The day I met Shah Rukh Khan, I learnt why I should not approach life with preconceived notions.
I met Shah Rukh Khan in 2001. At that time, I was working for clubgreetings, a dot.com in the personal communications space.
As I write this, a smile spreads across my face as I remember how people thought I was nuts to join a dot.com just as the now famous bust had begun. But that’s me all over! Driven by what interests me and not by pragmatism. At that time, I wanted to learn more about the Internet. It was as simple as that. And I am glad I spent that time at clubgreetings because it did prepare me for the digital age.
Clubgreetings billed itself as being in the seamless personal communication space. That was the vision. But essentially during the time I was there, we produced highly creative e-greetings. Today, as I worked on drafting this post, I googled clubgreetings and was thrilled to find some of the work still available on other websites. You can view one of the fun birthday e-greetings we created here (we sold our content bank and wound up the company at the end of 2001 – a smart, timely exit when we realised that we were way ahead of our time and didn’t have deep enough pockets to sustain the operations).
Looking back, a feeling of pride also overcomes me as I recall how clubgreetings had a device agnostic platform. That’s right! Back in 2001, the company had technology, which allowed e-greetings to be sent from a desktop to a mobile phone. We even created WAP greetings for Airtel, if I am not mistaken. My colleague, Noella Menon, who oversaw the mobile space would be able to recall what we did better! Noella, do tell us by leaving a comment on this post:)
But I am digressing. I was going to tell you about how I learnt to avoid preconceived notions the day I met Shah Rukh.
The way it happened was this. Clubgreetings had quite an illustrious Board of Directors. Amongst them was Cyrus Oshidar, Creative Director at MTV. Jay Zaveri, the young founder of Clubgreetings, would be able to add more on this subject. Jay, please do!
Also on the Board was Atul Kasbekar, the renowned fashion and lifestyle photographer.
It was largely owing to Atul’s involvement in Clubgreetings that we came up with the idea of tying up with srk.com, the portal Shah Rukh Khan had launched at that time. I googled to see if the portal still existed but it doesn’t. What I found was other websites but I am not sure if any of them are actually owned by him other than the Red Chillies one.
The idea was to drive traffic to both srk.com and clubgreetings.com by hosting a series of e-greetings featuring Shah Rukh Khan. I am not sure if the tag ‘Baadshah‘ existed then. By the way, Baadshah means king – that’s for the benefit of non-Hindi speaking readers though I doubt any will click-through to read a post titled The day I met Shah Rukh Khan. On the other hand, they might because I have heard tell that he has a huge fan following in Germany and else where.
I must mention here that I was against the idea of tying up with srk.com. Not because celebrity stuff doesn’t work. It does. But because I thought that working with any celebrity was fraught with pitfalls. I anticipated endless contractual problems, not to mention the constant chasing and waiting for approvals on creative or marketing plans.
My fears weren’t entirely unfounded. I had faced such issues in the past when I was in advertising. I am not going to mention what issues I faced with whom because we are now living in an era where people are quick to take offence and where copyright issues have been taken to a ridiculous extent. But I can tell you this. It wasn’t with Shah Rukh Khan because I had never met or worked with him.
In all fairness to celebrities, I should, however, mention that not all of them are difficult. I remember the time when we shot a TV ad film with Krishnamachari Srikkanth (he didn’t spell his name with a double ‘k’ then) at Fisherman’s Cove near Chennai (then Madras). The film was for Srichakra Tyres (now called TVS Srichakra).
The personality you see on TV today expressing his views on cricket is true to life. Srikkanth was (is) an absolute sport. I remember a last-minute decision to have someone riding pillion on the motorbike he was supposed to ride. We went to him with the problem and without blinking an eyelid, he persuaded Dilip Vengsarkar to come along on the ride for the shoot! That shoot was memorable because of Srikkanth’s co-operation and good humour. He was a joke a minute and kept everyone laughing.
There was also the time I worked on a TV campaign for Aristocrat Luggage starring Dimple Kapadia and Mithun Chakraborty. The run-up to the campaign shoot was very stressful with the constant chasing to seal celebrity contracts and payments. Of course, all the paperwork is done with the people surrounding celebrities who often have more airs and affectations than the stars themselves. I don’t recall the minutiae but I do remember being very stressed with the huge responsibility entrusted to deliver the films to the client and owner of Aristocrat Luggage – Pheroze Engineer (may his soul rest in peace). I had huge respect for Pheroze and so, felt the responsibility even more acutely.
I must mention here that the actual shoot for Aristocrat went off without a problem.
Mithun Chakraborty was a thorough professional who came on time, delivered his takes and left. All done quietly without much ado. I vaguely recall Mithun being very serious about it all.
Dimple Kapadia charmed me. Oh, my interactions with her were all business like but watching her with her sister, Simple Kapadia, I remember being struck by her down-to-earth casualness and bindaas (carefree) attitude. I also remember being struck by how close the two sisters seemed.
Back to Shah Rukh Khan.
In spite of having a mixed bag of experiences with celebs, I was reluctant to go ahead with the srk.com proposed tie-up. I seriously thought that any gain would not be worth the hassles.
Nevertheless, I went along with the idea and off we went with Atul Kasbekar to meet the Baadshah at his newly established residence, Mannat (Mannat means special prayer or wish).
The meeting had been arranged for around 10 in the night; a fact that only seemed to vindicate my reservations over the whole project.
Thank God for Atul. We didn’t even realise that the Baadshah was running late what with Atul regaling us with many a story about Shah Rukh and even Salman Khan. They were bosom pals then. Maybe they still are. I wouldn’t know. That’s personal and between them.
Atul’s stories not only kept us engaged at an unearthly hour for a business meeting but they also succeeded in slowly building an impression about celebrities who were humane. And no, I can’t recount those stories because Atul told us those in assumed confidence.
Saying goodbye to preconceived notions.
Finally, Shah Rukh Khan arrived for our meeting. Actually, he more or less breezed in. And proceeded to briskly greet us and talk business.
I had thought that a film star would know zilch about the Internet and ICT (Information Communication Technology).
I was wrong!
The Baadshah floored us with just how knowledgeable and interested he was in the miracle that the Internet was and is.
I had thought that a film star would be difficult to deal with.
I was wrong there too!
Shah Rukh Khan was professional; no different from any other business person I have discussed proposals with.
More. He was just so excited about his venture srk.com – just like any other geek or technocrat! That was obvious by the way he spoke to us about his vision and business plans. This was no film star who simply had money to invest. He knew what he was doing and on top of his game.
I was impressed like hell. So were my colleagues who were with me. Kunal Joshi would remember. Kunal, hopefully you will read this post and add your memories in the comment field.
Finally, I have to confess that the Baadshah charmed the hell out of me.
I remember him enquiring if I was a Tamilian and when I nodded my head, he proceeded to rattle off a few sentences in Tamil. Actually, if I recall correctly, the lines he spoke were from the Tamil film version of Dil Se, a 1998 Mani Ratnam film. The Tamil film was titled Uyire. Dil Se means ‘from the heart.’ Uyire, if I am not wrong, means ‘soul or life.
I had to stop him and explain that I didn’t speak Tamil too well as I was a third generation Mumbaikar.
But the man was not fazed by that. He blithely proceeded to explain the lines to me.
A charmer beyond question.
Not just that. The man obviously has a very good memory. Plus, almost zero airs.
The last we knew because many months later, Shah Rukh Khan walked up to Kunal Joshi at Mumbai airport and spoke to him. Kunal was floored by that.
What happened to the tie-up with srk.com?
Well, it never took off the ground. But the reasons had nothing to do with Shah Rukh Khan and everything to do with an increasingly bad business climate for dot.coms.
What did happen was that I learnt never to have preconceived notions about anyone.
Had I not gone along with the idea, I would have missed meeting such an intelligent, charming man.
So what if the tie-up never took birth? That isn’t the point I am trying to make here.
Featured Cover Image Credit: Life Rhymes, Life Chimes by Lata Subramanian – the watch and hand both belong to the author:)