It all began when I saw the musical Bombay Dreams in London, which is a stage version of a typical Indian film. It was May 2003, and up to that point, I’d never seen a Bollywood movie. I enjoyed the music and dancing enough to rent a film as soon as I got home to San Francisco. I was lucky to start with a good one—Aamir Khan’s Lagaan—and I really enjoyed it. The next one I watched was awful, so I decided to stick with Aamir. After a while, I tried a Shah Rukh Khan DVD, and while I liked him, I didn’t love him. Then I saw Kal Ho Naa Ho at a cinema in Fremont. It was a long BART ride to get there, but it transformed my opinion of Shah Rukh. I went back to see Kal Ho Naa Ho several times, and it remains my favorite along with Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. I watched every film Shah Rukh appeared in, at least all the ones I could find. I put posters up all over my flat I was working in the children’s section at the largest Borders Books in San Francisco, and I hung a Kal Ho Naa Ho poster in the break room. My co-workers thought I was weird, but they didn’t take the poster down.
On September 5th, 2004, in the middle of a heat wave, the Temptation Tour came to the Oakland Arena. Occasionally the big stars from Mumbai take an elaborate stage show on a world tour, giving faraway fans the opportunity to see them live It’s tricky, because the actors don’t do their own singing in the films Still, lip-synching at concerts isn’t that unusual anymore. At least the stars do their own dancing. The Temptation Tour featured Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Arjun Rampal, Preity Zinta, Priyanka Chopra, and Rani Mukerji. I bought a middling priced ticket for $150 and ended up on the raked left side of the stage, too close to see the big screen projection and pretty much looking down on the performers’ heads. It was an awful seat for such a high price, but I was determined to have a good time. I looked around trying to find other non-Indian fans like myself, but I didn’t spot many. I honestly can’t remember a whole lot about the show. Most of the time I just stared at Shah Rukh through my binoculars in awe. There were lots of dances, funny skits, dialogs from famous films, and audience interaction. People were chosen from the VIP section on the floor to come up onstage. I remember that the woman who got to meet Shah Rukh was feisty and gave his face a little slap. He slapped her right back.
After the show, I went down to the arena “stage door” to see if any of the actors would come out to meet the fans. There was a long line of barricades blocking the area to keep us back. Big black hummers began to drive out, and Shah Rukh must have been in one of them. Arjun Rampal and Saif Ali Khan ran the length of the barricades high-fiving as many hands as they could reach, and because I’ve got long arms, I got hand-slapped by both of them. It was fun, and I went home happy, with a tee shirt, two programs, and a couple of Shah Rukh mouse pads.
I was still coming down from the high the next day and catching up on my sleep. At 11pm that evening, I was in my pajamas watching TV in bed. My roommate knocked on my door to say I had a phone call. Who could be calling me so late? It was one of my Borders co-workers, out of breath and very excited. She said, “I had to call around to get your phone number! You know that guy on your poster? He’s here at the Hard Rock Cafe having dinner with a bunch of people. I got his autograph for you.” This co-worker had a second job in the Hard Rock Cafe gift shop, and she had Shah Rukh sign the back of one of their shopping bags. Well, I couldn’t leave it at that. I threw on some mismatched clothes—no time to primp—grabbed some of my Temptation souvenirs and my camera, and jumped into a cab. I could barely breathe as we raced to Fisherman’s Wharf, because I didn’t know if we’d get there in time. When the cab pulled up to the curb, I immediately spotted Shah Rukh standing outside smoking a cigarette, alone except for just one bodyguard. I quickly paid the cab driver, and he was nice enough to give me his pen since I’d forgotten mine.
I could see as I started to walk toward Shah Rukh that he recognized me as a fan about to intrude on his quiet moment. The bodyguard had his back to me. My heart was pounding. I knew this was going be a peak life experience. No other celebrity encounter had been this momentous, and I’ve never been as awkward or tongue-tied. Most of the sentences I started I couldn’t finish Shah Rukh was just lovely, though. He may have been annoyed at my intrusion, but he never showed it. He was just finishing his cigarette, and he politely refrained from lighting another one while I was there. He was wearing black with an eye-catching pendant and his hair casually brushed forward. In his films it’s usually off his forehead. I’m 5’8″ and Shah Rukh is about the same, so we were eye to eye. I was too bashful to gaze into his eyes for any length of time, but he didn’t seem smaller or larger than I’d expected. He was definitely better looking. He had a kind of quiet-but-aware stillness that’s so different from his energetic screen personality.
I walked up and pulled out a mouse pad and the Temptation program, saying something like “Hello, I’m Stacey. My friend called me and told me you were here.” Then I asked him to sign two autographs for friends. I didn’t ask him for one for myself, because I knew my co-worker already got one for me. Three autographs seemed greedy. Then the bodyguard said, “Where did you come from?” I pointed to the curb and said, “From a cab right there.” The bodyguard told me I was going to get him in trouble and he told me to go away. I said, “But this is my guy!” We began to argue, and Shah Rukh didn’t say anything. Smart man. Instead, he signed his photo on the back of the program to me, and it’s really special because he wrote something different from his usual “lots of love.” It’s too bad that I don’t love this particular photograph of him, but still, it’s framed and hanging on my wall. It’s a good thing Shah Rukh took the time to do this, because the one my co-worker got was written with a brown felt tip pen on a brown bag, and within months, the autograph faded completely. I still have it, but there’s nothing to see. I know it’s there, though.
After the autographs, while I was still arguing with the bodyguard, Shah Rukh must have decided that it was okay for me to be there, or he could tell I wasn’t going away. He held up his arms, waved me over with his fingers, and said, “Give me a hug.” I was gobsmacked. We hugged, and I was so overwhelmed, I have no memory of what it felt like. I’ve been telling people ever since that I want to be hypnotized so I can remember it properly.
I had a brief, halting conversation with Shah Rukh. It went something like this:
Me: Do you get to spend any more time in San Francisco?
SRK: No, we’re leaving early tomorrow.
Me: That’s too bad, because I have a whole stack of books picked out for your kids at the Borders where I work.
SRK: So, you’ve seen some Hindi films?
Me: I’ve seen every single one of yours, even Fauji! [his first TV series that was not on DVD in 2004] Right now we’re all watching “The Inner World of Shah Rukh Khan.” [a new documentary]
SRK: Oh, the filmmaker, she’s inside eating…”
The rest of the party came outside, and I knew my time was up. I hadn’t forgotten my camera, but I just couldn’t ask for more, and I hate flash photos. I thanked Shah Rukh and said goodbye. He saluted me by touching his hand to his forehead (an adab), and I walked away in a daze. I went inside the Hard Rock Cafe to see if my co-worker was still there, but the gift shop was all locked up. I came outside and saw Rani Mukerji. I tapped her on the shoulder and simply told her I enjoyed the show the night before. She just looked confused. I went to the bus stop across the street and eventually made it home.
I thanked my co-worker dozens of times and gave her a thank you gift, but it never seemed adequate. I’ve inflicted my story of meeting Shah Rukh Khan on many people over the years, but this is the first time I’ve written it all down. I thought the experience would be burned into my brain, except for that hug, but I know there are details I’ve forgotten. A couple of years ago, Shah Rukh Khan was back in San Francisco filming My Name is Khan, and I even found out where he was staying. I decided not to try to meet him again. I’ve met several celebrities more than once, and a second encounter that’s not as good as the first can ruin a good memory. I didn’t want that to happen with my memories of that night. I really couldn’t ask for more than what he already gave me. Shukriya, Shah Rukh!