Shah Rukh Khan: The face of Bollywood | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 17.04.2013
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Shah Rukh Khan: The face of Bollywood

No one ever imagined Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan would generate so much fan attention in Germany at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008. His success is a worldwide phenomenon.

Shah Rukh Khan is regarded in India as a "demigod." Almost all of his films have been hits. The 47-year-old has been showered with awards as an actor, producer, television show host or advertising star, and is now a billionaire. The India media have nicknamed him the "King of Bollywood."

However, he remains rather humble and often muses about his success. He recalls the frenzied welcome at the Berlinale, when hundreds of fans stood outside in the freezing February cold to catch a glimpse of him.

"After receiving such a warm reception in Germany, I asked myself for a short moment whether I could actually be German or the Germans could be Indians," Khan told DW.

New Delhi film critic Shubhra Gupta says he has charisma and can put people from around the world under his spell and yet he remains down to earth.

Indian Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan (STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Shah Rukh Khan is the "King of Bollywood"

"As a husband and father, he has the positive image of a family man," says Gupta. "He has often stressed he would like to be only in those films that appeal to his children." Whether as a broken hero, lover or family man, Khan has adapted his roles to his personal life, making him credible to fans.

His appeal is also linked to his efforts to become successful. His own life would be ripe for the big screen. After receiving a degree in economics, he appeared in theater and television productions. In 1992, rather later for an Indian star, he made his first romantic film "Deewana" (The Lovers). Then he experimented with darker characters and psychopaths in films such as "Darr" (Fear), "Baazigar" (The Players) and "Anjaam" (Consequence) before completely returning to romantic productions.

Breaking a taboo

Although he has performed in nearly 100 films, not that many are known outside of India. His most popular films in Germany are "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" (In Good Times and Bad, 2001), "Kal Ho Naa Ho" (There May Be or Not Be Tomorrow, 2003) and the 2007 "Om Shanti Om."

The actor's career was not harmed by his decision to break a taboo. His wife Gauri, whom he married in 1991, is Hindu. The couple has two children. For many in conservative India, their relationship isn't acceptable.

Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan in Mumbai (STRDEL/AFP/GettyImages)

The Khans broke a taboo with their inter-religious marriage

Although the primary features of Bollywood cinema - great emotions, family myths, music and dance scenes - appear at first glance not suited to a global audience, Hindi films are a great success internationally. The German TV channel RTL II has been broadcasting them since 2005 - they are dubbed into German but the songs are sung in the original Hindi.

Khan doesn't view this as a contradiction. "I don't think that with our type of cinema or with the songs, it's about understanding the language," he says. "It's about what people feel. And it appears to me that people in Germany are very fond of our films, which appeal to their emotions."

The DW journalist and anchor Monika Jones has interviewed Khan on numerous occasions. "He is charming, witty and very clever," she says. "He has given us Germans the opportunity to show our feelings. Everything here always has to be so serious; no one shows any feelings. So it's good to just let it out."

'He's just great'

Bollywood blockbusters can also been seen at the cinema in big German cities such as Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Hamburg, thanks in part to distributors such as Rapid Eye Movies.

Another reason for their success in the West, say critics, is that themes are becoming more universal and moreover technical standards have improved.

Shah Rukh Khan in Berlin (Daud Haider)

Shah Rukh Khan received a warm welcome in cold Berlin

The Berlin-based film critic and curator Dorothee Wenner says it is difficult to pinpoint whether Bollywood's success stems from Khan as the face of Indian cinema or whether Bollywood was bound to acquire fame as interest in India increased with its economic boom.

"Four universities in Europe are now studying this question," she says. "In my opinion, there isn't just one factor. Shah Rukh Khan's last two films lagged behind expectations in India. Other stars are moving into the limelight. Many even say he's now too old."

However, she doesn't believe Khan's popularity will wane in Germany. "He is just great!" she says. "And also an excellent ambassador."