The past few decades of accelerated globalization, characterized by a proliferation of appearances, images, and information, has revealed a strong preoccupation with film stars and celebrity culture in India. Shah Rukh Khan, aka SRK, in this context, has emerged as an important figure. Located within the context of global Bollywood cinema, SRKand his persona have led to a unique experience and understanding of stardom vis-a-vis a liberalized and urban Indian culture. As an actor, entrepreneur, icon for India and 'Indianness', and as the quintessential diasporic star, his appeal cuts across regional, linguistic, and national boundaries.
A valuable addition to Indian cinema studies, star studies, and scholarly work on SRK, this collection of essays draws attention to the ways in which his stardom acts as an emblem for diasporic and transnational desires in modern India and beyond. Written by eminent and emerging scholars from across the globe, the essays engage with questions about stardom in a media-centred world. In doing so, they create meaning and probe further into the complex world that emerges as a result of SRK being the agent and content of various media practices.
Rajinder Dudrah is Senior Lecturer in Screen Studies at the University of Manchester, UK.
Elke Mader is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology and is a member of the research group 'Visual Studies in Social Sciences' at the University of Vienna, Austria.
Bernhard Fuchs is faculty with the Department of European Ethnology, University of Vienna, Austria.
Stardom and Globalized Polysemy
A market stand in a small village in the Peruvian Andes sells Shah Rukh Khan (henceforth SRK) posters; a street vendor in Ghana offers DVDs of SRK films to passers-by. In Berlin, hundreds of German fans line the streets to catch a glimpse of the star when he presents one of his films at the Berlinale Film Festival; Russian or Austrian fan groups travel to Mumbai to see him wave to the crowd in front of his home on his birthday; at the Zee Carnival in London, the 'meet and greet' sessions with SRK draw thousands of fans from the South Asian diaspora as well as from diverse European countries to the fair. SRK presented the award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2008) at the Golden Globe in Los Angeles; together with Karan Johar and Kajol he toured the UK and the USA to promote My Name Is Khan (MNIK, Dir. Karan Johar, 2010) before attending its double premiere in Abu Dhabi and Berlin. SRK cheers his cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders along the international circuits of the Indian Premiere League (IPL); he performs on stage at diverse spectacular events worldwide; and endorses a wide range of consumer goods of local and global reach.
His film roles and his productions, his engagement with sports, art, and the commercial world as well as his daily life are the topic of myriads of TV interviews and press items that circulate in the global mediascape of the Internet. He interacts with millions of people worldwide on Twitter. Last but not least, his films are watched and admired by audiences dispersed widely around the globe.
During the past decade, the accelerated globalization of Bollywood has been strongly connected with SRK as a star, an entrepreneur of the cultural industry, and an icon for India and Indianness. In the case of SRK, Richard Dyer's (2003: 8) classic statement that 'stars articulate what it is to be a human being in contemporary society' is closely associated with the diverse aspects of globalization. This applies to his films and the characters he embodies, his activities as a star and producer, and his audiences.
The leading part that SRK has been playing in global Bollywood and the 'Bollywoodization of Indian cinema' (Rajadhyaksha 2003) goes hand in hand with changes in regard to production, circulation, and reception of Indian films as well as with transformations in cinematic styles and content. Virdi and Creekmur (2006: 133) argue that popular Hindi cinema is 'ingeniously reinventing itself' in accordance with its expanded circulation and consumption. Signs of globalization are invoked through stories, the use of a 'creative geography', and stars that represent the cosmopolitan India(n). Indian stars are 'national icons of beauty, desire, and utopian beings' (Dwyer 2000: 119) and SRK has been associated with several dimensions of Indianness throughout his career ranging from urban or cosmopolitan and diasporic identities (for example, cf. Dudrah 2006 and 2012; Dwyer 2000) to Indian secularism and changing modalities of national identity in a globalized world (Rao 2009). The significance of SRK as a global player is also closely connected with contemporary celebrity culture. As Nayar (2009: 3) states: 'the most unique feature of celebrity culture today, especially in metropolises after the advent and spread of mass media, is its global nature.' Stardom and celebrity culture cut across linguistic, regional, and national borders, and the circulation-reception of celebrities often moves through the scales of development and economy, as in the First World and Third World, upper class and lower class, and integrates diverse, often uneven, cultures into the fold of celebrity culture.
Accordingly, SRK's star image can be best designated as 'globalized polysemy’: it comprises a wide range of meanings in regard to diverse fields of representation and agency that are interconnected with processes of globalization. This includes not only the polysemy of his movies for different fans around the world, but also allows him to become an ideal brand ambassador for multiple products ranging from everyday items such as washing powder and drinking chocolate to high-end material goods.
Stardom and SRK's Biography
SRK not only represents globalized polysemy in the characters he plays on-screen, but also in his entire 'celebrity ecology' that includes visual, material, textual, oral, commercial and non- commercial, personal and public components working in tandem (Nayar 2009: 22). Marshall (1997: xi) argues that stardom and celebrity, comprise an active construction of identity in the social world and can be understood as one form of resolution of the role and position of the individual and his or her potential in modem society. The blurring of boundaries between the private and public and the idea of an authentic individual behind the public persona make celebrity images particularly potent social symbols (Meyers 2009: 891).
SRK (born 2 November 1965) grew up in a Muslim middle-class family in New Delhi with wider ancestral roots in pre-Partition Peshawar and Afghanistan. He earned a degree in economics, studied mass communication, and gained acting experience in the Theatre Action Group while at college. In 1991 he married Gauri Chibber, a Punjabi Hindu, and since then his family life has become a vital element of his star persona. Several aspects of his biography such as the early death of his parents, his interreligious marriage, his life at his homes in Mumbai (Mannat) and in London with his wife, his children (Aryan, Suhana, and AbRam), and his sister (Shahnaz) are a continuous topic in innumerable interviews that constitute significant elements in the construction and reception of his personal affairs. His family life has also featured in various documentaries (most prominently in Nasreen Munni Kabir's Inner and Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan, 2005) and has become an important part of SRK's statements on Twitter during the past years and connects the 'inner world' of his personal life with the 'outer world' of globalized media practices (see Mader, this volume). This also applies to other fields of activities and their global reach, for example, as an entrepreneur in the film industry and beyond (Vajdovich, this volume), or as an owner of a cricket team, the Kolkata Knight Riders that plays-just like the star himself-on the interface of national and international spaces. Furthermore, SRK represents a liberal Islam; he is often seen in his private and public life as standing for religious tolerance and cosmopolitanism and is engaged in a wide range of humanitarian and ecological projects.
The close connection between Bollywood and SRK's super stardom which also flows outside the cinematic texts has been a topic of several biographies which constitute a connection between star studies and the film industry (Chopra 2007; Mehra 2006; Shield- 2006 and 2009a). Furthermore, they have been received extensively by the international fan community and have partially also been published in German translation (for example, Chopra 2008 Shiekh 2009b). Anupama Chopra's book King of Bollywood (2007) is based on extensive interviews with the star and intertwines film studies and journalism. It contextualizes his life, his career, and his films within the larger framework of Indian cinema and society, and provides insights into the interconnections between his life story, the rise of his star status as the 'King of Bollywood', and the developments of the film industry during the past decades. A different approach is represented in Shiekh's book Still Reading Khan (2006) that combines biography (based once more on extensive interviews), aspects of popular cultural studies, and visual culture. It integrates a substantial collection of pictures of SRK with detailed excerpts from interviews about various stages of his career in connection with his work and his roles in the respective films. Furthermore, it includes analytical chapters, for example, on SRK, gender and the erotic gaze, or on endorsement and branding, (Shiekh 2006). Whereas both authors have also written books on films starring SRK (Chopra 2003; Shiekh 2001 and 2008), further- more, Mushtaq Shiekh has been engaged as a scriptwriter for On Shanti Om (Dir. Farah Khan, 2007) and Billu (Dir. Priyadarshan,2009). These films were produced by SRK’s company Red Chillies Entertainment (a joint venture undertaken with wife Gauri Khan) and comprise an overt star text that merges the protagonist with elements of SRK's star persona (for example, the use of popular photographs and endorsements).
Following on from Dyer (1998, 2003: ix), interconnections between SRK's stardom and his wide range of activities on- and off- screen also play a crucial role in bringing together the star, as he is seen as a set of media signs, with the various ways in which people feel about him as being able to communicate something for them. Such processes are, on the one hand, linked to the personal life of the star, and, on the other hand, to his representation of various roles on-screen (see also Dwyer, this volume). Both dimensions of this process are part of an overarching dynamic of the construction of meaning that arises from an interaction with the plurality of social, symbolic, and discursive spaces. As Mazumdar (2000) has demonstrated, in relation to Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s as the 'angry young man' and SRK in the early 1990s as the 'psychotic' hero in the film Darr (Dir, Yash Chopra, 1993), star images are interconnected with multiple contexts on- and off-screen. These processes go hand in hand with a blurring of boundaries between the character and the actor, thus investing the body with a new mobility. The polymorphous body of the performer as well as complex processes of masking and de-masking-in the case of the early SRK films with regard to the image of the psychotic-reflect and transform the larger framework of society, and constitute the cultural politics of performance (Mazumdar 2000: 240). Thus, the globalized polysemy of SRK should be understood as a result of various transformative processes that embrace his private life, his performance as a public persona, his multiple activities in the film industry and related entertainment media, as well as his embodiment of diverse heroic and anti-heroic roles.
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