August 4, 2006


King of Bollywood: In India, Shah Rukh Khan is so famous he can't leave home without half a dozen minders. In the UK, he sells out Wembley in minutes. Emine Saner meets the world's biggest film star (Emine Saner, August 4, 2006, Guardian)

Shah Rukh Khan (also known as "King Khan") has been in more than 50 Hindi films and has won 13 Filmfare awards, regarded as the "Bollywood Oscars". He is the biggest star in Hindi cinema and this means billions of fans (Bollywood has a global audience of 3.6 billion; Hollywood has 2.5 billion).

In India, where he lives with his wife and two children in Mumbai, he can't leave his house without six bodyguards (the hysteria that follows him makes Beatle-mania look like a librarians' convention).

When he finally does appear, he is dressed in a black suit and an expensive white shirt and is shorter than I expect. His hair is a deep black, puffed up and slicked back - perhaps this really is why he is late - and he smells delicious, all fruity and woody (he has his own perfume). He is softly spoken and holds my tape recorder up to his mouth during the whole interview, like a microphone, and talks into it with an accent that bobs gently up and down like a boat on a calm sea. I start to swoon, but that might be all the coffee I have drunk while waiting for him.

We meet days after the train bombings in Mumbai which killed 207 people; an Islamist group claimed responsibility. As one of India's most high-profile Muslims, Khan hasn't experienced any backlash. "I'm not religious in terms of reading namaz [prayer] five times but I am Islamic," he says. "I believe in the tenets of Islam and I believe that it's a good religion and a good discipline. There are a lot of people who misinterpret Islam, some in terms of understanding, others in terms of their actions. We need to somehow arrest the thought of violence, we can't only keep on arresting people [after terrorist attacks] because they are nameless, faceless zombies." [...]

He is not an obvious Bollywood hero. He can dance but he can't sing (his songs are dubbed) and he is not as good-looking as other Bollywood stars such as Hrithik Roshan. Charisma, of which he has tons, can surely get you only so far. Why is he so successful? "I don't know," he says, and I'm surprised because many people have told me that he is famously arrogant. "My actor friends keep telling me I'm the longest-running fluke they know."

Unlike many Hindi cinema stars who come from film dynasties, Khan is self-made. He was born in Delhi. His father ran a transport company and his mother was a magistrate, and Khan went to a private school. He was 15 when his father died from cancer; his treatment had been expensive and the family business collapsed. His mother worked day and night to build the business back up but never insisted Khan follow her into it (she died before Khan became famous). He didn't grow up wanting to be an actor - he played cricket and hockey but injuries put a stop to that - though he did watch a lot of films. "We watched every Indian movie but I was more into MTV, Flashdance, Bill Cosby. For me, Indian movies were a little loud and garish; quite tacky."

The first film he saw after he graduated (with a degree in economics) that made him think he wanted to be an actor was Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, a film about star-crossed lovers, starring Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla. "I didn't think I was as good-looking or as cool as they were, but somehow I felt I could do it."

We'd particularly recommend Asoka.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2006 2:24 PM

Devdas (might be mispelled ) is much better...

Posted by: andy at August 5, 2006 1:15 AM