I Met Shahrukh Today:
Or, Why You Should Never Hit the Snooze Button

© bollywhat.com 2005

Editor's note: Kaya, a journalist and BollyWHAT? forum member, worked as an extra on several Hindi films and commercials during 2004, getting up-close views of actors at work including Shahrukh, Aamir, Rani Mukherjee, Karisma Kapoor, and Akshay Kumar. Below is her account, originally posted on the BollyWHAT? forum, of working as an extra on a Pepsi commercial directed by Farah Khan, starring Saif Ali Khan and Shahrukh Khan.

   I met Shahrukh this afternoon.
    He shook my hand.
    We talked.
    Here's the story:

    Late Saturday night. Out with the girls. One says she's been picked to be an extra the following morning. Want to come along? she asks. Why not, I say.

    To bed late. Up very early. I looked at the alarm clock. I really don't need to do this, I thought. I want my sleep. Rolled over. But what the heck. Got up.

    We met the casting director outside a local restaurant. What's the shoot? For a TV series, she said. Ugh. I definitely could skip this. But got in the car.

    Arrived at the parking lot of a business complex. Extras sitting on plastic chairs in the sun. A couple of trailers by the gate. Inside, people with walkie-talkies and lots of Pepsi signs. Pepsi. It was too early. It didn't hit me.

   I got a cup of tea and chatted with an Indian extra. It's a Pepsi ad, she said. There's a big star in it. Do you watch Hindi movies? Oh, I've seen a few, I said. OK, she said. So maybe you've heard of Shahrukh Khan?

    Breathing. I'm still breathing. I try to explain to my friend the importance of this. She's game. Really? she says as she walks away for clothes and makeup. Well, if I meet him I'll have to give him a quick snog. She waves. Then I just might snog you, I think cheekily.

    Fully alert now. I smile at official-looking people and walk casually onto the set. Stand quietly in a corner. No sign of the man. Notice a woman in candy-green pants and a hat giving orders. It doesn't hit me.

    Maybe 30 minutes later. A metallic red Land Cruiser glides in. In the backseat, a glimpse of tousled hair. The truck parks a few meters away. Out slides ... Saif Ali Khan. Oh my, a bonus.

    He was in a T-shirt and loose sporty pants with sneakers. Sunglasses as usual. Casual, friendly. Shook hands with the director and sat for a few minutes under an awning in the 'command area' before disappearing into his trailer.

    I have already decided to drink nothing all day. All the toilets are outside the gate, and no way am I going to go to the loo and then be stuck off the set. A nice hot sunny day. (Later I learn getting on and off the set isn't that hard -- unless of course you're one of the few hundred local teenage boys who have discovered that Shahrukh is shooting. They stand, excitedly talking into cell phones. Police try to chase them off with bamboo sticks.)

    Another 30 minutes pass. A silver BMW glides in and parks *right in front of me*. I mean, with the backseat door five feet in front of me. The door opens. Out steps Shahrukh. He looks ... a bit rough. Are those pockmarks on his cheeks? His eyes are dull. Looks sleepy. He walks past me and around the back of the car to meet the director. He is wearing jeans and a T-shirt and is smoking. His hair, perfectly in place, has faint reddish highlights. He also disappears into his trailer. By the way, five-foot-nine my hiney. He's more like five-seven. In real life, he is almost surprisingly slight.

    It takes me way too long to realize the director in the green pants is Farah Khan. The action soon begins. All day long, it seems a very organized, streamlined shoot. Saif and Shahrukh emerge from their trailers in costume. Saif wears tight ripped jeans, sneakers and an electic-blue T-shirt with the Superman logo. He spins and shows it off to the crew and makes a comment. A girl walks up and drops a chain of dog tags around his neck. 'Nice,' he says. He sounds just like himself, if that makes sense. His hair in back has grown, to collar level at least. He will be a bit obsessed with his hair for the rest of the day.

    Shahrukh is also wearing tight worn jeans, light-brown work boots and a denim jacket over a sleeveless bright-yellow fishnet shirt. His fabled belly button can be clearly seen. The buckle of his belt is a large silver eagle. A chain dangles from his back pocket. A silver amulet around his neck. With makeup and perhaps some coffee, he is now *Shahrukh*. He flashes his dimple at Farah. I stop breathing for a while.

    First scene. Saif and Shahrukh saunter down the empty parking lot. Saif carries a red heart-shaped balloon. Shahrukh is urged more than once to get closer to Saif. They walk, they look at the sky. A few takes, done.

    Another scene: a close-up as the balloon pops and they react. Another: they walk and bump into a tall tough-looking dude and look flustered and walk away. Watching how it all works is fascinating. The shooting team has made the work look so simple.

    Between scenes, Saif and Shahrukh come to the 'command area' and watch the scene on playback. I have managed to walk, casually, from the corner of the parking lot to the corner of the 'command area.' They are literally three or four chairs away. Saif tends to sit and chat a bit near the back while Shahrukh watches the playback intently and smokes.

    They continue shooting. I sit in the 'command area' and watch their close-ups. They join us to watch the close-ups and relax. This will happen all day, for the next seven hours. I am happy.

    Eventually, with everyone wandering about and switching chairs, Saif is sitting right in front of where I stand. This does not really affect me, surprisingly. Just a guy. I'm not nervous. During a quiet moment, I lean forward and touch his shoulder. He turns, with no real expression on his face. 'You did a fantastic job in Kal Ho Na Ho,' I say. Wow, how original, Kaya. 'I wish more people in the U.S. knew about it,' I add.

    He just looks at me. 'Thank you,' he says. Turns around. We didn't exactly bond. But I wasn't exactly interesting, was I?

    Shoot continues. They get everything right in very few takes, it seems. Farah sits back and watches the screen, microphone in hand. But an assistant does much of the ordering and tweaking. Saif, between takes, checks the mirror an assistant holds and primps his hair. You get the impression that the shoot is important to him and his 'star' image. Shahrukh, who still gets most of the screen time, rarely checks the mirror. He simply blots his sweat with a tissue. He has done this a million times.

    More scenes: the two are manning the parking lot's entry gate. Apparently the premise is, only those cars with Pepsi colors can come in. In one shot, the driver of a black car collars Saif angrily. Shahrukh pops up and waves Pepsi bottle threateningly, then mugs for the camera, patting his hair. His acting pops from one trademark expression to the other: frown--widen eyes--flirt at camera--mug--squint--jerk head--cut. Saif's comic timing is surely caught by the camera, but in person it's all Shahrukh. At first he is to do the scene lying on top of the car and then vaulting down to join Saif, but perhaps it was too risky for the back.

    Meanwhile, a few feet away two guys prepare the Pepsi: heat the neck of empty bottle, pour in Pepsi, seal cap with superglue. No one actually drinks anything.

    In between scenes, Shahrukh squeezes in a photo session. He leans against a white car and does his thing. Really. No one has to tell him anything. He poses. Click. Adjusts the bottle so the Pepsi logo is visible. Click. Moves his head a bit to the side. Click. Another pose. Another. The photographer changes film. Shahrukh spritzes his hair with water and stands there patiently, still looking a bit 'on,' ready to continue. No tantrums. Not much talk at all.

    Time for the foreign extras. My friend and two others have been primped and are seated in a line of cars waiting at the gate. One girl in a red car simply has to curl up next to her driver adoringly while the camera focuses on Shahrukh waving the car on. Did he say anything to you? I ask her later. Who, the driver? she asks. She doesn't watch Hindi films. Shahrukh is just a guy who has a guy with an umbrella following him around, she says, bored. OK, technically yes, but...

    Eventually I am peeking around the reflector screens, watching the two of them do their thing from less than 10 feet away. Once, as Saif stands between us and primps yet again, Shahrukh and I are looking at Saif from such an angle that surely we cannot avoid seeing each other. *Sigh.* (Cue Alps scene. Just kidding.)

    I have been a good girl all day, quiet and calm. Only the small BollyWHAT? corner of my mind is thinking HERE HE IS, RIGHT HERE. WAIT 'TIL I TELL THE FORUM.

    Only I can't find the chance to approach him. Even in the 'command area' he is chatting or signing autographs. ('But he's so small!' the teenage girls whisper as they walk away. 'The actors are so thin!')

    By late afternoon I'm having fun and chatting with shooting assistants, the Pepsi people ... and even realize I'm sitting next to the guy who plays the doctor who helps Sanjay Dutt cheat in 'Munna Bhai MBBS.' But time is running out. My friends have finished shooting. There is no reason to stay. Here I am three chairs away from Shahrukh and he might as well be on the moon.

    My friend taps me on the shoulder. We have to go, she says. No, you go on, I'll go back later, I say. She points to the casting woman. I'm sorry, she says. We all need to leave.

    Oh no. No no no. I get up and start walking with them. Toward the gate. Knowing that this is Shahrukh's only day of shooting. *Must do something.*

    I'm sorry, I say. I'd really like to just shake his hand. OK? Sure, OK, the casting woman says. I love her!

    Here we go. Walking, walking. Stand behind him. Whisper to someone next to me, Is it OK to approach him? Sure. I reach out and tap him very softly on the shoulder, but at that moment someone says something to him. I pull back and must look a bit stricken. I meet the eyes of ... Farah, who says, Would you like to talk to him? I nod. She gets his attention.

    Of course, all time stops as his denim-jacketed shoulders slowly turn around. As I am standing and he is seated, I am looking down into his eyes. They're just a bit tired around the edges. I notice the almost whitish tiny stubble on his chin as if magnified a million times. He isn't smiling, he isn't being Shahrukh, he's just kind of blank. Overwhemingly normal.

    I hope to God I look normal as well. Sorry, I say. My name's ----. I just wanted to say that I wish more Americans knew about you. You're fantastic.

    I have held out my hand. He is shaking it. It is soft. That's my only thought. It is soft.

    Thank you, he says. HE IS SPEAKING TO ME. MUST RESPOND. But thank God I have a reporting background. It switches on. It's OK. Just a celebrity encounter. But could my hands stop shaking, please?

    I need to keep talking. How long has he been looking at me? Is everyone looking at me? Um, how often do you do interviews for American publications? I ask. Only when I'm in the U.S. promoting a film, he says. Hmmm, I say. How can I contact your agent? I ask. I don't have an agent, he says. I have an assistant and I can give you her number.

   Outwardly, I smoothly squat down beside him and take pen and paper from my pocket. Inwardly, my brain is grinding out the simplest of signals. 'Reach for pen. P-e-n pen. Hand it to him. Go go go!'

   I hand it to him. My hand will not stop shaking slightly. This is terrible. He writes a name and number. I struggle for 15 million years to put the cap on the pen as I thank him and somehow walk away.

   My friend has watched all this and just shakes her head. Later, in the train I ask, But isn't there *anyone* you'd love to meet? Madonna, she says instantly. If I could only meet Madonna. I sigh with relief. Surely we all have a certain someone ...

   I just never expected to meet mine today.

 

 

BollyWHAT?!

This filmi ramble was
written by Kaya.

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