In the year since Discovery Travel and Living channel planned and shot a 10-part documentary on Shah Rukh Khan, we know more than we’ve ever known about Bollywood’s richest star. A recent Business Today article calculated that Khan and his businesses are worth approximately Rs1,500 crore—or as much as paper maker Ballarpur Industries. For the first time since he entered Bollywood two decades ago—yes he’s the original poster boy of new India—we even heard Khan’s political voice in the controversy that preceded the release of his latest film My Name is Khan.
For a couple of months now, his Twitter followers have had daily access to his thoughts. We know that when he was small he wanted to be an astronaut at night and a hockey player in the day. Instead, he became an actor and now (in his words) he can do both. We know that when negativity surrounds him he goes quiet, that his stubble is greying and that his favourite colours are black and white. His wife Gauri never cooks, he dislikes spiders, likes tandoori chicken and both his children recently won gold medals in taekwondo. Son Aryan is a “crotching tiger” because of his tendency to aim kicks at a specific part of his father’s anatomy.
His name is Khan: London, on a holiday with the kids.
Of course Khan is a master of any medium so when he casually shares the name of the energy drink he drinks, you know that, in all likelihood, it’s a brand he has endorsed.
Fans, journalists and even disinterested citizens who don’t actively track Khan know a lot about the man. His life has been scrutinized and analysed more than any of his contemporaries. In 2005, Nasreen Munni Kabir produced a two-part documentary titled The Inner/Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan. A year later Khan’s pal Mushtaq Sheikh wrote Still Reading Khan. Film critic Anupama Chopra recounted the star’s life beautifully in 2007’s King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema.
So what’s left to reveal in a 10-part prime-time serial?
After all, Khan is no Andre Agassi, the temperamental tennis god who had a scary childhood, was, for a while, addicted to Crystal Meth, married actor Brooke Shields, divorced her and then fell in love with contemporary Steffi Graf and lived happily ever after. And even if Khan did have juicy secrets, he would be unlikely to share them in a tell-all confessional such as Agassi’s recently released autobiography Open. Indians don’t do that sort of thing.
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Would Discovery be able to tell its 30.5 million urban viewers anything new about the star in Living with a Superstar, I wondered as I settled down to watch a couple of episodes. The Rs25 crore mega show premieres on 26 February and will air on Fridays at 9pm.
In the foreword to her book, Chopra says Khan didn’t exactly hit go when she told him she wanted to record his story. “He hesitated and didn’t think he deserved it,” she says. Discovery’s Rahul Johri recalls a similar response. “He said I’m a normal guy, I wake up in the morning, go to work, come back and play with my kids.”
Discovery persisted and this ambitious television series was born. Each of the episodes has a different theme, such as holidays, 24/7 (SRK’s life barely pauses; he dubs after midnight because his voice is “sexiest at night”), his global appeal and SRK as a brand.
Unlikely as it may seem, the show has lots of new trivia about Khan. That’s possibly because he allowed the crew free access—to his new Dilip Chhabria-modified van which has a gym and a bathroom stocked with Ralph Lauren towels, his Mumbai fortress-home Mannat, and even to his never-seen-before Dubai home in Palm Jumeirah.
The camera’s a friend (literally because Khan’s own Red Chillies’ Idiot Box co-produced the show) and it happily trawls the globe with him on the sets of My Name is Khan, in Johannesburg as he faces defeat in last year’s Indian Premier League, and in London as he holidays with friends and family.
Maybe it was just my imagination, but ever so often Khan actually seemed to relax and take a breather from the endless volley of smart one-liners he usually fires in his media interviews. So while he tells us he understands how Michael Jackson loved kids, he follows up the slick line with an anecdote about how he’s shared his biggest depressions with his children when they were young and didn’t understand what he was saying.
Even if you’ve OD’ed on Khan these past weeks, it’s fun to watch him buy his own coffee, pause to enjoy street performers and play soccer with his children in London’s Hyde Park where he can “do the things normal people do”.
“Aryan don’t bully them or I’ll kick you,” he yells to his son, who Khan says has a tendency to cheat a bit. There’s a lot about Shah Rukh Khan the father in this episode on holidays. And, for the first time, you get a glimpse of how his children deal with his stardom.
The series doesn’t analyse his meteoric rise or pontificate on his impact on Indian society and that’s a relief. And Khan, as he can always be counted upon to do, shares yet another sliver of his present-day self.
“Is there going to be a day when I’ll wake up and I’ll have nothing more to give?” he wonders aloud at one point. He’s already calculated that even if he’s given just one per cent of himself to each film, 65% is already gone.
As for us viewers, we’ve still got 35% waiting to be revealed.
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