Shah Rukh Khan, My Distant Relative Who Never Visits

Modern Family

Shah Rukh Khan, My Distant Relative Who Never Visits

Illustration: Sushant Ahire / Arré

Today King Khan completes 27 years in Bollywood, knowing that he’s made his incredible journey wrapped in a warm blanket of good wishes. And these are not just from Gauri, Suhana, Aryan, and AbRam. There are millions of die-hard fans out there, young women who want him and young men who want to be him. And among those giddy girls and boys, is my mother, the giddiest of them all.

One of my earliest memories is watching my mother being stoic and strong in the face of severe opposition — that is, my uncles trying to get under her skin by exaggeratedly stuttering “K-K-K-Kiran” around the house. That was when the letters SRK began to float into my consciousness. I had no idea he’d be a permanent fixture in my family for decades to come.

The year is 1997. It’s my mother’s birthday, and we’re out for family lunch at Chopsticks on Marine Drive. News arrives that there’s a film shoot happening in the neighbourhood. My mother’s antenna goes into overdrive. As soon as shouts of “Aye, Shah Rukh Khan hai!” reach the restaurant from the gathered crowd, mom springs into action. Bowls of chopsuey and fried rice are abandoned, the bill is hurriedly paid, and the next thing I know, seven-year-old me has been bundled into the backseat of our car. Fuelled by my mom’s excitement, my dad drives after the car Shah Rukh is supposed to be shooting in.

As his car rolls to a stop, my mom jumps out, and as an afterthought, pulls me along by the hand. SRK is just a few metres away and of course, security gets in the way. My mum is on the verge of heartbreak, and I imagine she is silently chanting, “Palat… palat… palat.”

Miracles occur for true believers or as SRK says, “Agar kisi cheez ko dil se chaaho, toh puri kaaynat usse tumse milane ki koshish mein lag jaati hai.” Shah Rukh Khan looks at the bodyguards standing between him and my mom, flashes that dimpled smile, and waves her through. By this point, everything is surreal. An autograph, a hug, and one “Happy Birthday” from SRK later, I am the one leading my mom back to the car by hand, while her head floats in the clouds. For the first time in my life, I saw pure, unadulterated, childish excitement in a parent. She’s not a millennial, but I can summarise her emotions in millennial terms: Best. Birthday. Ever.

No house party is complete without dad pulling out SRK’s signature arms spread pose to woo mom on the dance floor.

My mommy’s love for SRK is evident to any visitor to our house. In her little soft-board shrine to Shah Rukh, there are a couple of photos of my dad and I, but over half of it is given over to a collage. There are studio shots, candid photos of SRK, newspaper clippings, and pictures of the times my mom and the star have met. I don’t ask her if she spends more time looking at photos of me or SRK, because I’m afraid of the answer.

This SRK obsession continued to play out for years. From the sets of KBC to Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hai?, my mother has followed Shah Rukh Khan like the sunflower follows the sun. She returns from each SRK-spotting exhibition glowing as if she’d just spent a day at the spa. Each encounter yields a small trophy. In fact, one of her most prized photos is one from a presser before the release of Asoka – it’s her with her idol, and she’s hugging him and smiling. My dad’s in the photo too, and no one’s hugging him. He might as well have been a photobomber.

Where friends and girlfriends have been amused by this giddy adoration  it’s not been easy for me, thanks for asking. There have been days I’ve wanted to ask mom if her love for SRK supersedes her love for me and demand back that abandoned bowl of chopsuey. Over time though, this resentment has mellowed and my dad and I have learned to live with it. Because what else can we do — it’s not like we’ve ever had much choice.

My dad and I have learned that there are ways to leverage such obsessions to our advantage. No house party is complete without dad pulling out SRK’s signature arms spread pose to woo mom on the dance floor. It’s made my life so much simpler: Anytime I need to pick up a last-minute gift, all I have to do is walk into a store and buy the first book or CD with Shah Rukh on the cover.

SRK doesn’t know it but he is practically a part of my family, like some kind of distant relative who never visits. Even so, you think of those relatives fondly, based on the tales that your parents tell you about them. The relatives can be Dilliwale, Mumbaiwale, or Americawale, but thanks to my mom, Shah Rukh for me will always be among the Dilwale.