Bitten by Bollywood has done a lovely job telling you what our day at the South Asian Carnvial - a.k.a. "that event where Shahrukh Khan is scheduled to appear, and oh yes, there are a few other famous people, some extremely overpriced food, and some slim-pickings shopping booths, but honestly who's here for those?" - which means all you're going to get from me is philosophizing.
Oh alright, and some pictures. We got to shake hands with Gulshan Grover
because we had lodged ourselves thus:
That's the other side of the fence, but we had the same position. And thank goodness, too: I can't imagine standing still for so long without having something to lean on/prop against. This is the line for autographs.
This line was, in our opinion, for suckers. Maybe ten percent of these folks got an autograph and photo with SRK. We got neither, but we did get super-amazing unobstructed views for at least a few minutes. (Though I am very happy for the blond woman in the light blue salwar suit in the center of the crowd, who had brought in a heartwarmingly earnest hand-made poster about SRK being one of the natural wonders of India and did in fact get an autograph with him.)
As for the super-amazing unobstructed view:
The speaker in the corner ended up being directly between me and the location SRK stood for most of the event, meaning that I could usually see his feet, legs, and lower torso, but not his face. But that doesn't really matter - in the handful of minutes he spent when he first came out, greeting and being ridiculously gracious about how happy he was to be here and how grateful he was we had all come out, etc etc, I could see his face the whole time. I am also completely convinced he looked and smiled right at me. As we all know, his mega-charisma means that probably all of the several thousand people smooshed around the stage thought the same thing. Don't care. It felt incredibly special and kind and friendly, even if it wasn't. [Insert Jon Lovitz-style "Acting!!!!" flourish.]
Maybe because of my view, I got a little obsessed with his sneakers. They had silver toes.
The public face of the event organizers was this man (I believe he said his name was Akbar Khan, but quite honestly I wasn't paying very close attention - sorry! nothing personal!),
who was sort of an emcee and kindergarten teacher hybrid. Not a fun job. He had to repeatedly chastise us for shoving and moving the barricades; he had to repeatedly say "Just hold your horses, he'll be here soon" even though it seemed like he had no actual sense of what was going on backstage; he had to repeatedly try to engage with the single-minded fans about something, anything, to put them in a more pleasant mood while waiting. Then once SRK began signing autographs and doing photos, this poor fellow had to pass his microphone around the crowd and let those of us around the barricades "share a message for SRK" or some such, which mostly consisted of teenage girls sounding like half-witted lunatics. Or zombies, maybe. Zombies who shriek "Shaaaaaaahruuuuuuuuukh" instead of moan "braaaaaaains."
This next one is technically a horrible photo, I know, but it exactly captures how the event felt - this giant blur of activity and mostly impenetrable wall, but in the middle, that little sliver of white t-shirt and head bent down signing autographs - there's the cause.
This is turning into quite the year of blurry celebrity pictures. First David Tennant, then Tim Gunn, now this.
Good? Good. The rest of the share-worthy (and I use that term loosely) shots are here.
I cannot get my brain around why this frantic, chaotic, and frankly physically and intellectually uncomfortable hour elated me so much. What is this power someone like Shahrukh Khan has over us? I realize, rationally, that it matters not one teeny tiny bit whether this movie star smiled at me, or how geographically close I was to him, or what he actually looked or sounded like in person (exactly like he does on film, as far as I could tell). I don't even understand why I find all this interesting. In the cold light of day, it's not particularly interesting and it doesn't feel relevant to anything other than the bubble of that afternoon - nowhere near as interesting or relevant as his work, as what he can do through his chosen medium. This was my first experience with any kind of public celebrity event and I felt unprepared for being smacked upside the head with this amount of...fan-i-ness, I guess I could call it. And by no means - noooooo means - do I exclude myself from this judgement. When he came out from behind the curtain, I squealed like a teenager. I squealed like I've always imagined I would have squealed for the Beatles in 1965 if I had been alive. I clutched at Nida repeatedly. I jumped up and down in my shoes (but no actual jumping, or else I would have squished the toes of some little child whose parents had shoved them to the front of the crowd - nice manners you're teaching your kids, folks). My heart went pitter-pat and I grinned like an idiot, this whole-hearted, joyful, happy grin, for at least an hour solid.
My own reactions were confusing enough, but the overall behavior of the crowd made me a little embarrassed to be a human being. The possessiveness, the grabbing, the utter disregard for anyone else around them. Why do we think celebrities owe us something beyond competent (or, ideally, excellent) execution of the thing(s) for which they are famous? People were grabbing at him, screeching at him, begging him to just "Pleeeeeeeeeeease look at me, just for a second, Shahrukh, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease!!!!!!!" What makes us lose our fool heads and sound like we're having a mental break over whether someone we've never actually met looks at us. I know there are lots of articles out there about fan behavior, and I might have to dig into some of them, now that I've had a taste of what they're talking about. As a species, it's not our finest moment
After about an hour of signing and posing, then a mad sprint around the interior perimeter of the barricades (so yes, I was about 2 feet from him at one point, but there were multiple security guards around him, and I just couldn't bring myself to be another person clutching at him), SRK was ushered off the stage and behind the curtains. We'd long since lost the other three people that we'd been hanging out with, so Nida and I bailed. As it turns out, SRK did go to the music stage later on to do a little bit of dancing, but we hadn't been certain he was actually going to do it. We were also exhausted and sufficiently star-struck and didn't think we'd get anywhere near the stage. Personally, my brain was about to blow a fuse, trying to sort through the experiences of the last few hours. Instead, we drove (or floated in our fog of star-ness) to Devon Avenue - the thoroughfare of Chicago's Indian/Pakistani neighborhood - and did some movie shopping at India Book House, where I had some fun conversations about my experiences with the middle-aged women working at the desk. Smiling wistfully, one of them told me that seeing SRK in person was a dream of hers; when I asked her why she hadn't gone to the carnival, she waved dismissively and said "My husband...." I wish I had responded with "Pish! What do husbands know about seeing Shahrukh Khan?!?" They also told me the fascinating tidbit that a few years ago, the neighborhood Independence Day parade had been led by...Shashi. SHASHI. IN CHICAGO. After cursing my woeful, woeful ignorance, I asked them for their recommendation for dinner. We sprinted across the street through the post-parade traffic and collapsed in a heap at the Viceroy of India. Fried snacks and tasty beverages were very helpful to thoughtful discussions of the day's events.
I hope SRK got a fruity drink or two too.
We also learned from other friends at the carnival that there's a new theater in Niles with multiple screens of Indian films (Big Cinemas). Anyone who's willing to schlep to Chicagoland, let's put heads together about a meetup for the Diwali releases!
To end on a positive note, for me this event might just tie Chak De India, Swades, and Main Hoon Na for Shahrukh's finest performance. He projected such graciousness and kindndess especially given what he'd been through the previous day. How he finds the energy to do this at all, let alone in such (apparent) genuine good spirits, really is a wonder. And despite all my questions about the psychology and ethnology of what I had just experienced and observed, and the fan/mega-star relationship and its dynamics, and the importance of participating in a viewing, if I'm being totally honest, I also have to add that I felt joy and excitement - or if you want to get all modern-day masala credits about it, thrills - unlike any other I've ever had. I probably won't need to go to an event like this again, but I'm so glad I went to this one and got a small taste of this aspect of Bollywood culture. It's chaotic and confusing and a little distressing, but it's also a total masala joyride of crazy and very personal, very wonderful dil-squish. Wheeee!