A FOND TRIBUTE TO MY DEAR SHAH RUKH KHAN BY JYOTHI VENKATESH ON THE OCCASION OF HIS 56TH BIRTHDAY.
I just cannot believe that it is more than 32 years since I was introduced to a young lean and lanky 24 year old boy called Shah Rukh Khan way back in 1989 in Pune where director Aziz Mirza was shooting for his TV serial Circus and I had gone to cover the shoot. Incidentally, Ashutosh Gowariker, Renuka Shahane and I had studied Film Appreciation Course in Pune for 35 days at the hallowed Film & Television Institute there, the very same year.
Aziz Mirza and Kundan Shah who were directing Circus introduced me to the newcomer called Shah Rukh Khan. Not only was the lad shrewd but also knew the ways of the world extremely well, having come from a reasonably rich family and he also stood out among the rest of the actors at the Rambo Circus premises, in his uniform pair of white trousers and shirt, along with Ashutosh, Renuka, Rama Vij, Anjan Srivastava, Dilip Dhawan, Avatar Gill etc.
During lunch, I chose to give company to the young lad when I felt bad seeing him sit alone on a small bench on one side of the tent whereas all the other senior actors were having lunch together. I really cannot fathom why there was a sort of chemistry between Shah Rukh and me that day and very casually the boy asked me if I had the habit of drinking in the evenings. When I said yes, his next polite question was whether I would be able to take time off to join him for dinner the same evening at his hotel room. I did not want to disappoint my new friend and immediately said yes.
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When it was 6 pm and there was pack up for the unit, other artistes of the serial, who were my then good friends like Avatar Gill, Dilip Dhawan etc came towards me and asked me to join them in their car to spend the evening at their hotel room with a few drinks, I politely excused myself and told them that I had another engagement with another actor of the serial. Both Avatar and Dilip (who sadly is no longer alive today) winked at me and asked me whether the lean and lanky new actor had called me over to his place. When I said yes, they warned me that though I was fond of whisky, the new lad will be able to afford me only Old Monk rum as it was his favorite drink and added that it was in my interest to join them since they had with them Black Label scotch. I steadfastly remained adamant and said I would honor my commitment to the lad and they left, leaving me with Shah Rukh on the sets.
The production car picked Shah Rukh Khan and I and we reached Shah Rukh’s hotel room. It was a three star hotel compared to the hotel where the other actors had been put up. After freshening himself, Shah Rukh asked me if I would not mind having run with him. I knew in advance what was coming and hence I said I too will have rum. The evening went off smoothly and after we had dinner together, he, his non-vegetarian stuff and I, my vegetarian stuff, Aziz Mirza had sent a car to fetch me back to my hotel. It was a great evening and if I am not mistaken, I was the first journalist from Mumbai to interview Shah Rukh even before stardom embraced him in a big way over drinks and dinner at that time, though by now, Shah Rukh Khan who is referred to as the King Khan may have given over ten thousand interviews over the last thirty years since he had made his debut in films with the film Deewana.
Shah Rukh Khan spoke and I listened patiently, because I have always liked to listen to struggler’s stories right from the beginning, having interviewed stalwarts like Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Sivaji Ganeshan, MGR, Gemini Ganesh, Dada Kondke etc earlier and rank newcomers like Anupam Kher, Aamir Khan, Gulshan Grover, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol, Kunal Goswami, Kamal Haasan, Rajanikant etc earlier. Shah Rukh told me that he had already acted in TV serials like Fauji, Wagle Ki Duniya and was keen on trying his luck by acting in films in Bombay which he rightly felt was the real Mecca of the film industry.
Though Shah Rukh Khan did make his technical bow as a leading man opposite Divya Bharathi along with Rishi Kapoor in Raj Kanwar’s Deewana, the truth is that he had already acted in an offbeat film called Ahmaq while he was acting in TV serials and struggling for a break in films living in New Delhi. The film Ahmaq was still in the cans and he was not quite sure whether the film would ever be able to see the light of the day. Eventually Shah Rukh did take up both the films Deewana and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and since then he has never looked back at the beginning of his career.
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The growth of the actor Shah Rukh Khan into a star called King Khan has been indeed amazing. Shah Rukh has always been the darling of the media. I remember him lauding the media during the initial days of his struggle in the film industry for their efforts of covering news and being the bridge between stars and the audience. “Initially, I used to be quite embarrassed by the questions being asked by the media as a few of them were very personal. But later, I realized those questions were not to embarrass me but they really wanted to clarify certain things, which was in good taste. Media guys are true to their work as I am to acting,” he had remarked.
Shah Rukh Khan says that whatever he has achieved in life is all because of television. The King Khan confesses without pausing even for a minute to think, “I started my career with television. I am what I am today because of TV. I owe my life to the small screen and stage. It is a welcome change to see the way television has evolved over two decades”
Shah Rukh Khan adds. “There is an amazing change in TV programmes both quality-wise and technically. In fact, films and media (print and electronic), everything has changed”. When asked in what way has the media changed over the years from the time that he had made his debut with Lekh Tandon’s TV serial , Dil Dariya Shah Rukh quips, “”Earlier, when we used to go for press conferences there used to be hardly five cameras. Today the count is endless”.
After he became a popular star, I used to keep on meeting Shah Rukh off and on. Once when he hosted a show on TV, called Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain he quipped, “I am not as smart as a fifth class student; otherwise I wouldn’t have been an actor”. How was he as a student? SRK confesses, “I was very naughty and was in fact even nearly suspended once from school but the best thing about my parents was that both of them never pushed me very hard. They always said that I must do enough (in studies) so that they are not ashamed. And I did fair in life!”
Shah Rukh continued, “I remember my teachers said that I have a devil’s smile. Every time I played a prank, I used to smile with dimples on my cheeks and they would let me go. But I was punished many, many times,” the star reminisces. However when asked whether he would like his sons Aryan and Abram and also daughter Suhana to take part in the show or for that matter any other reality show, on any channel these days, he says: “I don’t want that for my children, because I and my wife Gauri are of the opinion that being Shah Rukh Khan’s son and daughter should not by itself become an achievement for our children. Instead they should learn to stand on their own feet and establish their own distinct identities and in turn make us- their parents proud.” SRK adds with fondness and with a glow in his eyes. “I pray to god and hope that when they grow up, they succeed in achieving something tangible on their own merit.”
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What I like about SRK the best is the fact that though we may not be meeting each other as frequently as we used to earlier when he was not as busy as now, he continues to remain modest and humble and affable. “I hope a day would not come when I would be walking on the sets with nobody recognizing me. If I get a taste of things to come thirty years later, when I am no longer a star, and nobody recognizes me, I will miss it. I think that is the most memorable moment and I hope it never happens to me again ever, because not to be recognized after thirty years of such high recognition is something I am not ready for. And not only that, when I would look at my own make up person, who’s known me for thirty years, to give me my make up equipment ,he would just look through me. If no one recognizes me, I will find that strangely eerie, surreal and shocking to say the least”.
I remember at a party Hema Malini had hosted for her film Dil Aashna Hai, Shah Rukh had sashayed up to me only to introduce his newlywed wife Gauri after he had brought her to Mumbai from Delhi. My only complaint to Shah Rukh Khan is that the guy who used to complain to me that I was too busy as a journalist ‘chasing stars for gossip’ to bother about dropping in on his office for a cup of tea with him, today does not have time to call me even once. Yes. I agree times have changed and though he was just a newcomer who offered me rum at his hotel room in 1989, after he has become a numero uno star, he does not even call me to his bungalow, if not for a drink, at least for a cup of chai. But then that is the vagary of stardom, my dearies! I wish The King Khan yaane ki SRK a happy and prosperous 56th birthday today.