mail. They mount his picture on their altars alongside images of holy deities. They wait outside his home for days hoping to see him. One particular fan, Vishal Singh, made it into various Indian news sources for creating a shrine to him, plastering over 22,000 pictures of Khan around his home. He even legally changed his name to “Visharukh Khan.” This vehement adoration is due to pure star power. To have been able to interview Shahrukh Khan, a man who has been equated with God by his admirers, was my dream come true.
Bollywood has always been my safety blanket — a way to counteract the seriousness of darker days with color and flair. Shahrukh Khan, in particular, is the embodiment of Hindi cinema for me. His very first film, Deewana released when I was just shy of one year old, while his latest film Don 2 was in theaters this past December. I have grown up with Shahrukh Khan and have consistently fallen for his various cinematic incarnations.
When I was 13, Shahrukh Khan released his biographical documentary “The Inner and Outer World of Shahrukh Khan.” I remember standing with my friends amongst hundreds waiting to meet him at a promotional event in New York City. I also remember returning home that night after only seeing the license plate of his car as he drove away.
In response to my disappointment that evening, my grandmother tried to placate me, “Don’t strive be someone who stands in a line of a thousand people to meet Shahrukh Khan. Because I know you will be so hardworking, so good and so successful that one day Shahrukh Khan will push a thousand people aside just to meet you.”
Sure. Easier said than done, I thought. The whole world lines up to see Shahrukh Khan and I did not have the audacity or the patience to simply sit by the sidelines.
When I was first asked to interview Khan, my immediate reaction was a deafening affirmative. But few people know about my surprising second reaction — the feeling in the pit of my stomach telling me to turn it down because I foresaw myself inadvertently acting like a drooling fan rather than a journalist. But it also hit me that I would not be meeting the on-screen hero. After twenty years of getting to know his characters Raj, Rahul and Aman, I would have to meet the real Shahrukh Khan. I feared that the experience would be disenchanting. Would I have to come to terms with the fact that Raj, Rahul and Aman, the same characters to whom I turn when I need a dose of escapist Bollywood after a tough week at Yale, are exactly what I rationally know they are — fiction?
Encouraged by my close friends who told me that an interview with King Khan is a once in a lifetime opportunity (and many who said they would fight to take my place if I dared turn it down), I of course kept my promise. Did I make a fool of myself? A little. Particularly when I was under the impression that it was safe to perform a little celebratory dance after our chat because he had already been escorted out of the room (he had not). But was I disenchanted? Not at all. He was humble, he was professional, but above all he was still a star. After speaking with him, however, I did come to terms with the fact that he is human, just a wildly successful human. I learned that he is successful because he is exceedingly intelligent, he is a hard worker, he is in a profession that he loves and he is motivated to work because he wants to improve the lives of those around him. In short, he is someone that we all hope to be.
I hope that my grandmother will be proud that I took this opportunity. It would be wrong, however, to say that it transpired exactly how she said it would, that I had gotten this chance because I am successful. I had just gotten lucky. But at least I can tell her that she was partly right — Shahrukh Khan kept almost two thousand people waiting an extra seven minutes so that he could speak with me, and I cannot imagine asking for more than that.