| Shah Rukh Khan performs in London with a guest. Picture by Vipul Rao
London, June 18: Shah Rukh Khan was unveiled as brand ambassador for the ICICI Bank at a gala function for 500 rich Indians in London last night.
The superstar announced he was happy to act as a spokesman for ICICI Private Banking at an event which was attended by many of the bank’s senior executives, including its chairman, K.V. Kamath, managing director and chief executive officer, Lalita Gupte, joint managing director, and Sonjoy Chatterjee, managing director and chief executive officer, ICICI (UK).
The bank is also introducing a share dealing service which will make it easier for UK Indians to dabble in the stock market in India.
For more than two hours, Shah Rukh performed on stage, first singing the praises of the bank and then taking part in a Q&A with Kamath, and followed this with answering questions from the audience. He also sang and danced, allowed himself to be hugged, usually a little too tightly, by young women who came up on to the stage from the floor, and entertained as only he can.
Earlier in the day, the Bollywood star visited the Knightsbridge headquarters of the bank, which is trying to make serious inroads into the affluent Indian community in the UK.
One guest, Avtar Lit, chairman of Sunrise Radio, Britain’s most successful Asian radio station, said: “The bank needs to get deposits of between '1 million and '20 million from rich Indians so that it can lend to others. Indians are wary of putting their trust in Asian banks since the collapse of BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) several years ago.”
One difference is that while BCCI’s management was Pakistani dominated (its cricket team was the best in banking circles in Britain), ICICI comes with a clean and impressive record in India.
Although for most of the evening, Kamath was content to act as the foil to Shah Rukh’s clowning, the former did make one serious point ' the bank did not exist only to serve the interest of rich Indians.
He pointed out that in India, an estimated 700 million people did not have bank accounts.
“We want to take banking to the masses and provide banking to the unbanked,” said Kamath. “We want to lend to the rural sector so that becomes 20-25 per cent of our business over the next few years. We want to reach out to Indians wherever they are.”
Chatterjee confirmed: “Rural banking is to be a crucial part of our strategy.”
Whether to get into bed with ICICI would be a matter left for another day for the Indians who arrived last nights in fleets of Mercedes at the Metropolitan Hilton in Edgware Road.Those who could not afford Mercedes had to make do with BMWs or Bentleys. Last night, they had come to see Shah Rukh and he did not disappoint them.
Guests included Sir Gulam Noon, the food millionaire; Lord Meghnad Desai and his wife, Kishwar; and Kartar Lalvani, owner of Vitabiotics health products. The artist, M.F. Husain, two of whose paintings were vandalised by Hindu militants forcing the exhibition to be closed, also put in an appearance.
It is hard to pinpoint Shah Rukh’s appeal but he has developed the gift of bonding with all sections of society. With Kamath and Co, he was respectful and teasing ' he did not know why they had returned his cheque marked “insufficient funds” since he had assumed such a big bank would have a lot of money. He also said he would urge Karan Johar to make a film called, Kamath Kamath Hota Hai.
He poked fun at a Gujarati shopkeeper, a Mr Mahendra Jadega, who said he worked very hard, went to bed at 10pm and got up at 3 am to set his store right. When the man said he had children, Shah Rukh, venturing one of his risky asides, wondered how Mr Jadega had managed the feat. Must have been between nine and 10, he suggested.
There was the usual contingent of screaming girls in the audience, who were allowed by Shah Rukh to come up on stage. It was all he could do to scrape them off his person.
To one especially forward 18-year-old Bengali girl in a red sari, he ordered sternly: “Now go back to your table and eat up your cereals!”
Earlier asked where he saw India in the year 2010, he responded: “It will be the economic leader of the world. India is rocking.”
Shah Rukh won’t have come cheap but ICICI are likely to be delighted with their new investment. It can also be disclosed that Shah Rukh is to join the board of Jet Airways.