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Bollywood comes to Berlin
by Birgit Schrumpf

What excitement he stirred up after word got around that the Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan, was going to walk the red carpet for the premiere of his newest film Om Shanti Om. The well-organized German fan club was here to see their hero live. He graciously signed autographs for at least half an hour, enjoying his fans. These were not screaming teenagers but women in the prime of their life wearing black T-Shirts with golden print reading: “Shah Rukh Khan rocks the Globe.” Even the festival organizers did not know what had hit them. Within minutes all tickets were sold out, prompting an unscheduled extra screening, starting only starting two hours later, again playing to a full house.

The story of Om Shanti Om
In the 1970s at the Bollywood studios, a poor but ambitious artist Om Prakash Makhija (Shah Rukh Khan) dreams of becoming a superstar. He falls deeply in love with the beautiful Shantipriya (Deepika Padukone), who is secretly married to producer Mukesh Mehra (Arjun Rampal), a dishonest, greedy and selfish man. Dramatically, Om and his admired lady die in a fire on the set when he tries to rescue her from the flames. Thereafter, the action shifts to 30 years later. Om is reborn into the wealthy Kapoor family. Thanks to the influential family he has become a superstar but cannot forget the lost love of his previous life. Luckily, he finds the reincarnation of Shantipriya in Sandy, a young, aspiring actress, and takes it into his hands to see that the heartless villain is destroyed and the beautiful heroine is revenged.

Om Shanti Om is pure entertainment with the usual song and dance performances in elaborate and colourful costumes. No costs had been spared for the high-quality outfit, first-class dancers and enrolling India’s top stars, like Sha Rukh Khan, Javed Sheikh, Kirron Kher and Arjun Rampal. For Deepika Padukone it was her debut film, landing the leading role next to Sharukh Khan. The movie is a humorous spoof of the 1970’s Bollywood film world. The romantic story is totally unrealistic (even if you are a believer in re-incarnation) but is told charmingly with tongue in cheek.

Indian films are often two to three hours long. Om Shanti Om, being no exception, lasts 170 minutes and you have to be a hard-core ShahRukh Khan fan to sit through the second part, admittedly with excellent dancing sequences, but getting a bit tiring with the on-going repetitive disco-type music, where – as a novelty – the now modern Om shows off his muscular body.

In brief: At the press conference
ShahRukh Khan, who is a mega-star in his native country, seemed to be genuinely thrilled to present his film Om Shanti Om, saying: “I have been working for 17 years, and it’s the first time I feel like a big movie star. I am honoured and surprised that I have been given such a big reception here.” It is the first time a Bollywood title had been placed in such a high-profile slot at the Berlinale. Khan was very much at ease, telling the crowd of journalists about the differences between Bollywood and Hollywood cinema, explaining the deliberately exaggerating acting in Om Shanti Om. Smilingly he admitted, “We are much more emotional, we are noisy, we like to laugh and to cry a lot, everything gets very dramatic. We like a romantic story, tragic situations, singing and dancing, and most importantly, our films have to have a happy ending!” He continued, “Unfortunately, in our country we still have a lot of poor people who would rather forego a meal to buy a cinema ticket and enjoy a few carefree hours with a happy end.” Asked if he copied Hollywood actors by appearing shirtless in Om; in order to aim for a role in Hollywood, he answered almost sheepishly, “It’s mainly for my children” and no, he does not want to become a Hollywood star. “I am too old, I am 42 years (looks younger) and I am a bit brown. I don’t have any unique selling point; there is no place for me in Hollywood.” He said he would like to continue working in Bollywood and to take Indian cinema to the world, informing us that there are already plans to shoot a Bollywood film in Germany. He came across as a very friendly, likeable, open and charismatic man.

A short biography
Shah Rukh Khan was born (02.11.1965) into a Moslem family. His father, an attorney and Pashtun freedom fighter, died of cancer when he was only 15 and his mother, also a very educated women and social worker, died of diabetes ten years later. After graduating from college and completing his Masters at the Jamia Milla Islamia in New Delhi he started a theatre acting career, followed by TV shows. The move to Mumbai (former Bombay), the centre of the Indian film industry, gave him his first leading part in the block buster Deewana, for which he received the Filmfare Best Debut Award. Very quickly he became popular as the pleasant, good guy in film. As he likes a challenge, he took the risk of playing an anti-hero in his next film and was promptly honoured with the Best Villain Filmfare Award. Switching back from villain to the singing, romantic lover never before worked in Indian movies but surprisingly he succeeded. More Filmfare Best Actor Awards followed. Since 1988 he has been in 59 movies, making him the most popular film star in India, which has the world’s largest film industry, churning out up to 900 films a year. Only during the last few years have Indian films been shown in Europe with an ever increasing audience.
Apart from holding numerous important advertising contracts, Khan is also a successful producer. He very much sounds like a workaholic but apparently has found a balance and enjoys a fulfilled family life. With his beautiful Hidu wife, Gauri, he has two children aged 10 and 7 years. Next to his acting career he still finds time to moderate the Indian version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?” on TV. His wax counterfeit is exhibited at Madame Tussaud’s in London, and as far as I know, the Grevin wax museum in Paris will follow suit.