A big fat wedding
|KING’S JOURNEY: (From top) Gauri and Shah Rukh Khan; baby Shah Rukh; cover of Shiekh’s book|
It was 1984. TAG [Theatre Action Group] was performing at Loreto Convent, a school for girls in New Delhi. Watching from the darkened auditorium, Gauri Chibba, a ninth grader who was dressed like all others in regimented blue and white, caught her first glimpse of the man who would be a superstar. A thin guy with long hair, she thought Shah Rukh looked every bit like the singer Prince. Do we take that as a compliment? Gauri hastens to explain: “This means I thought him quite ugly.”
She would forget all about him till she again met him at a party. Once again, Shah Rukh left her quite unimpressed. So it wasn’t love at first sight. “I didn’t like him at all actually,” Gauri remembers.
The Chibba family — a huge joint household — lived at Panchsheel Park. In those days, it was habitual for her to hang out with her young group of friends at Panchsheel Club, just five minutes from her house. They would spend many evenings here, swimming, or playing badminton, or just being there. It was at one of the parties at the club that Gauri had her second encounter with Shah Rukh. While they were being introduced, she remembered where she’d seen him before.
Shah Rukh, too, insists that this wasn’t his first sight of Gauri. He declares that he’d first fallen in love with an “amazing pair of legs” that was walking down the streets of Delhi. Obviously, Shah Rukh is in no mood to be serious.
They continued to meet at the club and one day Shah Rukh sent her a message through a mutual friend that he would like to “see” her. But outings remained a group affair till a couple of years later. This is how long it took for their friendship to turn into a romance.
Ask Gauri about the turning point in their relationship, and she pauses. “He was very caring and very obsessed with me,” she replies. Then she bursts into laughter, adding, “I could treat him like a slave.” Shah Rukh is equally frank about his casual proposal of marriage. “It was sort of understood that we’d marry. Umm… I just remember telling her I love you. I remember I dropped her to her house and just told her I am going to marry you. I didn’t even wait for her response — just drove off.”
By the time their relationship changed from a close friendship to a comfortable romance, Shah Rukh was acting in two television series directed by Lekh Tandon. This meant he had less and less time to spend with Gauri. In the meantime, there were changes taking place in Gauri’s life too. She’d graduated from Lady Shri Ram College and had joined a course in fashion designing at the National Institute of Fashion Technology. But, more and more, she was growing apprehensive about the future of their relationship. She knew her parents wouldn’t take kindly to a Muslim boyfriend. And she also hated the fact that Shah Rukh was an actor.
Now came the time to break the news to Gauri’s family…
Looking back, Shah Rukh wonders at the audacity with which he’d planned his life then. Here’s the replay:
“I told her parents that I wanted to marry her. And I was working.
‘What do you do?’
‘I act … in films … my movies are coming out.’
An awkward silence.”
Finally, with her parents’ consent, an Arya Samaj wedding was fixed for October 25, 1992. The court marriage took place a couple of months earlier, on August 26. But, in a bizarre turn of events, [his friend from his theatre days] Sunjoy [Roy] started to face the flak for his friend’s interfaith marriage. Every morning, several Islamic organisations would shout slogans outside his house. In the evenings, Hindu extremists would occupy this space. Occasionally, Sunjoy would try to go out and reason with them, only to lose his resolve midway. Both parties had got wind of the marriage through the court notice. But why were they agitating outside Sunjoy’s house? Shah Rukh, with great foresight, had given the court this address as his own.
Shah Rukh, of course, didn’t help matters with his loud mouth. The day before their Arya Samaj wedding, the entire Punjabi family had gathered at Gauri’s house for the sangeet. The women were pelting out folk songs. The elders were sitting close by. Just then, the azaan could be heard from a nearby mosque. “Just think of it, the whole family was there and an old lady was sitting near me, and I could tell that they were beginning to like me. Then the azaan resounded and I said, ‘Chalo Gauri, let’s go, namaz padhne chalte hain (Come Gauri, let’s go read the namaz)’.” The silence was deafening. Shah Rukh sighs, “Gauri didn’t like my jokes then.” A pause later, “Not that she likes them now.”
The auspicious time for the wedding was drawing near when Shah Rukh received a panic-stricken call. The car that was supposed to pick up Gauri from the beauty parlour had broken down. The groom rushed to pick up his bride, deposited her home and rushed back to his horse. It was a strange baraat. Halfway through, the bridegroom got off the horse and began to dance with the baraatis. Then the crowd parted as a huge elephant sauntered in. His friends now began to push the bridegroom up the elephant. It was a tough climb, but he got there eventually. When the baraat reached the venue, they found an army band playing songs from Deewana and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman — a tribute to Shah Rukh from his father-in-law. By the time of the reception, his mother-in-law, too, had thawed enough to compliment him on his tuxedo.