In trying to describe the popularity of global superstar Shah Rukh Khan, fans ask you to imagine Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington all in one — and maybe throw in Meryl Streep.
Known as SRK, the King of Bollywood, King Khan, or Baadshah (“master king,” roughly translated) of Bollywood, Khan came to the Castro Theatre on Friday, April 14, for the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival. He conversed on stage with producer and director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X- Men: The Last Stand, Hercules) before a screening of My Name is Khan, his film about a Muslim man with Asperger’s who moves to San Francisco soon after Sept. 11, 2001.
People started waiting in line by early afternoon for the 8:30 show. They wore shirts with Khan’s picture on them. They screamed when he got out of a car and when Noah Cowan, the director of SFFILM came on stage. (Cowan took it in stride, asking if the adulation was for him.) And they screamed — and rose to their feet — when Khan finally took the stage, groaning when presenter Kavita Gupta said she would show a three-minute tribute to Khan.
The groans turned to screams of joy as they saw Khan on screen, ripping off his shirt, dancing, coaching a girls’ hockey team, and pledging that he would spill his own blood before that of a woman he loved. Khan has made dozens and dozens of movies, and the crowd seemed pretty familiar with most of them. When the star first came out, seemingly half the audience members ran up, trying to get him in a selfie.
Wearing a black suit and tie with a pocket square, Khan was unfailing polite, charming, and modest, gamely going along as Ratner FaceTimed Jackie Chan, the star of Rush Hour. (Ratner said — several times — that he wants to make another one in the series, set in India and starring Khan.)
Khan said his eldest son looked just like Chan when he was born. To Ratner, Khan recounted a story about a director early in his career who told him how ugly he was and that meant he could put him in anything. When he was on his first TV show, Fauji, Khan saw two grumpy-looking women in the back of a rickshaw who smiled when they realized who he was.
That’s what he wants to do, Khan said: Make grumpy women (and presumably others) smile. To the great delight and cheers of the audience, he demonstrated with Ratner the Lungi dance from the film Chennai Express, which involves swiveling his knees and kicking out one leg, plus an open-armed gesture. Known for his philanthropy, Khan said the cause that he wants to dedicate the rest of his life to — and that wants his daughter to carry on — is reconstructing the faces of women who have been burned by acid.
Blowing kisses, touching his hands to his heart, and bowing slightly, Khan promised people in the audience hugs (which would have been some hard going, if people tried to take him up on that). In a short press conference beforehand, Khan was quiet and polite, staying far away from anything political — which is interesting for someone whose character in My Name is Khan repeats the line, “My name is Khan, and I’m not a terrorist.”
Asked to comment about President Trump’s proposed temporary travel bans, he merely said that in stressful times, we need to look at the happy times. Congratulated on his 25 successful years in Bollywood and asked if there was anything else he longed to do, Khan claimed he longed to not blush when people like her said such nice things to him.
We long to hear more hard-hitting answers from someone with a huge global platform. But he can do whatever he wants. He’s Shah Rukh Khan, SRK. He’s the King of Bollywood, bringing smiles and joy to millions of people.