This week Discovery Travel & Living are releasing "Living with a Superstar: Shah Rukh Khan" a 10-part prime time reality television series on the unseen life of one of India's most influential contemporary icons.
Bollywood fans book your rehab session now, this is one slickly produced piece of celebrity voyeurism. Millions are expected to tune in across the nation and abroad to ogle at the enviable lifestyle of one of the planet's biggest superstars.
To do this the producers shadowed Shah Rukh accross four continents to film episodes that cover vacationing with him in London, one of his favorite cities; a personal tour of Mannat, his Mumbai castle and meeting the people who form the backbone of his day-to-day life; access to his home in Dubai; private time spent with his family; first-hand disclosures on the controversies, decisions and game plan for his Indian Premier League cricket team the Kolkata Knight Riders; an exclusive acting master class, where Khan deconstructs the art and technique of performance, as he sees it, and a whole lot of extra 'Shahrukhisms' that cover the actor's views on "living, loving, creating and letting go."
You can bet Indians ranging from social anthropologists, to filmmakers, contemporary culture scholars to Bollywood critics and lifestyle commentators will be tuning in along with the fans in the hope of basking in the incredible success and fathoming the insane popularity of this Indian celebrity. On the eve of the televison premier, Raj K Gopalakrishnan of Blue Mango films (the boutique film production house which co-produced the series with Red Chillies Idiot Box) shares his personal and professional experience filming one of the most important Bollywood documentaries that's ever been made.
CNNGo: Following Shah Rukh Khan for a year is a job for producers with marathon stamina. Truth or dare?Raj K Gopalakrishnan: This is a reality series, and true to the spirit of reality, we did not pre script or stage scenarios so the important thing was not to miss a moment. This meant long hours of shooting. No breaks. No rest. With SRK, it becomes exponential as he packs what feels like 36 hours into one day. We had to always be ready, alert and at peak performance levels. No matter how much we planned, six out of 10 times the plan would change with 10 minutes to two minutes notice. Like one time when we were shooting in London SRK was walking around and suddenly decided to hop on to a rickshaw. We had to quickly find another one for the camera (and pay a ridiculous amount to the driver) as the rest of the crew ran through busy London traffic without any prior intimation…but it was such a wonderful moment. Nothing was staged and there was this super duper star just roaming about in a rickshaw without a care in the world.
CNNGo: 'Living with a Superstar' was an ambitious project to conceptualize. How have you structured the episodes to cover this many aspects of SRK’s life?
Gopalakrishnan: He gave us unlimited access, like nobody has ever been given before. So we decided to follow him across four continents and literally let the story tell itself. We shot with him in South Africa, Europe, America, UAE and India. We were with him, recording the trials and tribulations of the IPL. We were with him during the shooting of "My Name is Khan". We were also with him when he was vacationing in London with his family. We were in Mumbai. In his home. At his office. On his Birthday. We were everywhere he was. Literally living with the superstar… and that’s why we named the series that.
As for structuring the episodes a lot of the crafting happened during the post shoot brainstorming, on the edit table. Footage was brought to the table as soon as it was shot and this way we could keep a tight control over the quality and content as well as start iterations. It’s here that we decided to make the series structure thematic, instead of chronological, so that even if you see just one episode it would be one complete chapter from SRK’s life. Some of the themes are 'private vacation' from his time in London or 'Shah Rukh 24X7' the total workaholic and through these themes viewers will, for the first time, get an insider’s look at every facet of SRK -- actor, father, husband, friend, businessman and more.
CNNGo: How did your perception of your subject change during the making of this show?
Gopalakrishnan: SRK is such a good human being --- he has admirable integrity, is honest, straightforward, witty, very, very intelligent, professional, a thorough gentleman and a real family man. He’s been a revelation. He is also a workaholic, has an unflinching commitment to his work and does not see failure as an option. His charm and eloquence add to his persona. Contrary to popular belief, he is not pompous. I have seen him on the sets of movies and shoots. He immediately puts everyone at ease, and is a complete team player. I have never seen him lose his cool, but he does call a spade a spade. He is very quick to adapt to his surroundings and changes in the world at large. That is one of the reasons for his longevity as an economically viable investment for any producer.
But then you suddenly realise that his attitude towards life and work define him as a super-achiever not just a superstar. So, instead of being an actor, if he was in finance or sports or software I believe he would be at the zenith and that is my biggest perception change.
CNNGo: Tell us what happened behind-the-scenes.
Gopalakrishnan: Some of the craziest moments involved fans. No matter which part of the world we were in, fans managed to track down all our crew’s so called "secret spots". Once a bunch of 10 odd teenagers had travelled from another city to meet SRK. They surrounded our crew and refused to let us go. We had to keep talking to security and devise almost 10 exits from where we could get him out. It was like a cat and mouse game. Finally, we split the team in half and made a dummy team with an empty camera seem like they were the right crew. While we managed to get the shot and SRK out safely, the other crew actually came back with a few scratches and buttons ripped from their clothing trying to escape the fans.
Another time, we had fans reaching places with fake IDs, claiming that they were perimeter security assigned by fictitious local authorities and stating that they would have to confiscate the cameras or be with the crew to ensure SRK's safety! There were such incidents almost on a daily basis throughout the shoot.
CNNGo: What is your understanding of what it's like to be Shah Rukh Khan?
Gopalakrishnan: It’s got to be tough. High pressure. Very demanding. Everybody has something to say about you. Even people who don’t know you have an opinion about you. And those who want to know you, perhaps have an ulterior motive or are simply star struck. Life is forever under the scanner and in a territory so fertile for rumours and slandering, there is a reputation to protect. More importantly, there is a family to protect. And given all this, I think he manages beautifully.
I think his family keeps him really balanced (he carries their pictures with him everywhere and they are the first things to inhabit his hotel room). He also has very acute business acumen. He has razor sharp intellect. Great oratory skills. He has charisma. He is savvy. He has vision. I think other than being a great entertainer, SRK would make a great leader for our country. That’s one role I would love to see him in…in real not reel life!
"Living with a Superstar: Shah Rukh Khan" premiers February 26 on Discovery Travel & Living, airing every Friday at 9pm IST.