Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

'Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh': How King Khan Impacted Women's Aspirations In India

Author Shrayana Bhattacharya has been investigating women's employment across different sectors and found that when it came to women, Shah Rukh Khan had an impact that goes beyond Bollywood films.

Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan (left) and ‘Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh' author Shrayana Bhattacharya

There is something about the king of romance, Shah Rukh Khan. From an outsider in the industry to being King Khan, he is undoubtedly the most popular star of Bollywood. From 2006, author Shrayana Bhattacharya, through various research projects investigating women's employment across different sectors, met and interviewed working women across India. And she found that when it came to women, King Khan had an impact that goes much beyond Bollywood films.

Bhattacharya says, “These women would find my questions about salaries, wages and working conditions too boring. During this time, we would take breaks and talk about our favourite film stars. This recess from research introduced me to Shah Rukh fan girls from diverse communities and taught me more about women’s experiences of the economy than any statistics ever could.” 

“I decided to collect stories of how all these women struggled to find free time and money to indulge themselves and their fandom. By following the lives of several such fangirls for more than a decade, I realized that each one of us was using Shah Rukh Khan’s icon to talk openly and thoughtfully about ourselves and our struggles with real-life men, our homes and our workplaces,” adds Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya stresses the fact that ‘Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India's Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence’ being published by HarperCollins in late October, isn’t about Shah Rukh Khan, or at least, isn’t just about Shah Rukh Khan. Rather, the stories illustrate how Shah Rukh’s films, songs, interviews and characters – the stalkers and the lovers alike – are invoked to frame a feminine conversation on inequality within families, workplaces and modern romances.

The press announcement for the book mentions that its contents follow the labours and loves, over a decade, of a diverse group of SRK fans, from different classes and communities. “I follow fans from the posh drawing rooms of Jor Bagh to the forests of Jharkhand, across classes and communities. The aim is to reveal how Shah Rukh Khan appears as a recourse in many a teary-eyed moment triggered by the drudgery and ignominy of being a woman in modern India. While his image may serve as a means of escape in the plush homes of Lutyens, indulging in fandom becomes a form of protest amongst poor and working-class women. The ability to watch his films independent of the family is a freedom bestowed by employment. Espousing the virtues of Shah Rukh gives voice to women’s frustrated desires for independence and intimacy, their hopes for a friendlier form of masculinity in Indian men. Daydreams, posters and cinema tickets signal hidden peeves and protestations.”

Indeed, such is the magic and fan following of SRK.

Khan’s name has also been added to the Indian Sign Language dictionary which was recently released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. SRK fans shared the picture of the same on Twitter and said, “#SRK is mentioned in the Indian Sign Language dictionary with 10,000 words launched by Narendra Modi. After being known by his Trademark Pose, King of Hearts gets a sign to be called out by a special disabled person. @iamsrk is the Pride & Emotion that will be written in history.”

According to reports, Khan is all set to begin the shoot of his next Rajkumar Hirani film. He is in  news for his OTT debut, dropping hints via promotional videos. SRK is busy with the shoot of Atlee’s Bollywood debut titled Lion. The film also features Nayanthara