At first mention, the name Shah Rukh Khan is known to few people outside Asian communities and Bollywood fans but what’s important is half the world’s population knows who he is. He is the biggest star in Hindi cinema and this means billions of fans (Bollywood has a global audience of 3.6 billion; Hollywood has 2.5 billion) and billions of dollars ($1.5 billion dollar Bollywood industry).
The book,King of Bollywood, tells the story of Shah Rukh Khan, a man who is worshipped as a modern-day God, a country finding its identity and a movie industry that helped change the face of India.
Shah Rukh Khan is the face of a glittering new India. He is a modern-day god. On streets in India, his posters are sold alongside those of religious deities. Temples have been erected in his name. For Indians and the varied non-Indian lovers of popular Hindi cinema, Shah Rukh Khan is bigger than Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt combined. – From King of Bollywood
King of Bollywood is the first comprehensive narrative account of Bollywood published in the United States and the story of Shah Rukh Khan’s rise to the top serves as a scintillating introduction to India’s billion dollar film industry. Author Anupama Chopra combines her knowledge of the Bollywood industry with firsthand interviews and exclusive photographs for an exclusive, insider’s look at Shah Rukh Khan and the world of Bollywood.
Asiance interviewed Anupama Chopra, an experienced, well connected and renowned film critic of the Bollywood industry. Her family has been in the business for over two decades and her husband, Vidhu Vinod Chopra is a leading filmmaker. She has an MA in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and has written for the New York Times, LA Times and India Today. Anupama travels all over the world including her homes in Mumbai and Michigan.
ASIANCE: How did you come up with the idea?
Anupama: I’ve written a book before this which was Sholay: The Making of a Classic on Indian cinema. (It won the prestigious National Award, given by the President of India, for the Best Book on Cinema.)
While I was doing that, I got really interested in Shah Rukh Khan and the way you can use him to tell the larger story of how the Hindii film industry and how India has evolved. So he became the central character for many of the narratives.
Watch an interview with author Anupama Chopra and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan
ASIANCE: What do you think it is going to take before there is a Bollywood hit movie in the United States?
Anupama: It’s really a unique narrative form and I think it takes some getting used to. It’s sort of an acquired taste. Mainstream America is the final frontier because it has already broken in Germany, Poland, Asia and Indonesia. It’s huge. It’s absolutely huge.
India became a post liberalized country, the economy changed. It just exploded. Shah Rukh Khan sort of represents everything that has happened in India. Just the fact that Warner wants to do a book like this is an indication that things are changing.
I think here it’s just this resistance. They are like 2 ½ to 3 hour films, although they are getting shorter now. The idea of people breaking into song is really alien for mainstream America to sort of accept, this type of storytelling… the fantastical.
A Bollywood film breaks into the top ten in England routinely. That never happens here. It’s just more part of the mainstream there.
Looking at what has happened in the film industry in the last 15-17 years, India became a post liberalized country, the economy changed. It just exploded. Shah Rukh Khan sort of represents everything that has happened in India. It’s kind of an introduction into the Hindi Film Industry as well as the examination of how it evolved and what he symbolizes.
I think it’s just getting used to a very different way of storytelling. Just the fact that Warner wants to do a book like this is an indication that things are changing.
ASIANCE: What differences do you find among India women and Indian American women?
Anupama: I don’t see any. When you say Indian women, there are many Indians. You can’t generalize about “Indian women” because India lives in several centuries at the same time. So the reality of a woman in India in a Village is very different from my reality in Bombay or the reality of a woman in Bombay, who comes from a lower economic status, is very different from what my reality is.
So if you are going to compare an urban young woman in India and an urban young Indian woman in America, I find they are very similar. In fact, I find now, the Indian American women are far more conservative than the Indians in Bombay who are just exploding with so much money. I feel the Indian women here are more about preserving culture and values because they are in a foreign space, but in India I find the urban Indians more open in some ways.
ASIANCE: Would you ever do a book on the Queen of Bollywood?
Anupama: I would but I haven’t found a Queen. Book writing is very laborious. It took me 4 years to write this. The book has to really grab you. You have to want to stick with it for that long. I just haven’t found a Queen that interests me enough. That’s the only reason I haven’t done it because Indian actresses have been fabulous from the early “60’s to present day. I haven’t had the one person that I really want to get into.
ASIANCE: Would you have any advice for Asian girls who want to write a book?
Anupama: I feel it’s the global moment for India so just go for it. But I have to say. You have to really want to do it. It’s a labor of love. I don’t know many people who have gotten rich off of writing books, at least not the first one.
Absolutely you should just do it and stay with it. It requires a lot of stamina because it takes so long. It’s a tough business to break into because you need an agent. But still I think for sure.
ASIANCE: What did Shah Rukh Khan say?
Anupama: We had a great launch in Bombay and he read excerpts from it. He’s been really supportive through the whole thing.
ASIANCE: Would you do a movie? Who would star as him?
Anupama: Shah Rukh Khan? Haha! Who would play him?