B’day Special: Shah Rukh Khan As I Know Him!

The first time that I met Shah Rukh he was shooting for one of the few flops he has done in recent times.

This was ages ago. When I left a message for Shah Rukh informing him I was in Mumbai he called back late in the night suggesting we meet the next day. The next morning I was with Mahesh Manjrekar and Namrata Shirodkar who were shooting at Joggers Park when Shah Rukh called on my cellphone inviting me over to the venue of his shooting.

I still remember the expression on Namrata’s face. “Shah Rukh actually called you?!” she was incredulous.That was when I realized what star power is. And Shah Rukh has it in abundance.While he was shooting for Main Hoon Na at Film City in the suburbs of Mumbai I saw Sushmita Sen’s sister drop into his van with some special herbal medicine got specially for his lately operated neck.

Everyone cares for SRK and not just because he’s—to quote his oft-quoted phrase—the best, but also because he brings out the protective instinct in all those who are close to him from wife Gauri and friend Karan Johar to Sushmita and her sis Neelam. Besides being India’s most saleable star he’s also the cleverest person I’ve come across.

When he talks the words spill out in a free flowing and utterly charming mélange of self-revealing existentialism. My first meeting with Shah Rukh was unforgettable. His good friend Juhi Chawla was also on the set of 1 2 Ka 4 . Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani featuring both had just been released. Naturally that was the main topic of conversation….until suddenly, Shah Rukh said, “Let’s go home. I want you to meet my wife and son.” Dodging all security he hopped into my taxi and we sped to his famous bungalow Mannat, a hand’s throw away. The white interiors of the place gleamed in what I thought to be a rather clinical way.There, I met his wife Gauri and son Aryan . A truly happy family. Shah Rukh is a philosopher at heart, albeit a pop-philosopher but nonetheless committed to a fierce and constant soul-searching that he defines verbally with easy designer-words.

By using a language that sounds casual and is yet acutely penetrating he creates the feeling of being a simple yet complex creature of calculated caprice.
He’s the only showbiz persona who throws me off-guard. Perhaps because we’re born on the same day none of my habitual journalistic tricks work on Shah Rukh. I believe he can see right through me , though I can’t claim the same.

I remember the first time I called him on his birthday and mentioned it’s also mine, he called right back to wish me. “How old are you?” he asked me in his direct way. I told him. “Oh, so ‘wishing you a long life’ goes a little shorter way for you than it does for me,” he replied.Shah Rukh can catch you unawares. “Nothing escapes my attention,” he once told me. He’d also advise me against my friendship with a particular actress. “She’ll dump you. Nothing matters except your family,” he warned me from London two days before his famous back operation some years ago.

I was amazed that he could talk about something so distant during a time like that. He was completely right about the actress, of course. “Over here they all think only about themselves constantly. I want my close friends to come out of that,” he told me after a long interview. The next time we met it was briefly on the sets of my dear friend Sanjay Bhansali’s Devdas. Shah Rukh gave his shot, and looked at me with surprise. “I’ll be just come back,” he said. He never returned.

Somewhere I think we lost connectivity. We hardly ever spoke. When we did it was very done very guardedly. Shah Rukh felt I was allowing my other favourites to colour my judgement. I didn’t know or care to correct his perception…until the day I took my daughter a die-hard SRK fan , to meet her idol.

The meeting was arranged by our mutual friend Karan Johar who also accompanied us to the set of Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na. On this occasion when I saw Shah Rukh I was stuck by how frail the neck problem and surgery had made him. But the spirit remains unbroken…and the fans are still there. More of them than ever before.

I will never forget how beautifully and effortlessly Shah Rukh met my daughter, how much at home he made her feel, advised her on career options, fed her lunch and insisted on having a picture taken with her.This was 10 years ago.

My daughter, otherwise a grownup pragmatic 11-year old, was reduced to sobbing ecstasy. I believe Rajesh Khanna had the power to do that to his fans. Now Shah Rukh had it. His star power and the positive energy that he exudes are indomitable. And he meets people with a genuineness that’s sorely lacking in other stars. No strained smiles, no strenuous efforts to make conversation…..Shah Rukh doesn’t need to play-act to impress.

No one can get to know Shah Rukh intimately. He has two walls around him. One that he allows his friends and family to penetrate and the other more impenetrable wall which I don’t think anyone is allowed to penetrate. No self-sketch, or reams and reams of self-analysis or even an autobiography can really reveal the real Shah Rukh Khan… the one behind the mask of superstardom who is as scared and insecure as any man….the one who doesn’t assert ‘I’m The Best’ but probably looks at the mirror in the morning and wonders, ‘Am I The Best?’

I think it’s time for Shah Rukh Khan to look towards the future and plan his next career –level. So far he has devised a foolproof method of working with the topnotch directors most of whom are his very close friends. I think SRK now needs to explore a territory removed from home ground. How and when he does so depends entirely on his ability to make the switchover from Eternal Lover to Mellow Romantic . Right now Shah Rukh is bigger than the biggest, the only star who guarantees a definite box-office draw.
Yup, the sky’s the limit. But SRK needs to look beyond.

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