“I’ve been working in films for about 27 years, and halfway through I realised that I’m not half as talented as I think I am. So 3.5 billion people have to love me because if it was just for talent or skill, no, they wouldn’t have loved me,” says Shah Rukh Khan in the first few minutes of My Next Guest With David Letterman and Shah Rukh Khan, on Netflix.
In an intelligent marketing move, the show was released online on October 25, 2019, which also happens to be the 28th wedding anniversary of Shah Rukh Khan and his wife Gauri.
When you’re interviewing the most well-articulated man in the Hindi film industry, you don’t have to worry about the story-boarding of a world-famous show. In this case, they didn’t.
My Next Guest with David Letterman and Shah Rukh Khan is a summary of the actor’s life, told by David through his lens. David seems to be stupefied by the maddening fandom for the actor around the country and abroad. While opening the show, he says, “This is just beyond anything we ever imagined.”
A hand-painted wall poster of Shahjahan and Mumtaz from the 1963 film Taj Mahal opens the show. The next 20 seconds are a cliche montage of quintessential Mumbai — the local trains, Churchgate station and the Bandstand Promenade in Bandra with thousands of people waiting to catch a glimpse of the King of Bollywood, outside his house — Mannat. The editors didn’t take too long to build up into the show and cut straight away with Letterman shaking hands with SRK’s six-year-old son AbRam who ruled the (paparazzi) roost before Taimur Ali Khan was born.
Letterman runs into someone on the street, an NRI living in New Jersey. After a brief conversation with him, the host decides to buy him a framed image of a Hindu god signing it for him as a present to his aging mother who lives in India. What was the need to have this clip in a show about SRK? To show that an average Indian, in this case, an NRI, knows who David Letterman is? There are glimpses of dancers (who look straight out of a movie made for the west in costumes cut from the same yarn) dancing to the tunes of a sitar. We could have done without them.
The background music reminds one of the ‘travel and living’ shows we’ve all watched, you know the ones where foreign hosts visit roadside eateries, slums, and shop on the streets being amazed by the elephant god and glittery outfits? Here, David also visits a flower market and ends up offering a rose from another flower shop to a woman… who is a florist. She doesn’t look amazed at all, yet the camera stays on her for a few seconds to capture her blank expression.
After some fragrant frames, they take us straight into the actor’s kitchen. We learn two major things. One, SRK makes food at 2 or 3 am in the morning to help his kids beat midnight hunger pangs and uses this opportunity to spend time with them, without invading their privacy. Two, the intercom extension number for SRK’s kitchen is 9. Fans can just make peace with this because this is the closest they’ll come to knowing any contact number related to the man.
Shah Rukh chopping garlic and making pesto sauce in his food processor while dusting chicken fillets with cornflour is a sight to devour. You get to see his wife Gauri sitting across the table, having food and talking about life and the kids for the first time on popular television. David manages to talk to the eccentric couple about more than what Karan Johar has been able to in all these seasons of Koffee With Karan.
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You hear the same stories — about how he came to Bombay with 400 rupees to find Gauri on a beach because she liked to swim. Their love story, their C – gang from Delhi and more trivia. It’s possibly 100th time one’s listening to these tales, but they still seem like a fairy tale coming from the horse’s mouth. Here’s where you fall for the charm and chivalry of Shah Rukh Khan, the man who reiterates how women should be treated right.
There are some emotionally moving moments in the show, in one of which, David very innocently and purely in the capacity of an interviewer says, “Both your parents died.” As they discuss the adversities of SRK losing his parents at a very young age, SRK mentions, “You know we were not very well to do. So to go to a movie theatre was a very big thing.” While the air in the room becomes grim, SRK quickly manages to bring the laughter back by saying that his father had a crush on a lady called Madhubala who was extremely beautiful. “He didn’t become anything. I call him the most successful failure in the world,” Shah Rukh talks about his father.
The entertainment quotient in this episode of course comes from the exceptionally cathartic and witty storytelling of, but the actual pleasure is in questions that Dave asks him in between intervals. He asks, “Is it like this wherever you go? And the reaction to almost every breath you take.” A very modest SRK smiles, his dimples lighting up the screen. That’s all.
The narrative does not glorify the man we’ve come to call King Khan. It probably aims to, but it doesn’t need to. Shah Rukh’s self-awareness and being the most articulate man in the film business make him just the right man to represent the country on a global platform, on a world-famous show.
When SRK talks about how his mother gave him to his grandmother for five years, David couldn’t help but ask if it’s a common practice in India. (It was because his grandmother had four daughters and wanted to raise a son.) Even in 2019 the west’s perception of what constitutes an individual’s story and what makes up ‘Indian culture’ is myopic.
“There’ll be 90 girls in a play and we need 10 boys. That kind of encouraged me to become an actor. I used to work on something called Ramleela, where the depiction of Ramayan is done you know, block-wise, or city-wise. So Hanumanji would say, bol siyaapati ram chandra ki…,” SRK said and the audience in a chorus replied, “Jai!!!” It’s a remarkable commentary on our pluralism, without saying as much.
“My son doesn’t want to act. I don’t think he can. But I don’t think he has what it takes perhaps, and he realised it himself. But he’s a good writer. His issue was, which I think is very very practical and honest, he said, ‘Every time I’ll be compared to you. So if I do well, it will not be because I got skilled at this. It’ll be Oh, obviously, he’s his son, so he will do well. It’s in the genes,” he says.
The last question from Letterman was the winner. “I’m gonna ask you a question and answer it, don’t answer it, I get paid either way. How does your country collectively feel with regard to the president of our country?”
Shah Rukh Khan, while he knows he might steer controversy as he speaks about Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, says, “Maybe you guys deserve it.”
We’re not sure if Trump cares about his answer, but this show, after all, is what all SRK fans deserved to watch.
So you finally settle down on your soft bed, with your softer littlest one & say, “let’s watch something new today…on @NetflixIndia …” and this banner pops up!! & the littlest one quips…”papa it’s not new…it’s just you!! “ Well… pic.twitter.com/ncu2RA74h6
— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) October 26, 2019