For several years now, Shah Rukh Khan’s birthday celebrations on 2 November have followed a routine: SRK spends the day at home (his gorgeous sea-facing bungalow Mannat), meets with the hordes of fans who throng its vicinity and hosts a small get-together for mediapersons where cake and conversation take centrestage.
On his 51st birthday on Wednesday, however, the superstar made quite the break with tradition.
This year, Shah Rukh chose to celebrate his birthday at a private bash in the beach town of Alibaug. Close friends and family were in attendance, including Karan Johar, Ranbir Kapoor, Imtiaz Ali, Zoya Akhtar, Ayan Mukerji, Sanjay Kapoor and Chunky Pandey.
An interaction planned with his fans the world over (via Facebook) was cancelled.
Also not held was his usual birthday meet-and-greet with the media — which often took on the proportions of a press conference, with the chatty star holding forth on subjects as diverse as his upcoming films, the industry, controversies, his family and personal life.
So the absence of Shah Rukh’s birthday ritual this year has got people talking.
Was it the chaos?
In 2014, SRK’s 49th birthday celebrations had taken a chaotic turn at Mannat, thanks to the crush of fans and mediapersons jostling and pressing in on all sides. Shah Rukh had then said that he would no longer host these press meets at Mannat, but have a proper events team organise them in a more professional manner. True to his word, the 2015 customary birthday meet (his 50th) took place at a five-star hotel instead of Mannat’s lawns. The change in venue didn’t mean a change in vibe — SRK was at his entertaining best, fielding questions on Salman Khan, his dream of setting up an acting institute for daughter Suhana, commercial surrogacy (his son AbRam was born via surrogacy), the intolerance debate. And of course, mixed in with all this were plenty of quotable quotes, delivered in his trademark witty style.
So it’s intriguing that the media-savvy superstar broke with tradition and stayed away from the press this time.
What makes his radio silence strange is that Shah Rukh has an important release coming up — Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi — at the end of this month. A song from the film ‘Love You Zindagi’, was released on Wednesday, 2 November, to coincide with the superstar’s birthday.
Many-a-times, SRK has had a Diwali release coinciding with his birthday (last year, it was Happy New Year) which makes his press meets even more interesting. However, he has had these interactions even when he didn’t have a film lined up around his birthday, in the past.
Is it the Raees factor that’s at play?
While there was no official statement issued by Shah Rukh’s team, speculation in film journalism circles is that the actor apparently decided to keep the media at bay to steer clear of Raees-related controversies. While filmmaker Karan Johar bore the major brunt of the anti-Pakistani artistes sentiment brewing here in the wake of the Uri attacks, SRK too was targeted for actress Mahira Khan’s presence in his film Raees.
Last year, SRK’s comments on intolerance, on his 50th birthday, had got the superstar major backlash. His statements, which the superstar said were misconstrued and blown out of proportion, inadvertently affected the business of his December film Dilwale.
Perhaps as a result of that incident, when Shah Rukh met with mediapersons on the occasion of Eid in July this year at Mannat (side note: Raees was supposed to have released then, but was postponed to January 2017 to avoid a clash with Sultan), he chose to refrain from commenting on sensitive ssues, such as the militants’ attack in Bangladesh that left four people dead.
“Last year, the media asked me something simple on my birthday and it became an issue. I didn’t enjoy my birthday and I hold that against everyone. Maine kuch acchi, sharif baat ki thi, koi galat baat nahi ki thi (I had said something good and not anything wrong). I was telling things to the young people. Don’t ask me anything now as I don’t want to spoil my Eid as one doesn’t know how it will be taken,” SRK said, politely refusing to answer the question on terrorism.
Was it to avoid more uncomfortable questions that SRK dodged the birthday celebrations at Mannat? While he did make it back home to Mannat late on Wednesday and greeted fans from his balcony, he didn’t address any members of the press.
It’s too much to assume that solely the spectre of Raees kept SRK away from the media. For the king of one-liners, to charmingly divert attention from what he doesn’t wish to talk about isn’t all that difficult.
As of now, the reason for why Shah Rukh chose to do away with a ‘time-honoured’ tradition can only remain the realm of conjecture.