ShahRock: Chennai Express Avatar

SRK Chennai Express

Many, many years ago, I had created a cartoon character called Shah Rock for my friend, actor Shah Rukh Khan. Someday, we both hoped, we could do a live action + animation movie starring Shah Rukh and Shah Rock.

Over the years, I have updated Shah Rock in the many movie avatars of Shah Rukh. Here’s the latest – for his film “Chennai Express” which is set to get the biggest opening of all time.

The Zen of Creativity

creatividad

Every few months, my creative compass as a blogger goes a little awry and begins pointing towards approval seeking. My writing leans towards the show-offy shortcuts and borrowed genius. My effort becomes to craft that cleverly-written post that will get the maximum likes.

The symptoms are familiar: I begin to be driven by a compulsion of proving. I become a little hurried and irritable. I contract when given criticism. I wait anxiously for responses as a measurement of my worth. In essence, I become a victim of the blog.

At such times, I get a reminder from my mentor GD of the real reasons that we write. I had shared it in a post many moons ago in the form of five questions to ask before you blog. But it can be applied to any form of creativity. I am reposting here for so many new fellow-bloggers and readers who have joined since then. It’s a goldmine of wisdom that helps me get back on track.

A reminder that, as GD says: “Writing is just your excuse to connect with the Source. It is a means for your evolution – your device for meditation. A blog is just an excuse to be in that space. It’s finally not even about honing your skill as a writer – it’s about finding your integrity. Are you becoming a puppet and dancing for others? Or are you finding your truth and acting from there?”

The original post reproduced below: 

The Awake Blogger

(Originally Posted November 2012)

A few months ago, when I was just beginning my blogging journey, I had asked my mentor GD for some tips on blogging as a path of reflection and self-learning.

The insights he shared in the form of questions to ask myself while creating a new blog could well be insights one could use while creating anything new. Just replacing the word ‘blog’ with cartoon/artwork/book/poem/screenplay could make the same questions a blueprint for any creative person seeking to tune into a higher and wider inspiration.

Some of the questions overlapped, but each was worthy of being asked again and again every time I sat down to create a new blog.

1. “What tiny contribution can I make to the planet today?”
Beginning with an attitude of being available for service silently opens the doorways of intuition and inspiration.

2. “Who am I being when I am creating this blog?”
GD’s one constant reminder to those around him is to develop sensitivity to who they are being rather than focusing only on what they are doing. Everything we create, he says, carries an invisible energetic signature of our state while we were doing it. The most brilliantly written post about love can have the energy of arrogance, fearful desperation or pushiness. Regardless of whether people consciously pick it up or not, they respond to the energy. So the underlying energy is as critical as the content and the awake blogger must gradually become sensitive to his energy while he is creating a blog post.

3. “Is this blog coming from a state of Flow or is it coming from a should, a must, a need-to?”
Sometimes, the starting point for a blog can come from a mind compulsion – a panic that too many days have passed, a fear that one is going to lose one’s readers, a desire to get validation, a need to project oneself as more evolved. Forget about enlightening others, GD told me once, blog for your own evolution.

4. “Do I have a desire for a specific outcome?”
If there is, GD said, you will manipulate the flow into a fixed direction. You will not be true to the natural impulse in the moment. Sometimes, just like the expensive car and house – blogging can also become another vehicle for self-gratification. Instead, consider approaching it as being an expression of me being fully, simply, me.  So the question to ask is: am I being honest to myself and my deepest integrity? Is there any form of deception creeping in? Is there any subtle greed and fear operating?

5. “Is there any part of me which wants to convert/coerce others into changing their point of view?”
The analogy GD gave to explain this was that of a handsome gulmohur tree. Seeing the tree may inspire us. But the tree is not trying to make us like it. It is just standing in his own truth. As we get into the Flow, blogging becomes as natural, effortless and spontaneous as the bird singing its own song or the flower sharing its fragrance: a spontaneous happening with no thought for the result. Along the way, GD cautioned, don’t become too attached to your point of view. ‘Don’t hard-sell,’ he said. ‘The harder you sell, the more resistance you will face. Don’t take your own wisdom too seriously!’

Finally, GD reminded me: Don’t judge your old writings – your old blogs. That was the best you knew then. Appreciate yourself for going out there and saying your piece. And thank the blog and the readers for giving you an excuse to Flow. Everything in life is a means to return to your true self. Let the blog also become another reason to dive deeper into you!

Turn On Your Star Light

Secret of Stardom Shah Rukh Khan

So here’s what I experienced last night:

Travelling by private jet. Check.
Police escort and bouncers. Check.
Being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce Phantom. Check.
Partying with people considered legends. Check.
Twelve thousand screaming fans. Check.

Not many of us experience the superstar life, let alone all in one evening, but I did when I travelled from Mumbai to Chennai along with actor Shah Rukh Khan to receive the Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan award last night. It was a grand event being televised for an estimated global audience of ten million viewers. Shah Rukh was being flown 1300 kms just for a few hours. And as I waited in the whisper-quiet lounge of the Corporate Aviation terminal for Shah Rukh, who was late as usual, I marveled at what a big deal it all was going to be.

But when I look back, what moved me finally were the quiet, almost unnoticed things that Shah Rukh did along the way. The little jokes he shared with the security officers at the private airport. Like the macho security guard whose nametag read “R Meena”. Shah Rukh checked with him about his name again, and asked him where he was from, and said with a grin, “Don’t mind, sir, but in my film, the heroine is called Meena.” As Shah Rukh gave him a brotherly half-hug, the man glowed at the attention not many billionaires gave him.

On the plane, a super mid-sized Challenger 605, he remembered to ask the pilot if the pictures they had taken the last time had turned out well. And reminded the flight attendant to please get more of the little candy sweets he had fallen in love with. As we entered, the cabin was still being fumigated and clouds of surreal smoky mist floated across our knees. When the flight attendant began to apologize profusely, he stopped her, “No, I don’t mind – except that I start feeling that I am doing a love song.”

When we landed, there was a stunning black Rolls Royce Phantom waiting for us. Sitting inside, Shah Rukh was amused to discover that the Rolls Royce had a mute button for the car stereo embedded on the back seat window. With the wide-eyed glee of a child, he pressed it again and again. And we spoke about the joy he gets from the quiet charity he does as he gets older and his plans to spend more time with it. We spoke about prayers and bringing up our children to remember their parents for what they contributed to the planet.

When our car pulled up at the stadium gate, he was still in his travelling clothes – frayed jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and unkempt hair – and was unhappy by the security phalanx pushing away all photographers and cameras till he changed into his formal suit backstage. “This is how I look,” he said with a smile. “What’s wrong if they photograph me?”

A quick change in the van later, he emerged wearing a cravat and a bow-tie and a jet black suit and slicked back hair, looking every inch a superstar. The crowd roared as he walked in and he waved back and sat on his front-row round table. When I pointed out to him an A-list director sitting a few round tables back with his family, Shah Rukh got up and walked into the crowd to him and hugged him. The director sent me an SMS a few seconds later: Wow, I can’t believe Shah Rukh Khan hugged me.

What I will remember about the evening was his willingness to do things far beyond what was expected of him. That is a lesson worth learning: how to give love so totally to others, that their love rushes back to us, as if to fill the space created. How to stop calculating, conserving, protecting and simply become an open-hearted blessing to every person you meet for a little while. To give with the utter confidence that the Universe invariably returns the same goodness. Or even better, to give like one to whom the Universe has already given too much goodness.

At the stadium, on the hottest evening of May, with the temperature above 40 degrees centigrade, it was so hot that within a few minutes Shah Rukh looked like he had been drenched in a thunder shower. But his smile didn’t fade. Neither did the spring in his step when the awards segment and speeches by others continued for some twenty-odd minutes. He danced with little children on stage asking them to please cover for his bad dancing. He joked, complimented, thanked, bowed and won hearts of the twelve thousand fans.

What I loved was that little moment that happened when, after he received the award, we were on our way back to the vanity van. A young girl was leaning against a wall with her back to us, talking on her phone. Shah Rukh mischievously tapped her on the shoulder and walked past without looking back. When she half-turned and saw who had just tapped her, the phone almost fell out of her hand.

This is not to say that Shah Rukh has been a paragon of virtue all his life, or even all evening. He was distracted, snappish, and even grumpy at times – but when he turned on his heart-light, he was a joy to behold. I knew that some of the generous promises he made would not be met. Some of the humility was public necessity. But in that moment, what mattered was that even that came from a space of wanting to give joy.

As the midnight rolled into the next day, the tiredness slowly began to tell in the way his eyes strained and lines deepened. But he somehow didn’t allow it to crystallize into a ‘no’ to the universe. Though he was under medication for a severe back spasm and due for surgery in a few weeks, he stayed till four am – till their pilot called to remind them they were running out of landing clearance time. At the after party, he posed for pictures with every fan who requested for it – other South Indian actors and directors, screaming girls from the awards show crew, glowing wives of executives, young starlets, reporters, police officials, random fans… Finally, even the photographer who was taking the pictures requested for a keepsake picture.

When it was all done, I dropped him to the airport. It was amusing to see the bleary-eyed terminal come alive with heads turned and voices whispered: “Is it…? Really…?!!” From the glass frontage I could see Shah Rukh, dead-tired and eyes squinting with sleep, beginning yet another series of greetings as he walked with his team to his aircraft. After a few hours of sleep, he would be up for his shoot in another city. Beginning yet another day of the superstar life.

As I drove back from the airport alone, the Rolls Royce felt large and roomy and… empty. The secret to the superstar life, I learnt, is not in the $2m car or the $22m jet, it is in giving superstar-sized doses of love. It’s in turning on your heart-light. And the quantum of joy we give others is what is reflected back to us, whether we are businessmen, politicians, healers, social workers or actors. And giving joy to those around us is something we all can do right where we are. Whether we are stars or not, we can all turn on our star-light.

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For more posts on this blog related to Shah Rukh Khan, click here

The Silent Movie Star

I have written on this blog in the past about my concern with regards the negativity on Twitter*, and last month, it claimed a victim in actor Shah Rukh Khan who went off Twitter indefinitely. A piece I wrote about this aspect of social media, especially connected with Bollywood, was carried by the Mumbai Mirror newspaper today. Here’s the entire, unedited piece:

shahrukh-khan-dabboo-ratnanis-2013-calendar

One of the reasons I admired this young television actor Shah Rukh Khan, even before I knew him personally, even before he would be called ‘the biggest star in the world’, was his refreshing candor in interviews. It wasn’t just about humorously taking on rivals and loving himself with childlike frankness – he could equally take potshots at himself publicly. He was articulate, he made sense – but didn’t he know, I always wondered, celebrities shouldn’t say such things!

Fans don’t need it. Having fallen in love with a carefully scripted screen character, they are happier to not break the fantasy. Moreover, distant stars, when they come too near can often be revealed to be as dim as lamppost lights. And it is not their fault. Beyond a genetically-gifted physicality and acting talent, why would we expect them to not be flawed and human like the rest of us? Why would we demand from them an informed point of view on politics, society, culture and life? Shah Rukh Khan, it turned out, did have one and he shared it freely.

Celebrities learn quickly that it’s safer to stay with the lowest common denominator of public opinion – to talk in platitudes against corruption, for women empowerment and praise colleagues, especially dead ones. But something inexplicable within Shah Rukh always rebelled against playing the role of a Barbie-doll celebrity. He shared the truth about the insomnia he sometimes faced and his terror of losing fame. He admitted his imperfections and lampooned his own flops. Against all marketing logic, it worked in his favor.

People began praising him for being a canny publicist, but he was also a publicist’s nightmare because he didn’t stick to any pre-written script. A few months ago, his company’s digital marketing person lamented to me that he could be so much bigger on social media if he just followed some basic ground rules. But he just never listened, she complained.

In the honeymoon days of Twitter, many stars entered this Twitter heaven with Karan Johar as Saint Peter welcoming them aboard. Stars began chattily calling their fans ‘tweeple’ and using cool acronyms like LOL and ROFL. This new platform promised stars not only direct access to their fans but also a way to comment and clarify without being misquoted. For younger stars, it could become a great way to create an identity and build a reliable, quantifiable fan base for that all-important Friday.

But with it came an unexpected dark side. One actress, after a terrible home production, was shocked off Twitter upon receiving an unprecedented barrage of lewd, personal hate tweets. Stars, who had been used to being psychologically protected by their coterie, began to directly face the brutal wrath of the teenaged boys and fanatic groups. Then came the humorists – the stand-up comics who found a career in being nasty to the celebrity target of the day. One small typo, such as the unfortunate misspelling of the final alphabet of ‘my girl gang’ by a young actor last year, could mean weeks of viral embarrassment.

With thicker skin and professional support, stars reworked their online strategy.

Many stayed off Twitter till a film release drew near, a few hired professionals to tweet on their behalf. Bollywood on Twitter slowly began to get organized around powerful fan groups – with nicknames like the Shahid Shanatics, the Akkians, the Salman Khan FC – some of whom became a nightmare for film critics and haters.

Haters, known as Trolls in Twitterverse, hit out at every star, including Shah Rukh. Some of it is genuine opinion, some of it fuelled by vested interests. For someone familiar with Twitter, it’s easy to see from a timeline (a Twitter word which simply means the history of their tweets) if accounts had been created for the sole purpose of criticizing one person. Such accounts had almost no followers and did not tweet about anything else day after day. This was all part of the new social media battlefield and every major star today takes it in their stride.

But gradually, something even more dangerous had begun evolving. Journalists who could not get access to Shah Rukh would juxtapose a few personal tweets about his family or religion, fill in their own assumptions in between, and put it out as an original interview. Others would launch online attacks on the basis of a fragment of a sentence. Fanatic Twitter gangs, from all ends of the religious spectrum, would use his words to attack him… and worse, each other. Even political leaders began using his words to fire salvos against each other’s countries. Everyone, it seemed, had begun using the glitter of his stardust to shine their cause.

On January 9, Shah Rukh posted one final tweet to his 3,624,395 followers – almost equivalent to the population of Singapore: “Sad, I read so much judgments, jingoism, religious intolerance on the net & I used to think this platform will change narrow-mindedness, but no!” (sic) It was retweeted 2255 times and continues to be retweeted every day even today. A month later, his fans, desperate to have him back, trended the hashtag topic #WeLoveSRK at a worldwide level for 24 hours on Valentine’s Day. But he has not tweeted since.

It is a wilder world today than it was when the outspoken TV actor with a dimpled smile who spoke at 2x speed made his debut. And one in which, I personally, would not grouse Shah Rukh Khan his decision to hold his peace for now. Whether he returns or not remains to be seen, but if he doesn’t, I would feel saddened because the media would become a little more manicured and the online world would become a little more plastic in his absence.

TIMELINE: Some of my favourite tweets from the @iamsrk account:

  1. On a beach alone. Stars,big brave & brite inspite of the dark. If it wasn’t for the night v wouldn’t see them so strong. That’s how v should be

    the now silent @iamsrk page
  2. Most of the time ppl dont want to get to know u, instead they want to tell u, who they think u are. Let them maintain their fictions about u
  3. Still am not used to the fact that when I meet new ppl I am a bit awkward, while they meet me with a familiarity of years…its sweet.
  4. Watching Bambi on tv. Is it ok for a grown up man to feel moved watching cartoons or should I switch to Expendables & be all grown up macho
  5. Comparisons, as unavoidable as they are, make u one of many. It leads towards fear of freedom. Only thing to do in numbers is to laugh together
  6. My son. Have a face not just arms. Be a name not a number. Be a human beıng not just human resource. Worry not who u could be… just be who u are.
  7. Just read this… Superstars live on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Superstar, do u know who ur real friends are?
  8. The illusion that you could hold to yourself the things you most want & lose the things you least wanted to keep is the struggle of lıfe…
  9. You cannot live hollow within urself & fill ur hollowness with empty things, empty promises, conveniences and fear of confrontations…
  10. (His final tweet on January 9) Sad, I read so much judgements, jingoism, religious intolerance on the net & I used to think this platform will change narrowmindedness, but no!

Update: Since the article has come out, I have been overwhelmed at the emotional response from people around the world. Some fans have taken it upon themselves to translate it into various languages. Here are the links for the German translation, Russian translation, French and the Arabic Translation.

Moved by the hundreds of touching messages, I compiled and emailed them to Shah Rukh to remind him of the heartwarming support he still has on Twitter. Click HERE to download the compilation. 

*Read Also: Angry Birds – The Addictive Nastiness of Twitter

Title photo by Dabboo Ratnani. All Rights Reserved.

Honoring the Impulse

“Congratulations, you have arrived!”

A friend sent me this message when he saw me on KBC (the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’) with actors Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Amitabh Bachchan.

As I marveled at the many layers of unintended irony in his comment, even I wondered how I got onto a historic episode of KBC – that, too, as the companion of Shah Rukh Khan, described by Time magazine as ‘the biggest star in the world’.

Looking back I can give you the short answer: I didn’t do it.

If you want the long answer, read ahead: In the many years that I have known him, I have almost never asked Shah Rukh (aka SRK) for anything unless it was work related. Last month, however, I spontaneously felt like sending him a message requesting if I could come backstage for his episode of KBC. Everyone who has worked with him knows he gets a zillion messages a day and doesn’t respond until it’s a matter of life-and-death (and leaning towards the latter).

“Please do come” he replied almost immediately.

The morning of the taping, I felt very strongly like going for a haircut. I tried to ignore the feeling but it was too strong. I literally saw myself taking my bag in hand and leaving suddenly for the salon. Even I was amused as I shaved and primped my normally unkempt look – I jokingly wondered if I was doing it to impress the Katrina! As I left home, I felt compelled to carry my favorite electric blue Zara pullover though the temperature outside was in the high-80s.

I still had no clue what lay ahead.

As I drove into Filmcity, SRK invited me into his vanity van. While he caught up on a hurried lunch at 5:00 pm, we chatted about cricket and life, and then he left for the soundstage. I entered the shoot floor a while later looking for the control room but could not find it. As I walked across the darkened studio floor, Karuna Badwal, who heads SRK’s Red Chillies Productions, found me.

Meanwhile, the television crew needed to know who was coming on the show as the contestants’ family/companions. They discussed it with Shah Rukh and it was decided that Karuna, his personal manager Pooja and myself would be his companions for the show.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity. We were made to sit on pre-designated seats while the lights were properly focused on us. We were miked in case we needed to talk. A dab of make-up for the ladies. Instructions were rapidly shot. A cameraman positioned a foot away from my face for ‘reaction shots’. As the light beams swiveled across the floor and the opening fanfare began to play, I wondered: How on earth did this happen?

One thing was clear: “I” didn’t do it.

The next day, I kept thinking about the mysterious happening – I didn’t visualize or affirm it. I didn’t manipulate it or ask to be his companion. He didn’t plan or intend it either. Neither did anyone working for the television company. Everyone was simply responding to situations. And without realizing it, it all fell in place.

I left it at that until yesterday I came across these lines by my brother and mentor GD which seemed to explain it so perfectly:

“Life is our friend. And the way it guides us is by sending subtle messages and impulses. When we hear and honor the impulse, there is joy – there is magic. When we don’t, the result is depression and stuckness.

“The only thing you need to do is honor the impulse you are getting in this moment.  That’s it. No great plan or vision is required. One simple step – that’s it! When this one step is taken, the impulse for the next step will come by itself.

“There is constant guidance, but it is only revealed step by step. But the mind – having no trust – wants the whole plan all at once. That’s where it gets stuck. Our job is to take small, trusting steps – our job is not to figure out the entire plan.”

A Sweet Weekend Reminder!


“If you were happy every day of your life you wouldn’t be a human being.

You’d be a game-show host.”

– Winona Ryder in Heathers (1989)


Photo Used Under Creative Commons via katerha

RIP Yash Chopra

These days, the Indian film Industry seems to remind me every few weeks about the impermanence and urgency of Life. Yesterday, I attended the chautha (fourth day funeral rites) of an old film industry colleague, and this evening we got the shocking news that 80-year-old Yash Chopra – perhaps the greatest director-producer in Indian cinema – expired. Ironically, he expired a few weeks before the release of his swansong ‘Jab Tak Hain Jaan’ which means: “as long as life continues…”

Quite unlike his legendary stature, he was known as a laughing, life-loving man, fond of good food and good humor. So here’s my way of putting a marker for the end of an era for Bollywood.