A few days ago, what had started off as a peaceful, solitary drive turned into a nightmare in a matter of seconds. I found myself stuck bumper-to-bumper outside Mannat, the home of Shah Rukh Khan. If you live in Mumbai like me, like it or not, Bollywood follows you. Right then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a policeman chase after a gentleman with a stick. To my left, fans were clicking pictures with the imposing facade of Mannat in the background. The dynamics of fandom seem to have changed. A picture with the house of our stars, not the stars themselves, will do just fine, thank you!
What is it about stardom that has folks mesmerised? As though we are innocent children, following the Pied Pipers of our choice into caves of darkness.
The pain of another soul had cauterised my own
My twenties were a time of whirlwind turbulence. A period I found myself looking outward, for my place in this world. To belong. To a person. To anything. It was somewhere during this painful epoch that I walked into a music store and emerged from it as a proud owner of a new music CD. A CD of an artist who would go on to change my life. I must confess I was guilty of giving in to the ephemeral and buying the CD solely on the basis of its exterior. A decision I did not regret, as time would tell. The moment I inserted the silver disc into my car’s music system, something beautiful happened. I was hearing the pained words of a seemingly tortured artist, against the backdrop of some pretty amazing music. In a matter of seconds, I was hooked.
I could not help but think, “This guy saved me.” It was cathartic. The pain of another soul had cauterised my own. Perhaps because, deep down, I knew there was a person who was feeling all these thoughts just like I was. Thoughts that were once personal suddenly seemed universal.
It was only years later that the singer in question was accused of some heinous crimes against women. The moment I heard about this, I was stupefied. This simply could not be. After all, he had saved me!
Emotions in life versus emotions in art
Every star has a private self, which is usually different from the public self most of us admireTT archives
If you see Shah Rukh Khan in a restaurant, will you go up to him and click a picture? I, for one, will not. Not because I do not like Shah Rukh Khan, but because he holds no connection to the Shah Rukh Khan on celluloid I deeply admire. I am not a fan of the Shah Rukh Khan that might be propped on his couch in his pyjamas, eating a packet of Doritos, while I am stuck at the bend outside his home.
There was a time when I was at the theatres and I found myself moved to tears by the haunting voice of this extremely graceful soprano, in some movie I cannot quite remember the name of. What I do remember, though, is being visited by this particular thought: How is this emotion that I am feeling any different from the kind I experience in real life with real people? One might argue by saying that the death of their beloved pet dog leads to an anguish that is far more intense than the one felt at the cinemas. While that might hold some truth, there is no downplaying the emotions we experience through art.
A long time ago, I had lunched with this girl who told me, on the drive back, that she had read a particularly poignant book, and had been depressed for a month afterward. Sometimes the lines between fiction and reality tend to blur. Until we start asking ourselves the question: What is even real?
We cannot see god but it is through stories that we can channel god to create maps of meaning
I get the same feeling most people get around movie stars when I am around literary giants. I had the privilege of meeting Salman Rushdie at a private event at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai some years ago. The brief seconds that he spent signing my copy of Joseph Anton made for a surreal experience. Oh, and he actually paused to exchange a few words with me, too! As much as that experience captivated me, I cannot help but feel that this was a moment I will play in my head on loop, as much as or more than the multi-layered character in his signed memoir. A protagonist both real and unreal at the same time. Contained within the pages of a book, but magically, amazingly alive!
When I heard the news of my beloved artist’s public disgrace (the singer I had mentioned earlier), I was surprised to find that I was not heartbroken at all. If anything, it made me want to listen to his music even more. I realised that just like the tortured artist (or artist who liked to torture, if you prefer), his art had a story of its own. As though it might be a real person. A living, breathing entity all by itself.
It is the same reason we worship gurujis. Tales abound of miracles related to real-life gurus, that, in our head, prove the existence of some higher force. We cannot see god but it is through stories that we can channel god to create maps of meaning. It is why we love art. And Shah Rukh Khan. Because we are nothing without stories. Stories, be it on celluloid, on a CD, or at an ashram are what save us. It is through stories that we ourselves become timeless, having been told and retold by those who survive us. Ultimately, it is stories that define our reality.
Rohit Trilokekar is a novelist from Mumbai who flirts with the idea of what it means to love. His heart’s compass swerves ever so often towards Kolkata, the city he believes has the most discerning literary audience.