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Shah Rukh Khan & Global Bollywood

Updated: February 5, 2011 1:13 pm

Of late a bevy of academics and self proclaimed film historians have sought to emphasise the non-existent nature of a globalised Bollywood. They have also sought to confine it within a narrative that is based on the presumption that it always had a global ramification, and reach. Much of it has also been attributed to India’s overt economic liberalisation. There is no denying that a growing multi-cultural complexity has led to a global awareness of India. There is also no denying a seemingly enhanced interest in mainstream Hindi cinema but then that too is because of an ever-increasing immigrant presence internationally, which is again marginal.

                What seems to have given weight to the perception of a global Bollywood is the invite by some western governments to shoot films in those countries. They have not only provided single-window clearance facilities, opened up locales and heritage sites but also eased travel and visa facilities. Now it would be erroneous to presume that this has automatically resulted in generating local interest in Hindi cinema, the way Indian food has, except perhaps for some unexplained reasons in some European countries. Otherwise this should be ascribed to financial recession, and Bollywood shooting units means money.

                A certain buoyancy has been navigated into Bollywood by the availability of an unhindered cash flow courtesy corporate houses. There is nothing uncommon in enterprising film makers’ desire to exploit newer locations to lure in a dwindling viewership amongst the mainly young in the country. So younger stars, bikini-clad ambitious heroines parading the swimming pools or virgin beaches to entice the hero with his larger-than-life living style. The girl must get what she wants, at any cost. This is one aspect of the new Bollywood. But there is another aspect to it as well, the Indian family values that are proving so enticing the foreign audience which really started with Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham which literally took the Dutch world in particular by the proverbial storm, and Shah Rukh Khan the new youth idol.

                Now what was and is it about Shah Rukh Khan that has made him the global phenomenon?

                It is, perhaps, all a question of connectivity. Connectivity with India through its larger-than-life cinema which broke many a myth about this ancient civilisation connected with poverty and superstition. The mainstream Indian cinema, mainly Tamil and Hindi, has contributed substantially in showcasing a new educated vibrant Indian culture which has resulted in a changed perception about the country, and its show business.

                There have been Indian, mainly Hindi stars and superstars, who have regaled the nostalgia-ridden Indian Diaspora, not only through their films but live performances. Successive generations of stars unsuccessfully tried to go international. Their magic was no less, the exposure was small, and the times were different. Until Amitabh Bachchan rewrote history and stardom. But nothing has globally worked more than the magic of Shah Rukh Khan.

                This was a defining time in history. India was getting increasingly globalised and being regaled as a land of opportunity. Sick and bored with a decadent cinema, young, educated, techno-savvy filmmakers were wanting to break free of the stereotype and redefine mainstream, reach a wider audience, and they found in Khan a hero who was willing to defy the conventional.

                He was the new angry young man. The way he articulated the dreams, aspirations whether by chance, choice, or design of the urban youth—succeeded in creating an instant rapport with a global audience. Visibility played an important role and people were ready to buy anything that he sold. He used the global market just as much as the global market has used him.

                The restlessness, an inherent characteristic of the star’s persona, coupled with a rare display of raw energy, and the will to succeed at all costs whether to woo a girl or riches, by means fair or foul, or avenge a wrong done to him, brought the dreams of Gen X to life, immediately developing a bond between the new superstar and the young, even in Europe and America. The fact that every Shah Rukh film was being dubbed in German, and a whopping 10,000 copies edition of an expensive coffee table book sold out in no time five years ago resulted in a chain global response. Unlike other stars, Khan made a direct eye-contact with the audience, rather than with the camera.

                His last major starrer that almost tanked in India, My Name is Khan, grossed over Rs 110 crore overseas, and his own worth is estimated to be more than Rs 2,500 crore. In the two decades he has worked in 62 films, notwithstanding the paid and unpaid guest appearance in other eight. A substantial amount of his wealth has been through endorsements, hosting television shows, and stage performances. At least ten of his starrers have been great money spinners both at home and abroad, these include Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayege (1995), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (98), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (01), Devdas (02), Kal Ho Na Ho (03), Veer-Zara (04), Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna and Don: The Chase Begins Again (06), and Chak De India and Om Shanti Om (07). Since then his box office performances have been dismal, including Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (08), Bilu Barber (09) alone have been his releases, apart from three or four others in which he gave extended guest appearances.

                Whether it is a downhill journey from now on, or he will be able to resurrect his career will be determined by the fate of the multi-million rupee sci-fiction home production Ra.One with Kareena Kapoor as his leading lady, and Farhan Akhtar’s Don 2 with Priyanka Chopra (which has been shot almost exclusively in Berlin, a part of Germany where he is a great draw) again, both slated for release in the later half of 2011. And all other questions about him, his acting, and his starrers, and what makes him a cult figure globally will find answers automatically?

By Suresh Kohli

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