THE REIGN OF RAHUL

( As Chennai Express becomes the biggest blockbuster in the history of Indian cinema by crossing 3 Idiots , I remember my piece written in 2009 .  Shah Rukh Khan’s success and endurance has a lot to do with his own unshakeable inner faith in a world of cynics, critics and competition. He is not called King Khan for nothing).

I met Aamir Khan in the halcyon Internet days of Y 2000 , when the word dot com on the visiting card represented a new zeal, the symbol of risk-taking , of creating a dream global company. With Shah Rukh Khan already the reigning badshah of the web world with SRKWorld.com, Aamir became for us fledgling entrepreneurs the next best alternative. Astutely suave and certainly discerning, and with a more cerebral outlook than his other contemporaries, we met Aamir to proposition a brand ambassador role with an equity stake attached in our proposed entertainment portal.

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Aamir was remarkably modest, possessing down-to-earth humility, an attentive listener, and having a sharp instinct for worldly affairs. While there have been several sardonic digs at the ” madness in his method acting” , Aamir came across as a successful actor with a open, flexible mind-set, ready for novel experimentation. Lagaan was yet to be released, as he escorted us to the production studio in his back-yard where Ashutosh Gowariker was circumspectly editing the film’s rain-song sequence . We were amongst the few to get a sneak preview of what soon to be Bollywood’s landmark cinema.

Eight years later I write this piece , provoked by a stray comment made by an office colleague last Friday afternoon, when the corporate world usually gets into unwind zone, gradually dissipating the hectic pace into lower gear as the week-end beckons.

” Shah Rukh Khan seems to have been suddenly targeted by the entire film industry; everyone from the Bachchans, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar , Aamir; you name it. Odd bedfellows , but they are all ganged up in this anti-SRK campaign”, said the anxious fan. Normally, I would have thought nothing of the post-lunch observation uttered by a devout follower about the celebrity crowd we know nothing of other than what we read in Page 3 gossip columns.But I admit this one got me thinking.

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I remember discussing Asoka , SRKs home-production( which was just about a financial break-even) with Aamir in a CII get-together . Asoka was by no standards a war epic or a cinematic master-piece. You could make out it was made on a limited budget and with modest ambitions, attempting to take a personal slice of the former emperor’s life, and weave it into a commercial format. While it may have failed the critics-test or the box-office window, it was certainly not a tacky ham-handed effort. I told Aamir just that , adding that I loved the emotional last few moments. Aamir’s sharp, cold response somewhat stunned me. He was bitterly caustic, rubbishing the film’s whole premise, and almost ridiculing SRKs misadventure. The seething competitive rage within was palpable. A fleeting thought passed me by; if I were to re-make the classic Amadeus, I know who would play Mozart , and who the conniving arch-adversary.

Therefore, recently when there was the expected brouhaha about Aamir’s ” my dog is called SRK ” comment, it hardly surprised me. As have the unpredictable Salman Khan’s bitter tirade against SRK , Akshay Kumar’s rather pathetic attempt to live under delusions of grandeur that he is supposedly the new King, and even the great Amitabh Bachchan’s rather unwarranted sarcastic digs at SRK’s quiz show. Even Manoj Kumar , resurrected by a calculated frown on his forehead joined the anti-SRK bandwagon. Bollywood is a dirty rat-house despite the steaming coffee with Karan, and synthetic smiles. It’s an insecure world out there, living a paranoid existence.

They may anoint him as King Khan but strangely enough SRK may be a victim of the fact that he will be perpetually perceived as ” an outsider” by the grand old family-networks that still strangulate free enterprise in Bollywood. For many, the short-sized slender cigarette smoking middle-class Delhi-wallah was an alien intrusion . The fact that he usurped the coveted throne, and has steadfastly refused to give an inch for over a decade, has clearly rattled Bollywood rivals. I think no one anticipated such impregnable , enduring dominance from brand SRK. Like Sachin Tendulkar in cricket , the man has been extraordinarily consistent. Box-office success and acting awards , hosting quiz shows and award functions, a slew of commercial ads, jet-setting with corporate honchos, Madame Tussauds , Temptations road show, book -releases, the IPL franchise-ownership , a self-owned production company and an animation studio. Lunch with the Gandhis. He has even made doing his Dard-e-disco at private weddings a revenue stream. Other fellow actors, have quietly followed. With increased corporatisation and free capital inflows, the financial stakes in Bollywood have become astronomically high. SRK has single-handedly created the entertainment industry’s financial capital warehouse; both working funds and huge profits. Now everyone seeks a lion’s share. It’s pure financial arithmetic.

But I think what has unnerved most about SRK is the fact that behind that ” I am the best” macho line, he is remained the simple old Delhi wallah. He has not beaten up his sultry wife Gauri, and his sister is not filing a criminal suit against him. He is a protective, indulgent father, and a trustworthy friend. These are all rare commodity traits in our glittery stardust world. Underneath the six-abs pack he remains a small-town boy in a world he knows only essentially worships the last man standing on a Friday opening.

I thin SRKs hidden biggest strength comes from his own internal pain. The fact that his parents died when he was still young. That his mind-numbing success will be forever elusive to them. I think only those who have no parents will understand his emotional-mental construct.. I think he lets his passions overflow , his energies double-up, his character assume new dimensions whenever he gets in front of those whirring cameras. It’s a cathartic moment. He lets it go.

So Rahul becomes the new name of several new born children in India. SRK may pretend otherwise, but Bollywood  is not his real home. It will never be. It is only his corporate office and a place where he has a job to do, expectations to meet and moments to memorize and mesmerize the world. . A scene to act. A product to endorse. A super- hit to deliver. Again and again.

Because his biggest family is now widespread across the desert plains of Rajasthan, his home-town of Delhi,  across the seas in Dubai,. the congested by-lanes of Hyderabad , the maddening multitude of Kolkota, the home-sick in New Jersey , the fan clubs in Jhumritalaiya, the upscale gentry of Mayfair in London, and the many, innumerable unknown cities, towns and villages that make India. And the world.

That’s where Rahul rules. That is his home.

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