Edinburgh, Aug. 25: Shah Rukh Khan was protected by as many as 10 bodyguards when the Bollywood actor won over ecstatic fans with his legendary charm at the 56th Edinburgh Film Festival at the weekend.
Four bodyguards were assigned to shadow him at all times while an additional six were taken on to maintain the strictest security at the UGC cinema at the Fountain Park complex — “in case of a mad invasion” — where all the 500 tickets for his question and answer session were snapped up long ago.
Four-fifths of the audience at the cinema was Asian. They were well behaved but police were nevertheless kept on standby both at the cinema and at the Caledonian Hilton Hotel in which Shah Rukh stayed briefly during his day trip to Edinburgh. It was an occasion for him to promote Indian cinema and to disclose some of his personal ambitions.
Leaving Delhi on Friday night, he arrived in Edinburgh after changing planes at Heathrow and was first taken to his hotel. He gave a mid-day press conference, followed by a meeting with dignitaries over lunch, a question and answer session, two TV interviews and a reception and dinner at Suruchi Too, an Indian restaurant (Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj, who was giving a concert, popped in). He left at 11 pm to introduce a special screening of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, and finished a punishing day’s schedule at midnight.
Shah Rukh, who comes from a theatre background in Delhi, said he would not be averse to treading the boards in Britain — something which Hollywood stars do routinely. He would be interested if Andrew Lloyd Webber did something to follow Bombay Dreams, he indicated. “As far as theatre is concerned, if there is a chance, if there is time, I would love to do something. (If) Andrew Lloyd Webber starts to make another play, I will be there to sing our guts out,” he said.
This was Edinburgh’s first experience in dealing with a major Bollywood star. In UK, as in India, Shah Rukh now ranks number one, probably because of the success of Devdas. Extra care was taken because of his prolapsed disc. Nicola Pierson, the film festival’s head programmer, said: “We are obviously aware he is a star. He’s happy to meet people as long as he feels safe. Because of his back injury he can’t be jostled. We have four people with him to make sure he is fine, and the UGC have had security in the venue itself.”
Steve Hughson, the festival’s head of security, who has been 17 years in the business, said he had guarded an “Islamic saint” once and also worked in Saudi Arabia but this was his first time looking after a Bollywood star. “He’s a total gentleman, a total professional,” enthused Hughson. “He’s very modest and it’s been an honour for someone in my line of business to work with someone of his stature.” He had seen snatches of Shah Rukh’s films. “Part of the planning of looking after somebody of his importance is to try and know as much about that individual as possible,” disclosed Hughson.
Hughson explained: “When you’re dealing with Asian people, especially a lot of women, you have got to be very delicate, because I know he’s an icon, he’s a god and they want autographs. I start to think about his protection, his safety, more so with his back injury but at the same time, try to be delicate and sensitive to his needs. It’s hard work but I think I found the right balance.”
Shah Rukh was greeted by, among others, Eric Milligan, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh — he has a Mahatma Gandhi bust in his office — who said: “This is the most auspicious time of year to be in Edinburgh because of the range of festivals and a conscious effort has been made to attract the largest contingent of Indians ever. We have succeeded in that. We have had Indians starring in the tattoo this year, we have Indians starring in the official festival in dance, and we’ve got a strong Indian presence at the book festival. There are over 100 Indian performers at the festival, so Shah Rukh Khan has added a lot of extra Indian glamour to the film festival programme.”
The Indian Consul in Scotland, Shashi Gavai, agreed: “For the first time in 20 years, India is participating in the Edinburgh Festival in a big way and Shah Rukh’s presence lends further glamour.”
Waiting to meet him was his old friend from St Columbus days in Delhi, Rajiv Bhatia, now married to Catriona, daughter of the former Liberal Party leader, Lord (David) Steel. “He’s definitely down to earth, I can see why he is number one,” said Bhatia. “After 15 years, I was very surprised that he recognised me.”
In the last few years, more than 20 Hindi films, including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, starring Shah Rukh, have been shot in Scotland. Commenting on the Bollywood wave in UK, Shah Rukh said: “It is an opportunity for us to build on and see it doesn’t die out as a trend.”
He acknowledged his debt to his fans. “I’ll tell you something, not many people know, that there have been times in India when my films have not done well — like Dil Se. There have been times in India when I have been written off, not by the critics, but by the distributors of my films. Only reason why they have stuck by my films is because my films did very well in the UK. There have been times I have survived because of this audience.”