In my recent post Of Charm, I cited Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan as a definitive example of someone naturally charming. My friend SourgirlOhio expressed interest in knowing him and Bollywood films in general. I was excited at the prospect of introducing something I love to someone completely new to it, but also felt a responsibility I would not have felt as much on recommending anything else. How could I introduce someone to a whole new culture, especially one that I have loved so intensely all my life, without resorting to clichés, like most other introductions to Bollywood do?
You see, it doesn’t happen to me frequently. I don’t have to introduce Shahrukh Khan to people with an encyclopaedic definition, because I’ve never met people in my part of the world who don’t know the giant cultural phenomenon he is. Imagine describing a family member with a string of adjectives, something that is difficult to do for someone you’ve known so long and so well. I’ve never met Shahrukh Khan, but my love for him follows the same logic. How do you explain people, explain it even to yourself, who have been a part of your life’s narrative for as long as you’ve been on this planet?
I pondered over Sourgirl’s query, which did ask for Bollywood movies specifically, but I could only think of Shahrukh Khan’s filmography. I was the kind of fan who didn’t need IMDB to keep a timeline of all his films, because they were firmly entrenched as articles of the greatest joy in my growing mind. There were other joys too, but then the Shahrukh Khan kind of joy is always different. It is pure, unadulterated, incredibly infectious. Yes, he was building his legacy as I was developing my consciousness, and so I naturally learnt a lot from him – not just about films, but about the world. Here’s one adjective for you – Shahrukh Khan is an incredibly moving actor. He’s the kind of performer who makes you feel all the big emotions – love, anger, fear, grief, happiness – in buckets. Love is his special forte. In a scene from the film One Two Ka Four, he runs his palm on actress Juhi Chawla’s arm, and that it enough to send shock waves all over. You have to see it to believe it, to be spellbound by it.
But, like any enduring love, there is a dark side too. There has always been one, for Shahrukh Khan has had a larger-than-life persona outside of his characters in films, and I have had to grow up. My joys have been rationed, I’ve often had to go without them, but I’ve always been loyal. I’ve gotten to know a little bit more about the man behind the performances, especially as a highly intelligent, witty, warm and inspiring public speaker. I have looked at the films he released in my adult life with my adult mind, but until recently, I found most of his films from the 90s and early 2000s locked in my own time-capsule of happiness, unable to open in the high chance of crying at all the wrong, as well as the right, places. Because, they didn’t remind me as much of him, as much of myself in my open, unconditional, innocent and pure love for him. They had narratives of their own, they were part of his own narrative, but they were embedded in mine too.
It isn’t like any of my intense culture loves as an adult (most fickle, but a few made for life), because those loves are largely inside me, whereas this love involved everybody. It is difficult to explain Shahrukh Khan, because he was so much part of my microcosmic world – in its dialogues, passions, aspirations, relaxations. So many relationships were built, maintained and happily looked back upon, on the basis of what his films meant to them and to me. Loving him then and now is easy, much too easy, but it has permeated over so many other kinds of love, has made emotional histories of their own – so much so that his films seem to have a natural, enduring, ripple effect in the emotional fabric of my life. They also prepared me for so many of those emotions, for better or for worse.
It is hard to explain, but I’ve always been like this with anything that makes me emotional. I feel a simultaneous urge to conceal and protect, as well as express without inhibition, because that makes me feel like a truly living human being. And that, perhaps, is the most pertinent adjective for the legend of my time and life that is Shahrukh Khan – his enthusiasm, energy, vim and vigour, whatever you want to call it, is what draws you to him. It’s the biggest lesson I learnt from him, repeatedly, as I was growing up, because it was ever-present in everything he did. He makes you want to live, to love, to be true even if things don’t turn out well. It’s the running theme through his art – that his art is life, in all its bounty. It isn’t a petty, cynical, closed life. But, one that, despite everything going against it, is unwilling to negotiate what is central to its existence – its love and aspirations.
I made a small, relatively easy list for Sourgirl, but it also made me break open the time-capsule, and start watching the films of my childhood again, without thinking of what they meant to me then. I laughed, I cried, I gasped for breath. Nothing has changed.
What are your childhood culture loves?