By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, Sep 28, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is seen as an icon of religious unity by many the world over and experts will deliberate upon the topic at a three-day conference from Thursday at Vienna University.
Titled “Shah Rukh Khan and Global Bollywood”, the meet will not be attended by the superstar himself, but he has said he feels humbled by the endeavour. Some 40 speakers from universities around the world will discuss a wide range of topics revolving around Shah Rukh who is seen as a global cultural phenomenon.
The actor is lauded for playing both Hindu and Muslim characters on screen.
Shah Rukh, who is shooting round the clock for “Ra.One”, said in an e-mail forwarded by Karuna Badwal, executive assistant at his company Red Chillies Entertainment, that he has prior commitments but sends his very best wishes.
Adelheid Hermann-Pfandt, professor of Religious Studies at Germany’s University of Marburg, told IANS: “One of the most remarkable features of Indian cinema is its inter-religious character.”
Like many other Europeans, Hermann-Pfandt first experienced the inter-religious oneness of god through a Shah Rukh film.
Titled “And I Love Hinduism Also, Shah Rukh Khan: A Muslim Voice for Inter-religious Peace in India”, Hermann-Pfandt’s talk will look at the importance of a public role model like Shah Rukh in the promotion of ideas of unity among human beings within India and abroad.
Jaspreet Gill from Canada’s York University finds “My Name Is Khan” remarkable for its positive portrayal of practising Muslims.
Bollywood is in the habit of portraying Muslims mostly as stock characters and famous for the cinematic othering of muslims either by demonising them, showing them as exotic or marginalised. In “My Name Is Khan”, Shah Rukh’s character speaks refreshingly of the global relevance of tolerance and understanding of the other, points out Gill.
“This positive imaging has led to the film playing to packed theatres in Pakistan which bodes well for an emerging solidarity between India and Pakistan,” adds Gill who will elaborate on Shah Rukh’s reinvention of the Muslim hero in “My Name Is Khan”.
Huma Dar from Berkeley’s University of California sees the film, which was directed by Karan Johar, as a sincere effort to show the plight of those deemed dispensable, less grievable, more precarious, inherently threatening in an era of both permanent wars and undeclared wars on other people, practices, faiths, traditions and languages.
Just because Muslim artists in Mumbai no longer take on Hindu names, it might be tempting to conclude that the playing field is level. But the kerfuffle around the film “My Name Is Khan” is ample evidence that the Muslim name carries a bonus as well as an onus and the two are intimately intertwined, Dar declares.
In “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (K3G), Arno Krimmer sees many traits of Lord Rama or the ideal man. This similarity between K3G and the epic Ramayana deserves notice by critics, scholars and audiences alike, argues Krimmer, an Austrian filmmaker who is the first foreign Resident Faculty at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India where he taught screenplay writing.
London-based filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir will kick-start the conference with a paper on “The Worlds of Shah Rukh Khan” at the 19th century building of Vienna’s Museum of Ethnology, near the imperial palace. Kabir produced the documentary “The Inner and the Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan” in 2004.
Participants include Rajinder Dudrah, head of the Department of Drama, University of Manchester and author of The Bollywood Reader, and Ashish Rajadhyaksha from Bangalore’s Centre for Studies in Culture and Society.
To the question why Shah Rukh, Professor Elke Mader, Dean Cultural and Social Anthropology Institute of Vienna University, said: “In German-speaking countries his films have developed a cult media and a very active fan culture. Khan’s capacity to negotiate and to integrate opposites and extremes and to connect with diverse audiences worldwide as well as his art of expressing emotions make him not only a superstar but a very significant figure in times of global mediascapes and cultural flows.”
Anna Mandel, a German sculpture and painter, will exhibit from her work titled Sentiment-SRK, an on-going project that includes the painting of 108 faces of the superstar.
Yet another exhibition will display the rich memorabilia collected over time particularly by ardent Shah Rukh fans like Maria-Stella Hinterndorfer.
The conference will include two screenings – “Kesariy Balam”, Austria’s first Bollywood style film directed by Sandeep Kumar and “Mr Khan Vienna Loves You”, a documentary on hardcore Shah Rukh fans in Vienna by Ali Hasnain, a 24-year-old graduate of Vienna’s School for Audio Engineering.
(Mehru Jaffer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )