‘If I can‘t do it with skill and talent, then I‘d better get into the hearts of people. And if they are loving me, let me just be nice and good about it.‘
When David Letterman addresses his audience at the beginning of his show, ‘My Next Guest with David Letterman,’ he describes the fact that everyone in the room feels a general sense of ‘I don’t know.’ Which, somehow, everyone agrees that they understand exactly what he is talking about. Indeed, considering Letterman is introducing onto his stage a pivotal representative of India and it’s cinematic industry, adored by a fanbase of 3.5 Billion people (a whopping 43% of the world’s population), Letterman’s excited bewilderment poses as a perfect summary of the sentiment and surrealism cinema-lovers experience when it comes to Shah Rukh Khan. The hour-long special proves an incredibly insightful special that both rejuvenates the boyish and humble charm radiated by Khan that fans have become familiar with over his near-30 year career, yet Letterman’s questioning into the ‘Badshah of Bollywood’s’ life also probes into new insights that allows us to appreciate and admire Khan more than ever.
Letterman and Khan share a very easy, playful camaraderie in the episode, each respectful and jovial towards one another both when seated in Letterman’s studio in the US as well as in the scenes shot back at Khan’s home in Mumbai. This then allowed for an incredible outlook of just how much Khan means to the citizens of India as they flock to the outside of his house – apparently, he details, till the early hours of five in the morning. This will be run-of-the-mill information to native Indian fans, however what makes experiencing this information as part of Letterman’s show all the more exciting and refreshing is the fact that it provides the chance to emphasise the sense of sanctity within Indian cinema, and then subsequently demystify this in the eyes of Western viewers. Khan jokes about how he is frequently labelled as India’s answer to Tom Cruise, however it would be fair to say that Western audiences would be largely ignorant of what an understatement – and arguable injustice – of a comparison this is in terms of the stakes of Shah Rukh Khan’s fame. After all, as much as action-hero Cruise has tailored his name out to be, it would be difficult to argue whether his person has reached the same levels of popularity and adoration as Khan, or that one of his earliest features has been devotedly replayed in theatres for over 20 years. Being allowed tid-bits of insight into Khan’s home, sitting at the dinner table with his wife, Gauri, and even being enlightened as to how Khan’s debilitating fame drastically affects the lives of their children, all prove ample means to reinstate the legitimacy of the Bollywood realm as a uniquely intimate, cultural industry – not just a care-free sphere of song and dance.
What makes the episode is the irreplaceable wisdom and wit radiated by Khan himself. He clearly enjoys the level of fame he has attained and knows how to work his audience, yet there is by no means a shred of arrogance in his attitude towards the success he has attained. Indeed, Khan humbly professes his belief in his being a man of very little actual talent and skill, so the best he can hope to achieve is to inspire love in the hearts of his audiences, Achieving this, it is only logical, he chuckles, that the audience will come to love him too. Khan has an impeccable ability to mix comedy with pathos throughout the interview, one surprisingly engaging moment being the discussion of his mother’s impending death when he was fifteen. Understandably, one might brace themselves for some heavier, more intense viewing, yet Khan is remarkably able to lighten the mood by discussing his childhood philosophies on death. His naivety had led him to detail to his mother all the horrible things he was going to do (like making sure his sister never marries!) should she pass away, as he firmly believed that one would be prevented from ‘reaching their nirvana’ should they have unfinished business left on earth. Another precious piece of insight includes how, once again sat around the dinner table, Khan jovially admits how the image of ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ is indeed a myth – one which a shy person as himself feels that even he has to live up to. The fact that he is able to engage so honestly and with such a welcoming aura is completely inspiring, so much so that even newcomers to the name might be hard pressed to argue against why such a charismatic man should be so thoroughly admired. One can only hope that Khan will be invited to engage in more interviews and features on Western shores, not only to act as the figurehead for the potential of Indian cinema, but moreover so audiences can also feel embraced and entertained by the silver-screen’s most magnetic king.
Image Credit: Netflix