Very few superstars around the world would do the kind of things Shah Rukh Khan does to keep his hosts happy.
“It’s my dream to see Shah Rukh Khan in a sari,” said a man from the audience when hostess Bhavna thrust the microphone in front of him during an interaction with the crowd. “You need to talk to a psychiatrist about your dreams,” she told him in the warm up to the event.
But guess what? The man’s bizarre dream came true. Shah Rukh Khan sported a Palam Silks sari as a lungi and did the Lungi Dance along with Deepika Padukone to promote Chennai Express at the ITC Grand Chola on Friday evening.
He made the finalists of the Meena Hunt contest feel like queens by dancing with them to ‘1,2,3,4 Get on the Dancer Floor’. He spoke Tamil that Deepika apparently taught him: “ Chennai romba nalla irrukey ” and “ Kunjam Kunjam Taamil Theriyum ” and even showed off the villain’s line from the movie: “ Uyiroda Vanthai, Uyiroda Po Maaten. Parcel anipudeven .”
Chinmayi sang ‘Titli’ and models walked the ramp showcasing the Muhurtham collection and the Chennai Express collection before Shah Rukh and Deepika addressed the press late in the night.
“Neither of us want to belittle or spoof any culture. I am half South Indian, my mother is from Hyderabad. This is a comedy. So we may have gone a little over the top, please don’t take it personally. We are proud of our South Indian culture,” Shah Rukh Khan clarified right at the beginning of the evening. But the media persons expressed concerns about the depiction of South Indians.
“Some of the finest writers and technicians are from the South. I learnt most of what I know from Mani Ratnam, Rajnikanth, Kamal Haasan, Priyan, Santosh Sivan, Ravi K Chandran, Manigandan...Deepika is from the South. Satyaraj Sir is from here. I have only love and respect for them.”
In an exclusive interview around midnight, Shah Rukh Khan said that everyone had every right to take offence. “But one should wait and watch the whole film without over-reacting. Those who are reacting hastily are only a minority. But this is a beautiful part of democracy.”
“What is stereotyping? Most of my South Indian friends would be happy if I wore a lungi if I was staying with them. Would that demean their culture? Similarly, when I wear a pagdi and don’t tie it around perfectly because I am not used to it, I am still embracing a culture out of love for it.”
Chennai Express is about the journey of a man who takes the wrong train but it takes him down the right path. The film celebrates the disparities between the North and the South, he said during the media interaction. What were these disparities that the film explores? “There are none really. But we all like to compartmentalise... say, Harvard guy, CEO type. We do generalise based on perceptions. My mom was from Hyderabad and my dad is a Pashtun. I remember their romance and fights. He would speak Pashto and she Kannada. I think it is very sensual when a French girl and a Filipino guy or an African girl and a Chinese guy or a Tamil girl and a Punjabi guy interact. There’s more to discover about each other.”
We point out how he often says his mom is from Hyderabad and speaks good Kannada. “Because she was originally from Bangalore. In fact, she even lived in Mangalore. Her family was from Karnataka but she lived most of her life in Hyderabad and she spoke Hindi just like Azharuddin,” he clarifies. “His grandfather was from the Mangalore,” Deepika adds. “Yes, he built the Mangalore port,” says Shah Rukh proudly.
Isn’t there truth in stereotypes, we ask.
“My son is studying in England and he tells me there are ten boys in class who crack jokes about Indians and it was irritable. But you know what they did? They organised a joke session to exchange more jokes and found acceptance. We are all the same. We eat the same way. We die the same way. I tell Deepika she has this strict South Indian look because I had a teacher who was that type. I don’t mean it in a derogatory way. Pathans are a type. They are supposed to be six feet tall and handsome and I don’t look like that at all. It depends on how you look at it.”
How much Tamil can Deepika really speak?
“I can manage in the city. I can’t get lost. And I have Tamilian friends. My grammar might be a little wrong but then when I was learning Hindi, I had trouble with Hindi grammar too. I had a tutor on set,” says Deepika.
“You haven’t heard her speak Tamil yet. What you see in the trailer is her speaking Hindi with a South Indian accent in the trailers. She has spoken very good Tamil in the film because she had Satyaraj Sir correcting her and helping her get it right. No one corrected his Hindi because we wanted it to sound credible,” adds Shah Rukh.
The trailer did seem to get a lot of the Tamil cinema language right. “That’s because Rohit was very clear he wanted to get it right. Ninety per cent of our crew was South Indian. We got Raju Sundaram to choreograph. If we are making a film in the South, we have to get the cinematic culture right. And we had Yo Yo Honey Singh, from Punjabi culture, wanting to give a tribute to the greatest superstar ever with ‘Lungi Dance’. We were extremely excited to be a part of it.”
“Watch the film, make fun of our Tamil... But I am sure you will all love it,” he assures.