Nearly all of us saw our timelines flooding with images and stories of people’s love and admiration for Shah Rukh Khan just two days ago. Khan’s life is possibly the greatest post-liberalization India story ever told. And very little is unknown about it too, his presence in our lives has been uninterrupted over the past three decades – through films, commercials, game shows, live acts, and even in cricket stadiums. Yet, Anupama Chopra’s intimate and spirited biography of Khan, published in 2007 (which was also one of Khan’s most important years in films), finds the sweet spot between celebrating the actor and studying the rise of the quintessential song and dance Bollywood film into a global phenomenon.
Like a brief history of a life, the narrative breezily moves from an introduction to the giddy, glamorous world of Hindi cinema to the cacophonous lanes of Peshawar where Shah Rukh’s father, Meer Taj Mohammad, was born. Chopra offers her readers a brief glimpse of how Hindi films began to find success post-Independence, often referred to as the “Golden Age”, a period of “creative and commercial renaissance” that flourished, long before the corporatization of Bollywood.
Khan only appears in the third chapter of the book, but he makes a heroic entry like no other – a complicated birth during which the umbilical cord gets looped around his neck. You get all the dizzying details of his journey – the initial days of struggle, the larger-than-life romance with Gauri, and later stardom – stories which have risen to near-mythical status in India today, thrown around in common parlance during water cooler conversations. But there are the quieter moments too, especially in the early chapters when he’s still a young man dealing with the loss of his parents.
Like several films of Khan, King of Bollywood also has one of the best endings I have ever chanced on. We are told how Shah Rukh’s grandmother used to say that each time someone photographs you, three seconds of your life are taken away from you. Khan says, “I want to so many cameras taking pictures of me at the same time that I live only for a moment... And somebody asks, ‘What happened?’ And they say, ‘He got shot.’” Going out not with a whimper but a bang. A shooting star for our times.