I visited India for the first time in February 2016. I spent the last few days of the trip in Mumbai, with my closest friend and the only other Shah Rukh Khan fan I know. We splurged to stay at a hotel in Bandra, within walking distance of Mannat. Our American travel agent thought we were mistaken when we told her where we wanted to stay in Mumbai. Surely, she said, we wanted to stay somewhere more centrally located. But knowing that (for us) the center of the universe is Mannat, we assured her that is where we would stay.
We wanted to be able to just stroll over and look at that “bungalow” and talk to other fans. We did that daily, mostly in the evenings. There were always fans there. (Most of whom, when they started talking to us, asked, “Do you know who lives here?” Duh, that’s why we were there.But since my friend and I didn’t look like Shah Rukh’s other fans—we are white, middle-aged, American women—I guess we aroused a little curiosity.)
And, we hoped to catch a glimpse of our favorite hero if possible. Sadly, no such luck.
On our last night in India, my friend and I arranged to dress up a bit and treat ourselves to a nice dinner in Khar West, which was indeed lovely. When we got into a tuktuk for the ride back to the hotel and told the driver to take us to the Taj Lands End, he seemed hesitant. We got a blank stare in return. Then my friend said, “Mannat” and his eyes lit up. He asked, “SRK bungalow?” and we said, “Yes, yes, SRK’s bungalow.” He gave us a broad smile in return and took off, at breakneck speed.
We arrived safely outside of Mannat, thanks to our tuktuk driver, before heading back to our hotel. Since it was a Saturday night, there were more than the weekday crowds there. We got the usual stares when we asked if anyone had seen anything, but we’d grown accustomed to that by then.
We came upon a young boy who, we learned, was 18 years old. We asked if he was a fan, and he was. He lives in Mumbai, he was still in school and had never before come to Mannat.
He seemed to be alone so we asked if he was there with anyone and he said, yes, his aunt and uncle and some cousins were strolling by the water. They were apparently not such big fans. So we asked why he was there.
His answer? “Inspiration.”
We asked him what he meant by that, and he explained that he was determined to find his own way in the world, like SRK; that he wasn’t going to go to engineering school just because he was good in math and science; and that if Shah Rukh, someone with humble beginnings like himself, could become the world’s biggest superstar and live in a house like Mannat, then surely he could also pursue his interests and succeed.
This was a Big Moment for me. I didn’t “grow up” with Shah Rukh’s movies. I discovered SRK and Hindi cinema about 16 months earlier, as an adult living in New York. I was familiar with the idea that Shah Rukh is inspirational to many, but his “rags to riches” story didn’t really resonate with me, although I felt I understood the love of his fans for him. Stories of self-made men and women are woven into American culture so I never really got why Shah Rukh was so iconic for Indians.
And then I talked to this young boy standing outside of Mannat, and finally understood. Shortly thereafter, his relatives arrived in their car to pick him up and he waved good-bye and smiled. We wished him luck in whatever he chooses, and told his aunt and uncle that they have a very nice nephew.
It is a small story, but it exemplified for me just what people mean when they say that Shah Rukh is an inspiration.
This kid wasn’t saying he had to be a multi-millionaire. Or a Bollywood hero. He just wanted to forge his own path in life and not give in to the pressures to be like everyone else, or like others expected him to be. He wanted to do it on his own, which would not necessarily be the easy way.
Shah Rukh’s story is very familiar to his fans, and even those not his fans.All the accusations and raging in the current nepotism debate notwithstanding, SRK came to Mumbai at a time when the Hindi movie industry was even more dynastic and limited for outsiders,to try to get over his sadness after his mother’s death. Signed five films in one day. And the rest, as we all know, is history.
He often says he doesn’t understand why or how he became such a big star. But everyone knows that he works very hard, and all the time (even now, at 51); that he is a pleasure to have on the sets because he is fun and treats everyone, no matter their status or position, with respect; that he believes in “the dignity of labor” and hence started to do ads before it was widely accepted, and did it to make the money he’s made (much more from the ads than the movies, according to him); that he is not only witty but probably the smartest guy in the room—always; that he is a proud Indian and has a gentle soul (despite losing his temper on occasion!); that he is an exemplary family man who loves his wife and kids more than anyone can imagine; that he truly loves his fans (listen to Kajol on the topic!); and on, and on, and on.
So I think people see him as someone who thinks outside the box, who made his own way and made it big. And they feel if they can also work hard, treat others with respect, and don’t give up, they, too will make it on the path of their own choosing.
About The Author
New York SRKian, who hadn’t ever heard the name “Shah Rukh Khan” until her friend INSISTED she joins her at SLAM NJ in September 2014 because no one else in her life would go with her.