The massive convocation pandal felt like a furnace in the prickly summer heat. Since the venue couldn’t have accommodated so many youngsters desperate to see and hear the star from close quarters, multiple huge screens relayed the programme live from heavily guarded and secured venue at the sprawling campus of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad.
Only Zafar Sareshwala, MANUU’s then chancellor, could have managed to get Bollywood badshah Shah Rukh Khan as a guest and a candidate to be conferred with D. Lit honour.
A grapevine had it that the chief guest for the function, President of India Pranab Mukherjee, cancelled his visit at the eleventh hour despite being in Hyderabad as he “feared’ Shah Rukh would steal the show. The official explanation was that the President had fallen ill.
Shah Rukh didn’t disappoint the enthusiastic audience which lapped up every word that he spoke. That day Shah Rukh, shedding the traditional convocation gown he was made to wear for the occasion, spoke from heart. He recalled how his father valued education and learning. MANUU’s then VC Dr Aslam Parvaiz informed the audience that Shah Rukh’s mother had studied at Dr Zakir Hussain Delhi College which Dr Parvaiz helmed as its principal before becoming MANUU’s VC. It was first time an Indian university had felicitated SRK with honorary D.Lt.
As the programme ended, Shah Rukh had to be whisked away to his waiting car lest he could’ve been mobbed. He was the heartthrob of young millions. He remains a megastar, an inspirational character for millions in India and abroad.
Over a decade ago, I was part of a team of Indian journos journeying into Egypt. The beautiful young Egyptian woman guide was besotted by only two names in Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. The roadside souvenir sellers at the Khan-e-Khalili Market in Cairo, tea sellers in Tehran or the waiters at coffee shops in Istanbul recognize Shah Rukh and can tell you names of several of his films they have seen. He is one of the biggest ambassadors of India’s soft power, its film industry. And does it need reiteration that politics divides while culture, arts, cinema join hearts.
If he is the darling of millions, Shah Rukh and his ilk must also pay the price of being famous. Nothing that they utter goes without being scrutinized. Everything that they do must pass the test that some people have appropriated the right to put everyone to. In a rational society an influencer of Shah Rukh’s stature would have been heard carefully if he complained of something. But if irrationality, jingoism’s majoritarian impulse are allowed to run unbridled, celebs like Shah Rukh have little chance of escaping the punishment for their “intransigence.”
Children are people’s biggest assets. They could be their weakest links to. Want to haul the famous father of a 23-year-old over coal? Put the boy in jail for allegedly doing drugs. Their pride dented and confidence shredded, the parents will appear guilty, if for nothing else, for bad parenting.
Inke bache aise hi hote hain (their kids are like these only) is the familiar taunt hurled at celebrity parents.
But here the damage is not confined to one celebrity family or his charmed circle. Social media is filled with a message that he is being punished because he is a Khan.
Few famous families in India are as secular as SRK’s. And he has said publicly that he takes pride in the way all religions get equal respect in his house. SRK’s wife is Gauri, sons are named Aryan and AbRam while daughter is Suhana. Hardly any devout Muslim names his child Aryan. SRK won the hearts of many liberals when he named younger son AbRam, a combination of Abraham and Ram. Suhana is a common name among both Muslims and Hindus. But the incorrigible hate-filled hearts and poisoned minds will not accept it.
The irony is that many conservative Muslims don’t accept SRK as a good Muslim.
But the torment he and his wife are going through is too big to be left undiscussed. SRK is not faint-hearted. He has battled many failures and crossed hurdles. He will overcome this crisis too. As they say, this too shall pass.
If nothing else, a dialogue from his own film should give him courage to weather the storm.
Kehte hain agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho, toh poori kainat tumhein usse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai. (It is said if you love something intensely, the entire world comes to help you meet him).
Your dear son will be with you soon.
Mohammed Wajihuddin, a senior journalist, is associated with The Times of India, Mumbai. This piece has been picked up from his blog