Book Name: Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh
Author name: Shrayana Bhattacharya
Rating : 4.5 ⭐
Shah Rukh ko naa nahi bolte, paap lagta hai.
Have you heard this dialogue in Dangal, one of the biggest hits of the other Khan from Bollywood, Amir Khan? That’s the power of the fandom of the superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Omnipresent in absolutely everywhere. So how could I say no to a book that called itself, “Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh.” It would have been a sin to miss that call.
Interestingly the book about the stardom of the superstar is not about his films or Bollywood. Yes the DDLJ, Chak De, Rab ne bana di jodi make their appearances. But those are mentioned in context.
Shrayana Bhattacharya, the author crafts an interesting narrative about sociology, sexism, gender inequality, feminism, and political shifts through the lenses of SRK’s fandom. She skillfully translates dry statistics into interesting stories and does a great job at dissecting the economy through the best medium the country understands, movies and stars.
At the onset let me clarify again, do not judge the book by its cover. The book explores SRK but is not about him. Rather the main protagonists are the female population, born during the 80s, and growing up during the 90s in a changing society comforted by the fantasy of a romantic hero.
A work of 15 years of rigorous survey and observation, the book shed light on the major events in the country till the pandemic. It uses the sisterhood of SRK fandom to discuss issues women in India face every day in their power struggle with patriarchy. Exploring unique aspects like why despite the rise in education, the size of women’s workforce in the country is plummeting downwards, or how the women have to endure continuous surveillance of their dominating families. In the process, it narrates stories of different women from diverse economical and cultural backgrounds including the author herself.
Story of Women
Systematically combing through the different spheres of the socio-economic ladder, the book divides itself into 3 parts according to the position of the woman in the discussion on the wealth distribution chart and how each woman connects to a different aspect of Shah Rukh. So part 1 explores the so-called ‘privileged class‘ with anecdotes from the life of the author, her Brahmin engineer friend cum rival, and Rajput affluent homemaker whom she describes as a philosopher.
Part 2 moves to the middle-class women and we get to hear the story of the Accountant, a CA aspirant and now an ambitious government employee. Then there would be Gold, a flight attendant. The common thread between the two apart from finding solace in the romance of the star – both these women were the first girls to break the shackles of domesticity in their families and gain financial independence.
The accountant was undoubtedly my favorite character in the book. When she said, “Our lives are spent offering accounts for everything—where we went, what we ate, what we can cook, who we met… everything must be counted and explained. Women make the best accountants—we have answers for everything, we expect to be probed, our lives are audited.”
I felt truer words were never said.
Part 3 deals with women from low-income families. There is Lily Soren, a migrant fangirl working in the posh Delhi region sharing her wisdom, “If only a real man could appreciate his wife and the tiffin she makes for him the way he does in that movie (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi), girls would have much better lives.”
Then we get to meet Zahira an informal worker from Ahmedabad for whom SRK is a ‘masculine poetry’ respecting women, or Manju a garment worker who finds her only escapade in his films and songs.
In the pages, the author writes about a fantastical myth grounded in reality.
Fantasizing about an impossibly idealized kind of love they’d seen an actor perform on-screen. Yet, all their real-world efforts were extremely pragmatic, often sacrificing the love they fantasized about as a price for earning status, security, and financial freedom.
These women relied on Shah Rukh when they found the real world and all its pandemics and practicalities inhospitable. Because only the deepest dissatisfaction with reality drives us to dwell in fantasy.
The book mesmerized me in various ways. The best thing about the book is how the author does not mince her strong opinion and does not try to be diplomatic. I have started thinking about aspects that never really crossed my mind before like how the downtrodden woman succumbing to poverty and societal pressure still nurturing impossible dreams.
All that said, the only part of the book which was unappealing for me was the chapter “The One.” More so because it was supposedly the story of the author herself. This particular portion was nauseating for me and if I am to re-read this beautiful collection I will gladly skip that portion.
A highly recommended book. Read it to understand the Indian female psyche and the ground reality of Indian women’s social and economic position.
I’m participating in the #TBRChallenge by Blogchatter