It’s 8 am and in the basement of Abhinaya, one of the many single screen theatres in Majestic in central Bengaluru, there are just a few hours to go before the first show of Raees. Officially, the area should be ‘near Kempegowda Bus Station’, but everyone refers to it as Majestic because of an old theatre here.
In the basement of Abhinaya, music blasts, when suddenly Chaiyya Chaiyya starts playing. Is it possible to listen to it without recalling the train or without remembering Shah Rukh Khan’s dance moves, his fluid body swaying with the train or his mushroom mop of hair bouncing as it has a life of its own? A dozen men are imitating the iconic moves in sync, and when the lyrics “mera nagma vohi, mera qalma vohi” play, they smoothly lean to the side, and point at the huge poster of Shah Rukh Khan behind them, as he sits in a black pathani suit, his eyes darkened with kajal.
Most of the men around me, who belong to the SRK Fans Association of Bangalore, are dressed in the same fashion. They are wearing long black kurtas and pants, most of them wearing a smidgen of kajal. A lot of them sport beards. From their names it’s apparent that most of them are Hindus so this is a deliberate, studied look.
Twenty-five-year old, Deepak Kulkarni, the managing director of the SRK Fan Club Association of Bangalore, saw Shah Rukh Khan for the first time in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. His family took him to a theatre when he was so young that he just needed a ‘half-ticket’, he remembers. As he prepared himself for an evening of restlessness in the theatre, Shah Rukh Khan came onto the screen, and you could say it was love at first sight.
Deepak is a business analyst, who graduated with an MCA just a couple of months ago. At first, his job interviews were not going well and further, multiple rejections led to depression. But he slowly pulled himself out of it, by reminding himself about SRK, and his many failures, which didn’t make him (SRK) give up. “Being a fan means more than just liking his films,” Deepak says. SRK says that hard work doesn’t come easily, but when you do it, it will bring you success, he tells me. So he began attending more interviews, and a rejection only motivated him to try harder, until he the found a job.
While Deepak is one of the younger members of the fan club, and has been around for the last five years, Guru is the president. Guru has SRK’s name tattooed across his arm, and has named his son after SRK’s son — Aryan. His WhatsApp status reads, “Don’t call me family, relatives, and clients. 24th to 26th Jan only SRKians can call me anytime (sic).”
Guru started the fan club in 1999 when he was in class 10. That was when SRK’s Baadshah released. He says that it was, in a way, because of his father and his PT master that he started the fan association. Guru says that he liked going for the first day first show of every film, but the day Baadshah hit theatres, he had his exams, and his father forced him to go to school. But he skipped school anyway, to catch the film.
The next day, when questioned by the PT master on his whereabouts, Guru confessed: He was out watching SRK’s film. His PT teacher asked him, “Toh kya Shah Rukh Khan tere ko khaana khilayega kya?” (So will Shah Rukh Khan feed you?) and he responded, “Sir, mein Shah Rukh Khan ke naam mein sau aadmi koh khilaunga!” (Sir, in the name of Shah Rukh Khan, I will feed a hundred men!) And that’s when Guru started the fan club to show his devotion to SRK. The club started with around a dozen members, and now stands at 102. As of Wednesday, Guru had already watched the film twice and he plans on going again the next day.
When Guru started a shop that sold clothes in Chikpet, he had plastered SRK’s posters everywhere -- covering the walls and on the shop’s signboard. If you asked anyone in the locality, they’d tell you that Guru was SRK’s biggest fan. Now, Guru works at another garment shop that manufactures costumes and uniforms for annual functions.
Another member, 35-year-old Navaneeth has been collecting DVDs and posters of SRK ever since he was a teenager — he owns a DVD of every film SRK has appeared in.
Every year on SRK’s birthday, members of the fan association travel to ‘Mannat’, his house in Mumbai. There are usually 5,000 fans from around the world in this association, says Deepak. They celebrate together for days, cutting cakes and talking about SRK. “For those two days in Mumbai,” Deepak says, “it is like stepping into a magical world.”
In 2016, 22 members of the association went to Mumbai to meet SRK on his 51st birthday. While this was the first meeting for many of the members, their president Guru’s first meeting had happened many years ago. It was during the shoot of Chalte Chalte in 2002, when he waited outside SRK’s house for hours to meet him. Now, there are hundreds of people waiting outside Mannat every day, but back then, Guru swears, it was only him, and no one else.
Unlike Deepak, Guru doesn’t even remember the first SRK film that he saw. Rather, it feels like he has been watching SRK on screen since before he can even remember. Ask Guru what his favourite film is, and he’ll reply Bollywood style, “Agar ek ma ke chaar bachche ho, toh aap unse nahin pooch sakte ki unka favourite kaunsa hai!” (If a mother has four children, you can’t ask her who her favourite is!) It appears that the behaviour of this SRK fan club is different from the massive fan clubs of south Indian stars, though the merrymaking stays the same. In the very same locality, fan clubs celebrate the new releases or birthdays of big stars like Balayya, Rajinikanth and Vijay by breaking coconuts and performing poojas. None of that for Shah Rukh. Instead, they dance to all his songs — old and new. They eat breakfast together and then cut a cake.
Another big difference between the two celebrations is the presence of women. In some other gatherings, usually and for most of the time, the women gathered are the quiet wives and daughters of the fan, standing in a corner, but perhaps still as much in love with the star as their husbands and fathers.
But here, a group of women were dancing wildly and with gay abandon to ‘Khaike Paan Banaraswala’ from Don. One of these women, Chaitra, sports a tattoo of Shah Rukh Khan’s signature across her arm. She had to take her mother to a doctor to convince her that tattoos don’t cause any harm, and thankfully her grandfather hasn’t seen it yet.
Another girl, Sneha, has come down from Pune to join the SRK Fans Association for the release of Raees. She had been going to Mannat for years on SRK’s birthday, until she joined the group who met him in person. It was, in fact, one of the best days of her life.
A lot of these women are not from Bengaluru, neither are many of the other fans. They are from other regions in Karnataka, or even other states, and for many of them, joining the fan club was the first thing they did when they got to the city. The fan club became a platform for a community that extended to friendship and love.
It’s now 9.30 am. There’s a 25-feet-tall cutout of SRK placed outside the theatre, where he is sitting confidently with a foot upon his knee, gazing ahead through his large glasses. The cutout is garlanded several times over. Around him, a band dressed in bright red, is playing ‘Lungi Dance’ on drums and trumpets — they are merry and excited. In fact, they too have come for the film, as they are Shah Rukh Khan fans.
And now, it’s 10.30 am, which means it’s time for the first show.
When Shah Rukh first appears on screen, it is just his muscular back, and fans start screaming themselves hoarse — party poppers burst, raining the entire theatre with shiny confetti. And, of course, there are the dance numbers, during which many of the fans get up and dance in front of their screens, occasionally looking up at the larger-than-life image of their hero. Shah Rukh Khan is often in slow-mo, shooting people behind him without even looking, taking down a whole room of enemies with his bare hands, which is met aptly by roaring from the audience.
Apart from the “mass film” trope, Raees is also a politically ‘daring’ (its tagline is “Baniye ka dimaag, aur miyanbhai ki daring” or “The intelligence of a Bania and the bravery of a Muslim”) film.
Raees is set in the dry state of Gujarat, where Shah Rukh’s character, Raees, is a bootlegger. It is a film with many Muslim characters, with more complexity than Muslims are depicted in the average Bollywood film. Religion is omnipresent in the film — the clothes, the festivals and the ways of speaking. Religion and the political climate of our country in which religion is always a factor.
Meanwhile the same-day release of Hrithik Roshan’s Kaabil and Raees has been spun into a deshi vs videshi battle by so many, including the General Secretary of the BJP party, Kailash Vijayvargiya.
This roughly translates to “Raees (also means “rich”) which is not of our nation, is of no use to us. But [the] Kaabil (also means “capable”) patriot, is who we should support.”
What does Guru feel about all the “anti-national” claims that surround Raees? He says that the film itself had the answer to that question, when Shah Rukh Khan says, “Dhanda karne ke time Hindu Muslim socha tha kya? Woh sab mere log hai. Koi bhuka nehi rehna chahiye. Hindu ya Musalman,” (”Have we though of it as Hindu-Muslim when we did business? They are all our people. No one should remain hungry. Hindu or Muslim.”) Deepak says the same — he’d wear his pathani suit and kajal anywhere, and doesn’t care if people mistook him for a Muslim.
Perhaps, for these fans, the film’s message is indeed true: There is no difference between people of different religions — because they are all united by one god, Shah Rukh Khan.
(In arrangement with GRIST MEDIA)