an hour in the presence of SRK

Bitten by Bollywood has done a lovely job telling you what our day at the South Asian Carnvial - a.k.a. "that event where Shahrukh Khan is scheduled to appear, and oh yes, there are a few other famous people, some extremely overpriced food, and some slim-pickings shopping booths, but honestly who's here for those?" - which means all you're going to get from me is philosophizing.

Oh alright, and some pictures. We got to shake hands with Gulshan Grover

because we had lodged ourselves thus:

That's the other side of the fence, but we had the same position. And thank goodness, too: I can't imagine standing still for so long without having something to lean on/prop against. This is the line for autographs.

This line was, in our opinion, for suckers. Maybe ten percent of these folks got an autograph and photo with SRK. We got neither, but we did get super-amazing unobstructed views for at least a few minutes. (Though I am very happy for the blond woman in the light blue salwar suit in the center of the crowd, who had brought in a heartwarmingly earnest hand-made poster about SRK being one of the natural wonders of India and did in fact get an autograph with him.)

As for the super-amazing unobstructed view:

Holy &$@*!


The speaker in the corner ended up being directly between me and the location SRK stood for most of the event, meaning that I could usually see his feet, legs, and lower torso, but not his face. But that doesn't really matter - in the handful of minutes he spent when he first came out, greeting and being ridiculously gracious about how happy he was to be here and how grateful he was we had all come out, etc etc, I could see his face the whole time. I am also completely convinced he looked and smiled right at me. As we all know, his mega-charisma means that probably all of the several thousand people smooshed around the stage thought the same thing. Don't care. It felt incredibly special and kind and friendly, even if it wasn't. [Insert Jon Lovitz-style "Acting!!!!" flourish.]

Maybe because of my view, I got a little obsessed with his sneakers. They had silver toes.

The public face of the event organizers was this man (I believe he said his name was Akbar Khan, but quite honestly I wasn't paying very close attention - sorry! nothing personal!),

who was sort of an emcee and kindergarten teacher hybrid. Not a fun job. He had to repeatedly chastise us for shoving and moving the barricades; he had to repeatedly say "Just hold your horses, he'll be here soon" even though it seemed like he had no actual sense of what was going on backstage; he had to repeatedly try to engage with the single-minded fans about something, anything, to put them in a more pleasant mood while waiting. Then once SRK began signing autographs and doing photos, this poor fellow had to pass his microphone around the crowd and let those of us around the barricades "share a message for SRK" or some such, which mostly consisted of teenage girls sounding like half-witted lunatics. Or zombies, maybe. Zombies who shriek "Shaaaaaaahruuuuuuuuukh" instead of moan "braaaaaaains."

This next one is technically a horrible photo, I know, but it exactly captures how the event felt - this giant blur of activity and mostly impenetrable wall, but in the middle, that little sliver of white t-shirt and head bent down signing autographs - there's the cause.

This is turning into quite the year of blurry celebrity pictures. First David Tennant, then Tim Gunn, now this.

Good? Good. The rest of the share-worthy (and I use that term loosely) shots are here.

I cannot get my brain around why this frantic, chaotic, and frankly physically and intellectually uncomfortable hour elated me so much. What is this power someone like Shahrukh Khan has over us? I realize, rationally, that it matters not one teeny tiny bit whether this movie star smiled at me, or how geographically close I was to him, or what he actually looked or sounded like in person (exactly like he does on film, as far as I could tell). I don't even understand why I find all this interesting. In the cold light of day, it's not particularly interesting and it doesn't feel relevant to anything other than the bubble of that afternoon - nowhere near as interesting or relevant as his work, as what he can do through his chosen medium. This was my first experience with any kind of public celebrity event and I felt unprepared for being smacked upside the head with this amount, I guess I could call it. And by no means - noooooo means - do I exclude myself from this judgement. When he came out from behind the curtain, I squealed like a teenager. I squealed like I've always imagined I would have squealed for the Beatles in 1965 if I had been alive. I clutched at Nida repeatedly. I jumped up and down in my shoes (but no actual jumping, or else I would have squished the toes of some little child whose parents had shoved them to the front of the crowd - nice manners you're teaching your kids, folks). My heart went pitter-pat and I grinned like an idiot, this whole-hearted, joyful, happy grin, for at least an hour solid.

My own reactions were confusing enough, but the overall behavior of the crowd made me a little embarrassed to be a human being. The possessiveness, the grabbing, the utter disregard for anyone else around them. Why do we think celebrities owe us something beyond competent (or, ideally, excellent) execution of the thing(s) for which they are famous? People were grabbing at him, screeching at him, begging him to just "Pleeeeeeeeeeease look at me, just for a second, Shahrukh, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!!!!!!!" What makes us lose our fool heads and sound like we're having a mental break over whether someone we've never actually met looks at us. I know there are lots of articles out there about fan behavior, and I might have to dig into some of them, now that I've had a taste of what they're talking about. As a species, it's not our finest moment

After about an hour of signing and posing, then a mad sprint around the interior perimeter of the barricades (so yes, I was about 2 feet from him at one point, but there were multiple security guards around him, and I just couldn't bring myself to be another person clutching at him), SRK was ushered off the stage and behind the curtains. We'd long since lost the other three people that we'd been hanging out with, so Nida and I bailed. As it turns out, SRK did go to the music stage later on to do a little bit of dancing, but we hadn't been certain he was actually going to do it. We were also exhausted and sufficiently star-struck and didn't think we'd get anywhere near the stage. Personally, my brain was about to blow a fuse, trying to sort through the experiences of the last few hours. Instead, we drove (or floated in our fog of star-ness) to Devon Avenue - the thoroughfare of Chicago's Indian/Pakistani neighborhood - and did some movie shopping at India Book House, where I had some fun conversations about my experiences with the middle-aged women working at the desk. Smiling wistfully, one of them told me that seeing SRK in person was a dream of hers; when I asked her why she hadn't gone to the carnival, she waved dismissively and said "My husband...." I wish I had responded with "Pish! What do husbands know about seeing Shahrukh Khan?!?" They also told me the fascinating tidbit that a few years ago, the neighborhood Independence Day parade had been led by...Shashi. SHASHI. IN CHICAGO. After cursing my woeful, woeful ignorance, I asked them for their recommendation for dinner. We sprinted across the street through the post-parade traffic and collapsed in a heap at the Viceroy of India. Fried snacks and tasty beverages were very helpful to thoughtful discussions of the day's events.

I hope SRK got a fruity drink or two too.
We also learned from other friends at the carnival that there's a new theater in Niles with multiple screens of Indian films (Big Cinemas). Anyone who's willing to schlep to Chicagoland, let's put heads together about a meetup for the Diwali releases!

To end on a positive note, for me this event might just tie
Chak De India, Swades, and Main Hoon Na for Shahrukh's finest performance. He projected such graciousness and kindndess especially given what he'd been through the previous day. How he finds the energy to do this at all, let alone in such (apparent) genuine good spirits, really is a wonder. And despite all my questions about the psychology and ethnology of what I had just experienced and observed, and the fan/mega-star relationship and its dynamics, and the importance of participating in a viewing, if I'm being totally honest, I also have to add that I felt joy and excitement - or if you want to get all modern-day masala credits about it, thrills - unlike any other I've ever had. I probably won't need to go to an event like this again, but I'm so glad I went to this one and got a small taste of this aspect of Bollywood culture. It's chaotic and confusing and a little distressing, but it's also a total masala joyride of crazy and very personal, very wonderful dil-squish. Wheeee!


NidaMarie said…
Great description of the emotional rollercoaster which was our August 15, 2009! :) I think that last photo displays beautifully our feelings at the end of the day--all happy and cheesy, yet exhausted, sweaty and in need of a BIG, ICY DRINK. Ahh! So glad you wrote about our experiences on Devon. They were the perfect ending to an overstimulated day! Like the safe haven at the end of a fruitful journey.

Also, nice shot of that event guy. You know I had a soft spot for him ;)
Bollyviewer said…
Wow! So you had your taste of star dust!!!! I am so thrilled for you. :-)
Anarchivist said…
Great write-up! My first thought when I heard about this event was: "I don't think I'm ready for that." I was afraid I'd be one of those Beatlemaniacs (Shahrukhiacs?) who not only scream hysterically, but faint in the presence of the idol. But I'm so glad you guys went, and that you had so much fun! I feel like he made it to the event just for you. :)

Sadly, I don't think we can make Chicago this fall (and we were hoping too, alas). But something must be playing in Chicago in the springtime. I now have a NEED to visit the India Book House!
Ellie said…
We (husband and I-- my husband certainly understands the deep and abiding need to see SRK, although not on the same level as I do) are so happy for you! Like the previous commenter I am afraid that I would shriek and faint as well. I forget if he is coming to Houston or if that already happened... going to look it up now. :)
Anonymous said…
Yaaaaay, you posted about it!! And pfft, noooo shame in squealing like the crazy fangirls we are! ;) I'm so happy for the both of you! Wish I could have been there, but I'm definitely going to try my best to keep an eye out for things like this.

The cinema in Niles is 4 1/2 hours away from me, and I am probably the only one crazy enough to travel that far. xD But only if I had someone to go with-- too far to go to watch a movie alone, and there's already a cinema in Novi, MI, closer to me (I'm in Ohio). I'd definitely be up for meeting up, but I think I'm actually the youngest person on the Bolly-blogosphere, and it might be a bit awkward. :p
Anonymous said…
I'm with Nida on Event Guy, he is cute!

So glad you got to see him. I can't wait to be there when you meet the Shash (as I just KNOW you will) :)

I met Aamir, Kareena, et al with aplomb, but when faced with 78-year-old Shammi my brain shorted out (although I think I managed to outwardly maintain *most* of my composure). Afterwards I was on such a high that I couldn't stop laughing and clapping my hands with joy. I look forward to your treatise on the phenomenon :-) It does seem silly, but at the moment....maybe it's just a charisma thing. A chemical reaction. I have no idea.
Rae said…
Wonderful description Beth. Being a fangirl from way back and so many fandoms I should be ashamed, I can tell you that you never really get used to the chaos of these events.
It's always something new. This time, the using of the small children was a new one for me. Really?! I was torn between maintaining my stoic, trance-like state to ignore the pain in my feet and overly familiar arm using my butt as a shelf and turning around and giving them all an earful about what I thought about their parenting skills or lack thereof.
In any case, it was a thrilling experience and something that can become addictive (Who me?).
Just you wait, I have a feeling that SRK will be back someday, maybe with a concert tour, and if it's in Rosemont again, you are so going backstage with me (just hope it's before my friend retires!)
Queenie said…
Hey Beth, thanks for the great chance to relive and experience what I missed of the SA Carnival of doom. Wish I hadn't got a headache and had to leave, but that's okay because I'm going to marry SRK and it'll all be fine.
(Just keep rocking back and forth and repeating that to myself)
So glad you got a picture of that Fearless Leader of the Lost Patrol, the one and only Mr. AKBAR KHAN!!! And believe ME, that man deserves a round of applause and a special place in heaven when his time is up.
You could just SEE the wheels turning as he tried to think of the next thing to say that would keep the crowd from getting ugly what with the 5 huor wait and cramped standing on a concrete floor (can YOU say varicose veins? I know I can)
A martyr, a darling and a bullet sweating cutie all wrapped up in one.
As for the fans screaming and fainting, I know that many of us were on the verge of fainting but more from the heat and hellish conditions in the mosh pit that was the area around the autograph stage.
Oh yeah, SRK WILL be back. My son says so and I b'lieve him. Next time I go to see him however. I've got a master scam all worked out.
Filmi Girl said…
Great write-up!! You know me, I live for being star struck - it's a totally wild, almost primal, experience. I remember when I got a photo taken with Jamie Bamber (aka Apollo on BSG) my head fogged up so much that I don't think I could speak.

There are some people who don't get this way and I feel sorry that they don't get to experience the bliss that comes from being inches away from a STAR!
Shellie said…
What an insanely wonderful experience I'm sure that was. I wish I'd been able to be there - i would have been the one crying and screaming I'm sure. I remember once going to one of those concerts where it was rush seating in an open field. When they finally opened the gates for us and we all pushed our ways in to get that perfect spot on the grass closest to the stage. I felt like cattle, but happy excited ready-to-scream-my-head-off cattle.

Anyway, thanks for the fantastic run down. As I said to Nida, I'm sure happy I can live vicariously through those who get the opportunities that we miss up here! Until next time!!!!
red42 said…
Great write up - having been in a squeeze of people to get close to SRK I have to say you really captured to thrill of it all :) The man has such charisma the pain of any long wait just vanishes when he smiles - and of course he was looking straight at you! As you mentioned, I am always amazed at SRK's patience with his fans - a girl ahead of me had grabbed his hand and was screaming and crying all over it - he had just got off an international flight, spoken to the crowd and even done some filming, and yet he was totally sweet, very patient and really lovely in the way he spoke to her - sigh. So totally deserving of all the fan-girl gushiness!
And having been lucky enough to get much closer to him the following day, I can add that he smells very nice, and has very soft hands :P
Pitu said…
What a fun writeup! Although I am glad I skipped this event- seemed way too overpriced to me and all that standing in lines.. ugh, no Sultan would do this, certainly not Pitu Sultan!

As for the theater in Niles, I saw Love Aaj Kal as well as Kaminey there and it's so much closer than Barrington for me but honestly it's a crappy theater. Barely a month old and the seats are shaky and the seating area is lopsided so people on the ends cannot see the screen properly. And on Tuesdays they screen movies for $5 which means it's PACKED TO THE GILLS with enthusiastic desis. I think I'll just stick to good ole AMC Barrington :-D

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