Bollywood Insider: The irresistible charm of Shah Rukh Khan

Shah Rukh Khan is the only person in show business who throws me off guard. I've sometimes wondered whether the fact that we’re born on the same day makes him immune to my habitual journalistic tricks which work on everyone else. I believe he can see right through me, though I can’t claim the same.

Subhash K Jha September 23, 2014 17:16:06 IST
Bollywood Insider: The irresistible charm of Shah Rukh Khan

The first time that I met Shah Rukh Khan, he was shooting for one of the few flop films he has to his name.

I left a message for Shah Rukh, informing him I was in Mumbai. He called back late at night and suggested 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 again and this time, invited me over to the venue of his shooting.

I still remember the expression on Namrata’s face. "Shah Rukh actually called you?" she asked, incredulously.

Bollywood Insider The irresistible charm of Shah Rukh Khan

Shah Rukh Khan. AFP

That was when I really realized what kind of star power Shah Rukh commands. Stardom and its charisma are things Shah Rukh has in abundance. Everyone cares for SRK and not just because he’s — to quote his oft-quoted phrase — "the best", but because he brings out the protective instinct in all those who are close to him, from his wife Gauri, friend Karan Johar to the nameless people on the fringes of his circle.

Besides being one of India’s most sellable stars, Shah Rukh is also the cleverest person I’ve come across. My first meeting with him was unforgettable. I was interviewing him about his film Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, and 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 Mannat and just as he had said, he introduced me to Gauri and Aryan. He clearly knew how to win a person over.

His intelligence is perhaps most evident when he speaks. Listen to Shah Rukh and he comes across as someone who is a philosopher at heart, albeit a pop philosopher. For all the easy, sound-byte worthy words, he's also clearly committed to fierce and constant soul-searching. He seems simple and perhaps he is, but he is also a complex creature of calculated caprice.

Shah Rukh Khan is the only person in show business who throws me off guard. I've sometimes wondered whether the fact that we’re born on the same day makes him immune to my habitual journalistic tricks which work on everyone else. I believe he can see right through me, though I can’t claim the same.

I remember when he found out about our shared birthday. I'd called him earlier to wish him. He called back, wished me and then asked, "How old are you?" with his characteristic directness. I told him. "Oh, so 'wishing you a long life' goes a little shorter way for you than it does for me," he quipped.

In the past, he's also caught me unawares, often with advice that is generous but unexpected. He once told me to rethink friendship with a particular actress. "She’ll dump you," he warned me, adding that only one's family should be kept close. Two days later, he had his famous back operation.

I was amazed that he could talk about something so distant from his life at what must have been a very tense time for him. 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 brief and on the sets of my dear friend, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. Shah Rukh gave his shot and looked at me with surprise. "I’ll just come back," he said. He never returned.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our connection. We hardly spoke and when we did, it was done very guardedly. I think Shah Rukh felt I was allowing my other favourites to colour my judgement. I didn’t care to correct his perception until the day I took my daughter, a die-hard SRK fan, to meet him.

I will never forget how beautifully Shah Rukh met my daughter, how 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, usually a pragmatic and mature 11-year old, was reduced to ecstatic tears. I had heard that Rajesh Khanna had the power to do that to his fans. Now I saw that ability in Shah Rukh. His star power and the positive energy he exudes are indomitable. He meets people with a genuineness that’s sorely lacking in other stars. No strained smiles, no strenuous efforts to make conversation, no play acting to impress.

And yet, for all that apparent openness, it's impossible to breach the walls Shah Rukh has built around himself. He allows his friends and family to get past some of the boundaries, but I think there are walls that are impenetrable to everyone. Perhaps there's an inner sanctum where the man behind the mask of superstardom lets his guard down; where he doesn’t assert "I’m the Best" but wonders, "Am I the best?"

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