But the blast the neighbourhood was gearing up for occurred even before the Khans moved in. In the process of renovating the sprawling 90-year-old structure the Khans bought for a near-Rs 10 crore, the triangular Grecian facade of the villa was demolished, unleashing a cacophony of complaint.
Shah Rukh's dream home seemed impossible when neighbours managed to get work suspended for a year after the renovators demolished the Doric columns and gable. Work could proceed a year later, only after the film star promised the authorities, the Heritage Committee in this case, that he'd completely restore the house and only then move in.
Based on its history, the villa has been listed a Grade Three building by the Maharashtra government, which means it 'contributes to determining the character of the locality and is representative of the lifestyle of a particular community and region'. Vikas Dilawari, conservation architect, explains the rules about remodelling such buildings: 'While the unique features and attributes of Grade Three structures deserve to be protected, external and internal changes and adaptive reuse is permissible.'
Arup Sarbhadhikary, the structural engineer involved in restoring the villa, defends his work: 'This is a species of a bygone era and one of the two surviving structures of its kind. An undertaking was given and accordingly, the damaged features were restored and the elevations maintained.'
But though neighbours grudged the changes made to Villa Vienna, christened so by its Parsi owners in view of the popularity of Viennese music among the elite of the time, it had been in dire need of restoration. Says Deanne Pandey, a model and friend of Shah Rukh's wife Gauri: 'The Khans have done a good thing in restoring the villa.' The act of rescue has reportedly cost Shah Rukh a pretty packet running into crores. He accrued unwanted publicity and has had to accept a series of sense-defying endorsements to meet the expenses.
Villa Vienna was inspired by the villas in the south of France. 'It belonged to my grandfather,' says Kekoo Gandhy, art scholar and immediate neighbour of the Khans. 'In those days there was a fascination for Europe and the villa was built in the classical style. It was inherited by the Dubash family and several interesting people have lived here since.'
Gandhy remembers the villa as it originally was, with four large rooms on the lower floor and a large room with an attached bathroom and a vast terrace overlooking the sea on the upper storey. The grounds housed several outhouses and a tennis court.
Gandhy, though, seems to have no grouses about the changes made to the villa front. 'The exteriors have been restored beautifully,' he says. 'The insides, however, have been made to order for the Khan family.' Friends of the couple describe mezzanine floors, arches and underground sections that have been added or restored.
While the exteriors flaunt the villa's heritage value, the interiors exhibit Shahrukh's star value. A friend of the Khans says: 'Interior designers were falling over each other to bag the contract but Gauri has done it all herself.'
While the cobwebs of time have been swept from the structure, the mists of mystery continue to swirl around it, with curiosity about the newest star abode peaking in Bombay. The Khans have been very selective in displaying their dream home, not even talking about it. 'Gauri is a very talented lady. I only did the fabrication for her designs,' says designer Ajay Kanuga.
Reportedly, the house has a modern metal-and-white theme. There are tall chairs at the entrance, classy furniture in the dining area, a four-poster bed, handpicked furnishing and artefacts from overseas trips, a ceiling painted by M.F. Husain, fibreglass lamps and an impressive Italian kitchen. There is also a mini theatre.
'It's easily the best moviestar house in the city. Understated elegance, yet very trendy,' says a filmmaker about the latest landmark at Land's End.
Though Gandhy mourns that 'the compound walls are not in consonance with the villa,' he certifies the Khans as 'good neighbours'. This, for a superstar of Shah Rukh's proportions, is a happy ending to what began as an irksome potboiler and could easily have ended in tragedy.