When it comes to talk, very few movie stars anywhere in the world can match Shah Rukh Khan. His natural ammunition in interviews, chat shows or any kind of public speech is self-deprecation. So when 53-year-old Khan says that the love he has received in the 31 years of being a movie star is disproportionate to his acting skill and talent, or that he is “an employee of the myth of Shah Rukh Khan”, a fan will not be surprised or amused. We expect Khan to say such things and charm the pants off chat show hosts.
Khan’s best one hour on a chat show so far has been the AIB podcast, on which his sparkling, self-deprecatory wit was complemented by an effortless combination of English and Hindi, languages in which he is equally articulate. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman with Shah Rukh Khan, which is being streamed on Netflix, comes a close second.
The chunk of the interview portions takes place inside a hall in New York City. Letterman’s visit to Khan’s home in Mumbai and touristy hotspots such as the Dadar flower market and film poster artists at Chor Bazaar are intercut with the conversation.
The overwhelming impression that Netflix audiences will take away is of Khan as a quintessential family man. His wife, Gauri Khan, shares a meal at their dining table as Khan and Letterman talk about their children and the old story of how Khan followed her to Mumbai from Delhi during their courtship and found her on a beach. Khan talks about losing his parents young, balancing his shy self with being gracious about his popularity and paying attention to his fans, meditating by looking at the Arabian Sea that his home overlooks and becoming a “good bad dancer”. Khan also discusses connecting with his children and their friends post-midnight, trying his hand at Italian cooking, the Hollywood actors that he admires and why he owns a cricket team. Letterman appears to be genuinely stumped by the crowd that congregates outside Khan’s bungalow.
Khan is known to be more expressive about his political views than all of the Bollywood aristocracy put together. His best answer in the 60-minute episode is to Letterman’s question about his views on Donald Trump. This, Khan says, is the most politically correct he can get about Trump: “We always considered America a superpower, a place to be in. But now after you have elected him, we are just okay with you. Maybe you guys deserve him?”
It’s clear that Letterman has no real sense of the film industry in Mumbai. Bollywood movies come across as the song-and-dance shebang that most people outside of India have long considered it to be. In the entire running time of the episode, there is nothing about Hindi cinema or any of Khan’s movies that says something about the agency that Bollywood enjoys in the world beyond India.
There is also nothing that would genuinely surprise a fan. But even for the fan, Letterman brings out the best of Shah Rukh Khan. Going by his last two films, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Zero, this idol seems to come alive only on a TED Talks stage, a chat show or any public platform when he is the illustrious employee to the myth, his words and dimples revealing the man behind the superstar.