I remember Dusra Keval and Fauji being almost simultaneously telecast on Doordarshan back in the the late 80s. Of course, Fauji was prime time, and Dusra Keval was a late night telecast. While
I still remember visuals of the former, I rarely got to watch the latter since it used to be bedtime for the 6 year old me.

Like gazillions of young girls, I grew up watching this man, swoon, scare his women, lie to them and make them fall in love with him, one after another. He would describe his eyebrows as weird S-shaped ones and himself as an awkward dancer in his interviews, which he probably was, but to
me, no one has enjoyed his dancing on screen more than me. His moves were never half-hearted. To top them was his dimpled smile and his energy, his half-tucked shirt, his hair that always seemed to have a mind of its own.

I grew up soaking each and every single one of his interviews, whether on TV or in print. My room’s walls would be plastered with his pictures, postcards, magazine cutouts, posters of all sizes, from tiny thumbnails to full-size ones. My father had a transferable job, switching cities every 2-3 years. These pictures would go with me, stuck one top of another like a collage, plastering themselves onto the next wall of the next rented house in the next city. DDLJ onwards, my father, inspite of his super-busy travel schedule, would take me to watch all his films on the big screen. And in case he’d be traveling, my mother who was an essential home-maker, would fulfill the job. Shah Rukh Khan releases had turned into promised family-outings. Once back home, my father would make me watch Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Guddi, like a cleansing ritual, without fail. He would also get me magazines from his travels which had his interviews.

Maybe that’s why my teens were pretty much about waiting for my Raj. By that time, Kajol’s
success and zero-make-up look had promised every dusky Indian girl like me, their respective Raj and his existence. She sold them dreams in tinsel town, and all of us were happily buying them. Shah Rukh Khan, on the other hand, continued to make me feel guilty for rooting for the bad guy. No matter how perfect the heroine’s love interest would be, I would pray and hoot and cheer and tear up for Shah Rukh Khan, like millions of others. I realised it much later that he was probably one of the biggest stars to consistently continue selling flawed, believable heros to us, one character after another, one movie after another with so much conviction. And we, as an audience, embraced him as one of our own.

Again, blame him and DDLJ, because when I filled up slam-books in high-school, my favourite country to travel to, was Switzerland. Around the same time in the late 90s, Subrato Roy opened Sahara City in Lucknow (my hometown where my father was posted then). Sahara City was this plush, state-of-art township. An event was organised there and one of the performers was Shah Rukh Khan, along with half a dozen other stars. My father got the front row tickets as a gift. But he was surprised to hear my response – I refused to go and see Shah Rukh Khan live from the front row. ‘Why not?’ He asked me. And I, very cockily, replied – ‘I don’t want to meet him like just another fan. When I meet him, I want him to remember me. I want to meet him because of my profession so that he knows my name.’ My father couldn’t care less and we carried on with our lives. Mind you, I was barely 16 and I wouldn’t have any idea about what my profession is going to be for the next, at least, 14 years. But as they say, ignorance is bliss.

School finished, and it was college time now. I went to NIFT for my Bachelors, specialising in jewelry design, and finding myself my first job in a high-end jewelry brand called Moksh in South Bombay in 2005, all this while wondering in annoyance – how the hell was I supposed to meet Shah Rukh Khan now with this career choice? Design jewelry for Gauri? But the Universe and my destiny were steadily conspiring to take me to 20/08/2021.

In 2010, I switched industries. Not to meet Shah Rukh Khan, but because I started growing very restless to learn how films are made. My first film as an assistant director was Gangs of Wasseypur, assisting the best director on earth. And the friends I made on that set, are still my core and lifeline.

Over years, while I continued assisting on films and ads to make money for house rent, I began writing with Shlok Sharma. In 2017, I co-wrote his second feature after Haraamkhor, called Zoo. Then in 2020, I co-wrote his 3rd feature with him, called Taqsiim. And to pay my bills, on and off – mostly off, I have also been assisting him on his ads. In Aug 2021, I got a call from the production house Shlok was to do an ad for. This time the client was Byjus. It was a two day shoot. 1 day with the celebrity for the brand, and the next with the other actors. I held my breathe – I didn’t want to show ANYONE what my real intention of saying a ‘yes’ to this ad would be.

Now, not many around me in the industry knew what this man had meant to me for most of my life. Maybe that’s why, from the day I got the call to join the project to the day the shoot actually were to happen, I didn’t share the fact that I was to shoot with Shah Rukh Khan with anyone. Except my family, nobody was privy to this information because it was too good to be true, and I didn’t want to jinx it.

The day of 20th August arrived, and there I was, waiting for the man who had defined the laws of attraction on all sorts of levels for me my entire life, to come on set. I was the Director’s Assistant (DA) to Shlok on the project as he geared up to direct the country’s biggest superstar Shah Rukh Khan on his ad.

That moment finally arrived and I got to know that he was approaching the set (most big actors have their entourage announce their arrival to the crew in advance). I went and softly whispered in Shlok’s ears ‘If I collapse or act stupid, please handle it.’ Shlok also happens to be one of my best friends. So he understood my emotions without passing any judgement.

When he arrived on the set, I saw him afar. Shlok had already been to meet him in his vanity, so he led to greet him on set. He gave him a lowdown of the scene and then beckoned me to take him over his lines since as a DA, it is my job to make sure the actor knows his/ her lines. So there I was, standing before Shah Rukh Khan, clutching a sheaf of dialogue sheets, trying to look into his eyes while avoiding the same, and taking him over his lines.

The shoot began and sometimes, while trying to read/ memorize the dialogues, he would come and stand over my shoulder gently placing his arm on me, speaking to me so comfortably like he has known me forever ‘Tu bol na beta, main wahi repeat karta hoon..’. When he would stand this close to me so that I could smell his perfume, the 6 year old me, the 16 year old me, the 26 & the 38 year old me – all gushed, blushed, trembled, held their breathe, gasped for it and felt a zillion butterflies in their stomach simultaneously. Of course, when rehearsing his lines with him or while cueing him from behind the camera, I refused to lift my eyes up and look into his eyes, because how could I? In the pictures on my room’s walls, his eyes were the most powerful eyes I had ever looked into, the ones that pierced the soul of the young adolescent me, while teaching me exactly what attraction and falling in love felt like. Every time he opened his arms on screen, I felt like running into them. And here he was, making his characteristic moves and giving us take after take with all his energy. When he held Madhuri Dixit by her wrist and whispered ‘Aur paas..’, I was amidst a million other girls in the world, who felt goosebumps. I still do. And there he was, standing 2 feet away from me, saying to me ‘Arre mask utaar kar dialogues cue kar varna main sunoonga kaise?’ flashing his dimpled smile at me.

Unlike most actors I have worked with, in between takes, not once did he check his phone. He sat there, while we did the lighting and setting tweaks in between takes, lost in his thoughts, making me wonder what must be going on inside the mind of Shah Rukh Khan when he is not in front of the camera? And that’s when I realised. Everything I had ever heard about him in interviews of his colleagues, about how lovable, humble, charming and disarming he was, was true. He was that and much more. And our crew of 200+ plus people, were all left gushing and awestruck once he left. Of course, there were only 3 people he hugged just before he left, yours truly being one of them. And while I couldn’t take a picture with him, because he had refused people earlier in the day, in between takes I quietly asked him ‘Sir suna aap photos nahi kichwaa rahe ho.’ He said ‘Haan beta woh kuch look-wook leak hone ka ek film ke contract mein hai’. I said ‘Sir no stress. Autograph de dena.’ He shut his eyes and laughed quietly and agreed. And once the shoot got over, he did sign me one. I got an autograph from Shah Rukh Khan where he signed my name, thanked me and gave me his love the 90s way.

 

And that’s when I realised that while Shah Rukh Khan has had his journey from Dusra Keval in
1989 to Byjus ad in 2021, I, watching him, have had mine.

He is still that dream-maker, that heart-breaker who continues to take me wherever he goes.
In the recent turn of events, my love for him, if at all, has multiplied to unshakeable heights and
depths.

And like I have always said, there was, there is and there will be only one Shah Rukh Khan, the
dream merchant who has made me dream, promised them to me and shown me how they get
fulfilled if you really, truly, madly want them to fulfil.


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