Shahrukh Khan’ It was actually my daughter Rohini who set the ball rolling, by constantly blitzing his name like a mad mantra… As a free-lance film journo into the stuff for over two decades and having interacted with the coolest cats in Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan in 1989 meant zilch to me.
My daughter, however, insisted he was a dreamboat in a brand new TV serial named Fauji. The youthquake that seemed to be causing did indicate excitement, but the ‘box’ was not my scene and uniformed capers played out by rank amateurs was hardly my idea of visual whoopee.
But my daughter wasn’t going to give up so soon! Reluctantly, I was forced to sit through one episode and at the end, had to admit that the kid was the best thing in that episode. Sexy and attractive in a gawkish and clumsy sort of way, Shahrukh emanated oodles of charm that connected direct, hot n’ heavy with the other sex. My normally sane wife too had a funny look after the episode was over…
Totally aware of the impact SRK had made on me, Rohini wasted no time in going for the kill. She whipped out his phone number (how on earth did she get it?) and pleaded to call him up immediately! C’mon, I was a film journo, right? I had a name and track-record, right, so where was the problem calling up this exciting new star now?
Trapped, I called.
It wasn’t the Bachchan baritone, the charming Shashi, the flamboyant Shatru or the cultured Naseer who greeted me from the other side of Dr Bell’s instrument. Shahrukh sounded exactly like he was supposed to in 1989.
Part-surprised and part-dubious at this call from a journo inviting him for a cup of tea and an interview to be published in Delhi’s largest circulated English language daily. He was polite, slightly tentative but agreed immediately.
Shahrukh arrived on the appointed day. He was taller than I expected, slimmer than what he is today but wiry and had a very interesting face. Not handsome by any stretch of imagination, it was however undisputably arresting and attractive in an unconventional way.
High on energy and restless, he spoke fast (twenty to the dozen) and regaled us with hilarious stories of how elderly socialites of the diamond-dripping, perfume-soaked kind drooled over him at boring parties he was sometimes forced to attend, while he shrank back from their aggressive advances in quiet terror!
He also spoke about how he got his star-part in Fauji on the rebound, the fun he had during the shoot, the bewilderment at the mass-hysteria about his performance (“but I am not complaining!”), his respect for his mentor theatre director Barry John, his unsureness about his future… Shahrukh however appeared very keen on a movie career but of the ‘entertainment’ variety, nothing arty.
On the whole, he came cross as a new young, raw and confused young person suddenly swept by a manic wave of public euphoria and not quite sure how to deal with it. He gave me the distinct feeling of one ambushed by fame… We bid each other good bye. I wished him luck and promised to get back to him once the story was published.
When the interview did appear a couple of weeks later – I think his first-ever in a mass circulated daily – I was out of town. On returning I was informed that there had been several calls from the Khan household. I returned the call and found myself in conversation with a wonderfully warm and gracious lady who introduced herself as Shahrukh’s mother, thanked me profusely for the article and immediately invited me to tea at her place.