SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – A mass hysteria erupted outside the Castro Theatre here April 14 the minute Shah Rukh Khan’s car came to a halt and the Bollywood actor – who was honored at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival with a special onstage tribute – stepped out looking dapper in a black suit amidst the inevitable pop of flashbulbs, and cheering fans, a sight that was hard for onlookers to fathom.
To the average Hindi movie buff in India and overseas, Shah Rukh Khan is the most revered superstar of Bollywood. The image of every role that he has portrayed so far, from an obsessive lover in the 1993 film, “Darr,” to the quintessential lover boy in “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge,” to the Robin hood-style bootlegger in the recent film, “Raees,” has been tattooed on the public consciousness. The film festival, too, clearly acknowledging that, described Khan in these words: To muster an American equivalent to Shah Rukh Khan, you’d have to combine several high-wattage celebrities – Brad Pitt plus Tom Cruise plus Will Smith – and it still wouldn’t be enough.
The scale of Khan’s popularity was clearly reflected when braving a chilly evening, hundreds of young Indian American fans in party attire queued up outside the theater here, some for more than five hours, to be a part of an intimate conversation with the actor, producer, and humanitarian exploring his unique balance between commercially-minded cinema and artistic values, which was moderated by famed Hollywood director and producer Brett Ratner.
Before the onstage tribute the actor, famously known as the “Badshah of Bollywood,” spoke to the media. Khan, who, this year, completes 25 successful years in the Hindi film industry, seems untouched by the glitz and glamor of the entertainment world, which in part lends him that charm, and also turns him into a legend.
“I long to not blush when you say such nice things about me but this makes me feel extremely special, and I thank the San Francisco Film Festival, Noah, Josh, and everyone who has got me here, all of you who are here and everyone who is standing outside,” Khan told India-West. “I have kept it very simple for 25 years. From the outside, it might seem complicated that I do special stuff but I do ordinary stuff. I tell my children this again and again that the only thing I do different from other fathers is that I wear makeup in the morning. I just get up and go do a job and I hope like everybody else I get right again this time. I have been fortunate that more often than not I have got it right. That’s the only strength. I hope I make a film, lots of people like it in whatever context, and smile a lot when they watch it.”
Khan said that he was “humbled” to be honored with the likes of John Ridley and Ethan Hawke, which somehow reminded him that what he was doing was not as simple as he would like to believe, and that it does touch people’s lives.
“I feel wonderful being here. I was just telling my team that it makes me feel at home because so many people from Southeast Asia and South Asia come down and make you feel as if you are home. So thank you everyone who is standing outside. I would like to come see everyone before I leave,” Khan told India-West. And he did, where once again the fans went into a frenzy trying to get close to their idol, take selfies, present bouquets as the actor made a round to shake his fans’ hands before leaving the venue.
The excitement of the giddy fans multiplied once the actor took the stage, where the voice of the presenter was drowned amidst the chants of “Shah Rukh,” Shah Rukh,” to which Khan said: “I love you all.” Ratner commented that he had never seen this kind of an excitement ever in his life. “My Twitter has exploded since you put my name in your Twitter feed,” he said.
“Every 45 seconds we scream, till then we keep quiet. Poor Brett does not know how Indians are,” quipped Khan. “For him, it’s like a cultural shock. Backstage I heard some Americans say they were going to call 911 for there was so much noise.”
And once the candid conversation began in front of a sold-out crowd, it gave an insight into the normally shy actor’s life. He revealed interesting trivia, such as how his older son, Aryan, looked like Jackie Chan in his childhood, how a producer termed him ugly in the initial phase of his career, why he credits his success to the women in his life, how acting happened by chance, how he hasn’t jumped onto the Hollywood bandwagon, and that people close to him call him “Shah.”
“I have such respect and admiration for this gentleman for the quality of work he has created around the world. but more so the work he has done for other people. The philanthropy he has done, the people that he has helped along the way and more so his generosity,” said Ratner, the director of the “Rush Hour” franchise. “Every three steps he stopped to take a picture with somebody and I respect his patience.”
“I hope that one day, we make a ‘Rush Hour’ in India with Shah Rukh Khan in it,” said Ratner. “Shah Rukh Khan is Jackie Chan, The Rock, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, all in one.” This particular conversation was followed by a Facetime call with Hollywood legend Jackie Chan. “But he’ll have to put in a song and dance,” Khan said. “In India, we don’t need dance clubs. We just need an excuse to dance.”
The highlights of the Bollywood-meets-Hollywood conversation, which was live streamed on Twitter, allowing his more than 24 million fans access to it, included Khan striking his signature dance pose of spreading his arms, inviting Ratner to groove to “Lungi Dance,” and mouthing his hit dialogue from “Raees.”
“Above Shah Rukh Khan’s fame as an actor is a man known for his pervasive curiosity about the world around him, about technology, and about our collective future,” said Noah Cowan, SFFILM’s executive director. “Khan is among the most engaging figures in any field and this night, in conversation with Hollywood wizard Brett Ratner, will be among the most memorable of this year’s Festival events.”
When one fan asked Khan about his coping mechanisms to handle failure, the “Dear Zindagi” star said, “Whenever I am feeling bad or down, mostly it’s when my films don’t do well and I am not able to make my fans happy, I do lock myself in the bathroom and cry it all out. It is ok to cry for both men and women once in a while or as often as you want. It’s all right. Get it out of your system.”
Khan added that the youngsters need to understand that both success and failure are transient and both are not everlasting. “So if you fail, cry it out and even success…so go out and do the party but don’t expect the party to continue endlessly. Be realistic, go out and keep working. It will get better someday,” he told his fans.
Sharing another lesser known fact about his days as a fledgling actor, Khan told a surprised audience: “When I started off as an actor, right in the beginning, a (big) director called me and told me he wants to cast me. He looked at me and said, ‘I find it so exciting that I can work with someone like you. You are so ugly. You don’t look like a hero. You don’t have a chocolate face. It would be so interesting to put you into different roles.’ And he kept on repeating that you are so ugly. I was like, do I take this as a compliment or a put down. That day I realized that whatever role I am offered, I am just going to jump into it, before anyone realizes that I should just do all the films.”
He went on to add that “I am not the most competent of actors but I try my best. I just try to put life into it and hope something goes right.”
When questioned by Ratner about a cause close to his heart, Khan revealed that he would like to work towards the rehabilitation of acid attack survivors, help them get a job and become self-sustaining, and said that he would want his daughter Suhana to take this legacy forward.
“The most satisfying part of my life will be when I am able to look after these beautiful women in my life,” he said. “I would request all Indian doctors here to come and help me reconstruct their faces again.”
Khan also shared his excitement with India-West about his yet-to-go-on-floors film with director Anand L. Rai, which is generating a lot of buzz regarding its budget and subject – Khan reportedly plays a dwarf in the film, and reports claim it’s pegged at Rs.150 crore.
“It’s a very different film,” Khan told India-West. “To me, technologically the most superior film ever been made in India. I don’t want to show off but it’s really a one-of-its-kind film. We start next month and I am really excited about it.”
Khan, who has in the past been detained by the U.S. immigration authorities, at least three times, told India-West that he was a bit concerned but did not encounter any problems on this trip.
Regarding the travel ban, Khan told the press that he would not like to make any comment on the order.
“If someone is taking the steps you need to understand that the rest of the world will come along with that, understand that or explain back saying, this is how it should be. Changing times, stressful times, we need to look at the happier times because they always co-exist…you have leadership, you have people who have decided to do something. I think we go along and see where it leads to and hopefully it will result in some kind of good results,” he said.
The onstage tribute was followed by a screening of Khan’s 2010 film, “My Name is Khan.”
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