So who do you put on the cover of the first issue of what was to be India’s first men’s magazine. The brief: subject should be famous, and also capture the zeitgeist of a nation bouncing with the youthful energy unleashed by the economic liberalisation of the 1990s. The final choice was between two icons, Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, the most famous young Indians at that time, both at the peak of their careers.
SRK won out because he seemed more larger-than-life. In less than eight years since making his debut in Rishi Kapoor’s shadow, in a little remembered film, called Deewana ( as a last minute replacement for Armaan Kohli), he had gone onto to become the country’s most famous actor, his popularity matched only by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna in decades gone by. King Khan, despite his reputation, was at his humble and accommodating best when we approached him for the cover. He went on to be our most reliable cover star, gracing it no less than nine times.
Excerpted from MW Feb 2000
The mercury is soaring when one walks into Kamalistan studio, in search of India’s most popular film actor. Sitting in a vest and black trousers, Shah Rukh Khan is easy to miss if it wasn’t for the huddle around his chair. On the sets of his first home production Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (PBDHH), he is getting ready to shake with a bhains (buffalo) and three nominally-skirted pretty young things for a promo song choreographed by Farah Khan.
At 34, the thick mop of hair has a few flecks of silver. His greeting is warm, and Subhash, his trusted Jeeves, goes to fetch a thanda. It is going to be a long day of waiting, but then he had warned us of ‘home production’ pressures. In a film that aims to be a satire about media and television, he plays a journalist. Not a very original plot, but the accent is on making a ‘fun film.’ Everybody is keeping their fingers crossed. Comedies, as a genre, usually are not among the most saleable commodities at the Bollywood box office.
Of course, it is not as if PBDHH will make or break his status as the most saleable star in Bollywood. Regardless of its outcome, the buzz, in fact, is that India’s highest paid professional is all set to hike his price to over Rs 4 crore a film for his next crop of movies, and even take a slice from the multimillion-dollar overseas market. He laughs outright at the suggestion. He charges a fixed amount for a film he says and doesn’t want any other jhanjat. These figures are difficult to verify but industry insiders say that the music rights of one of his other new films, Aditya Chopra’s much-awaited Mohabbatein, is selling for an unprecedented Rs 10 crore. “Minus Shah Rukh, the most it would have got is Rs 5 crore,” says one, “He is very hot in the expatriate market.” Another film in the works, based on Milos Forman’s Amadeus, directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi and co-starring the other big Khan, Aamir, has, insiders say, commitment from music companies and distributors which is already worth more than Rs 25 crore. That is even before a final draft of the script has been penned.
“Shah Rukh is the hottest star for the distributors. An Aamir Khan film may command upto Rs 3 crore for a territory but for a Shah Rukh-starrer with a good director like Yash Chopra, the sky is the limit,” says trade analyst Amod Mehra. “Further, if you consider the entire business, Aamir Khan is not very big in the fast growing overseas market, though he may be considered the better actor.” In fact, so overwhelming is Shah Rukh’s current international popularity that he says he can no longer holiday quietly in Singapore, London or New York.
His reflection on this success alternates between one of modesty to borderline bombastic. “Only Mr Amitabh Bachchan had the ability to make or break a film. His presence could ensure the success of even a bad film. That era is over,” Shah Rukh says, “Our generation knows a film will not succeed if it is not made well. No matter who the hero.”
By Manjula Sen
CATCHING KING KHAN
It took a whole lot of time, perseverance and luck to pull off the cover shoot of Shah Rukh Khan, for MWs first ever issue
By Harsh Man Rai
January 2000. I had been chasing Shah Rukh Khan for three months, for the cover of the premier issue of Man’s World, the magazine that I had co-founded. SRK was shooting for Josh, Mansoor Khan’s comeback film, and I attached myself like a limpet to the production unit, hanging around the film’s shooting locales, from sets to hotels to outdoor locations. Shah Rukh had been infuriatingly non-committal for a photo shoot, standing me up on several occasions on different sets and even in different cities. Perhaps he was wary of this upstart magazine (for which the tag line ‘For The Man in Full’ I gleefully appropriated from Tom Wolfe’s novel of 1998), or perhaps he was used to being photographed for glossies in the sanitised environs of studios, and not guerrilla-style, shooting from the hip.
It was a different time, when gaining access to superstars like SRK was not too difficult for credible people. I guess I also earned a measure of his trust in my dogged pursuit and my irreverence for his filmi status. “Is that a Nikon F4 you’re shooting with? I have a F5”, he would pshaw. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve put 3,000 rolls of film through this camera. I’m sure yours is still peti-packed”, I would banter with him, while his PR people tittered nervously in the background.
The film unit moved to Goa to shoot a song sequence, and I followed, shooting off a few rolls of Kodak Ektachrome (not really cover material), hoping for some extended solo time with SRK. One late afternoon, we set off in a mini armada of local boats, Yamaha outboards swiftly propelling us to an island in the middle of Siolim Creek that appeared and disappeared with the ride. After stomping around the island for half an hour, the film’s cinematographer, KV Anand, deemed the location unfit, and ordered his crew and cameras off the island.
I knew I would never get a better chance than this to isolate SRK, so I swiftly negotiated for the whole crew to leave and send a boat back for us in 30 minutes. Only SRK’s personal crew and Farah Khan, the film’s choreographer and SRK’s close friend, remained. Finally, I had SRK in my viewfinder, a rather glorious light spreading over him and the ocean. In the first few frames that I fired off in my Nikon, I knew I had the money shot. We went at it — even at each other — for over an hour, feeding off each other’s energy, inching deeper and deeper into the ocean. We only called it after even Farah Khan took us to task for behaving irresponsibly, as a shivering SRK gamely gave me his signature pose, arms aloft. I had the shot. The light was gone. I relented.
The funny thing is that many people think the cover was shot in a pool. Being the first cover for Man’s World, I hadn’t factored in the crop ratio in-camera, so the lovely palms fringing the background, so artfully blurred, got cropped out in the final image.
The author was Founder – Creative Director of MW, till 2015