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The brightest spark

The brightest spark
SRK UNCENSORED: Khan in conversation with Letterman on the latter's Netflix show

Shah Rukh Khan's appearance on David Letterman's show proves yet again that he is the most articulate and eloquent of 'em all



By Khalid Mohamed

Published: Thu 31 Oct 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 1 Nov 2019, 1:00 AM

No two ways about it - Shah Rukh Khan's interview by American TV host David Letterman - turned out to be not only insightful, but also way more entertaining than Bollywood movies of recent times.
Streaming on Netflix, the almost one-hour-long show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman, shot at the actor's Bandra home called Mannat and at a New York studio, was a fun-fest, revealing aspects of Khan's personality with dollops of wit. In addition, there was an element of gravitas, which could be detected between the lines of quotable quotes. The best line, according to me, was the 53-year-old superstar admitting, "I am an employee of my own image."
For instance, to sustain his popularity, he has to fetch up on festive days to wave out and dart air kisses at thousands of fans gathered on the oceanfront road facing Mannat. The crowd goes hysterical on catching a glimpse of him, chants his name out loud, and has to be kept under control by a posse of security guards and police constables. Now this may be a common sight outside the homes of Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan, too.  Perhaps Letterman chose to focus on Shah Rukh Khan, primarily as a case study of the mass adulation for Bollywood's top-rankers. Moreover, there's no denying that this Khan remains the most-adored star globally, especially among moviegoers, cutting across three generations, of Asian origin who have settled in the US.
Indeed it's no trade secret that the superstar's films - whatever their quality may be - find an instant audience overseas. Not surprisingly, then, the New York studio's audience comprised essentially of Asians, a major segment of them in their middle age and autumn years.
David Letterman - at the age of 72, and decades on the TV screen - may not be typically telegenic. Maintaining a flowing white beard, wiry framed and sporting little or no makeup, his forte is in flinging dagger-sharp questions, making his guest ultra-relaxed and, in this case, even breaking into a Bollywood-style jig to match steps with SRK.
His conversations in the past with former American President Barack Obama, actor George Clooney and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai are just a few memorable achievements. The exchange with Khan is more than likely to be viewed as another proverbial feather in his cap.
As for the subject du jour, SRK oozed tongue-in-chic charm, preferred (mostly) to be self-deprecating rather than pompous, and pointed towards his canyon-deep dimples to assert that they were an integral part of his appeal as a romantic hero. That image has been yoked to him ever since the abiding appeal of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), which continues to be screened at Mumbai's Maratha Mandir cinema hall since the last 24 years. Quite candidly (some may say immodestly), he rated himself as the Tom Cruise of India, and cited Michael J. Fox and Peter Sellers as actors who have inspired his acting chops.
Now what were the revelations? One, that his 21-year-old son Aryan doesn't wish to be an actor since he will have to better his dad. A tough call that. And so the son may well veer towards film direction. Second, that after watching the initial rushes of the Aziz Mirza-directed Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992), he was so disheartened that he had to be persuaded by his co-star Juhi Chawla and director Aziz Mirza to wait for the film's final outcome before quitting the profession. And third, that his friends from Delhi and he (who called themselves the C-gang) combed the Mumbai beaches to find Gauri (nee Chibber), and had almost given up before she appeared right in front of their eyes.
Such factoids apart, Khan was at his emotional best while narrating the stories of his parents - freedom fighter Meer Taj Mohammed Khan and Lateef Fatima - passing away when he was in teens. Plus, there was that nugget of information that, for years, he was raised by his grandmother and aunts, a situation which helped him realise the resilience of women who bond in an extended family.
That he is an excellent public speaker was reaffirmed by the deftness with which he handled the question about his take on US President Donald Trump. Vis-à-vis his rapport with the media, he was more cagey. When a gossip magazine had printed an article suggesting a liaison with his Maya Memsaab (1993) heroine Deepa Sahi with the consent of her husband Ketan Mehta, SRK created a scene at the magazine's office and was jailed, an experience he recalled with a blend of amusement and rancour.
As for the flashback to a critic who panned his performance in his first film Deewana (1992), that appeared to be delusional. Quoting the squelcher ad verbatim, it sounded like a figment of his fertile imagination. Oddly, he couldn't remember whether the critic was male or female. Like it or not, the claim seemed fake, coming as it did from an actor who otherwise possesses an elephant's memory. The fact is he was lionised by the critics from the very outset, even when he starred in the TV series Fauji (1989). Why the subterfuge then? Maybe because of a momentary lapse of reason.
The other downsides of the show were the transition shots to Mumbai's street life, conveying the impression of a city which is colourful and busy, but constantly grappling with poverty. As it happens, the metropolis is home to business movers and shakers and countless well-heeled residing in the penthouses of sky-touching towers, which bear comparison to the Manhattan precinct of New York. Exoticising the seamier side of Mumbai has become a cliché, and sorrily, Letterman catered to that aspect to the hilt.
Never mind. Because while the TV veteran was privy to SRK's attempts at rustling up an Italian meal at home, and throughout the chatfest, there was crackling chemistry.
Clearly, My Next Guest... serves as a much-needed boost to the current status of Khan. His last few films - Fan (2016), Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017) and Zero (2018) - have underperformed majorly. Reportedly, he's biding his time before taking on his next acting assignment.
Till he's back to where he belongs, the David Letterman show proves that Khan is still highly energetic and cracks jokes at his own and others' expense. Whatever his strengths or weaknesses, he'll be in our hearts and minds forever.  
wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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