An excerpt from the book,  NEW KINGS OF THE WORLD: The Rise and Rise of Eastern Pop Culture by Fatima Bhutto.

“Shah Rukh Khan prolonged my existence for five years,” Violeta, a seventy-two-year-old grandmother of fourteen, declares dramatically as she sits down. Violeta, with short graying hair and deep-set eyes, has been a cancer patient for the last eighteen years. In 2013, she was placed on radiotherapy but it didn’t take. Violeta vomited through the nights, lost her hair, and was finally told she needed surgery on her thyroid to extract the malevolent tumor. “One month before I was due to have the operation, my husband, the love of my life, my companion for forty-seven years, forty-seven years of marriage, died.” Violeta’s voice chokes and tears gather in her eyes. “I did not want to live.”

Her daughter, Gabriella, an actress, sits beside her. She nods her head in tragic confirmation, “Everyday she wanna die.”

“Without him, with my illness, I had nothing in life. But then one of my granddaughters brought me a film of Shah Rukh Khan, Mi Nombre es Khan.” Violeta watched the film that night, followed by another and another, staying up until 3 a.m. She had always loved movies, calling herself a “fanatic” and had appreciated Mexican, Argentinian, Spanish, even Hollywood films, but nothing she had ever seen before rivaled the perfection of cines Hindu. “I can’t pass one day without Shah Rukh,” Violeta swears. “Not one day of my life. I said to my granddaughter, if you bring me more films of this actor, I will keep on living and stay with you for more time.”

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Misael orders a round of snacks for the table and Violeta, warming to her theme, insists that in another life, she must have been Khan’s mother. There are twelve of us sitting in Zentro’s echoing hall. Jhonz, the youngest member of SRK Universe, is four years old and Violeta is the eldest. Jhonz is wearing a leather jacket and a black fedora. His mother, Katherine, or Maya as she’s known in the group, wanted to call him Shah Rukh but she was hospitalized when he was
born and her husband went off and named him without her. When Jhonz was in utero, the doctors couldn’t hear his heartbeat. They advised Katherine to eat chocolate, to go walking, to do all sorts of things, but nothing worked. She was afraid he would be stillborn. It was only listening to “Love Mera Hit Hit”—at this the whole table interrupts Katherine’s story to sing the song—that got her baby to show any signs of life.

Before we met, Misael assured me that SRK Universe was not just attracted to the celebrity of Shah Rukh Khan. It meant something to them that he breaks the stereotypes of Hollywood, namely that the handsome protagonist has to be a gringo with white skin, green eyes and blonde hair.

But Jhonz was born with a heart problem. That’s why he identifies with Khan, Katherine says, because in Kal Ho Naa Ho, Khan also has a heart defect. Jhonz, who has been listening to all this quietly, speaks for the first time. “He dies,” he informs me. Now that we are friends, Jhonz shows me a photo of a pistol on his mother’s WhatsApp. “It’s Shah Rukh’s,” he smiles innocently.

Before we met, Misael assured me that SRK Universe was not just attracted to the celebrity of Shah Rukh Khan. It meant something to them that he breaks the stereotypes of Hollywood, namely that the handsome protagonist has to be a gringo with white skin, green eyes and blonde hair. They were moved by the way he imparts a “love for the family” in his films. He touches our souls, Misael told me, and it was their love for the Bollywood star that had cured many of their members of “vices” and helped them overcome tragedy. He was not exaggerating. Marlid, a petite forty-four-year-old housewife with sleepy eyes, was an alcoholic for twenty years. When her mother died, Marlid, a devoted only child, began drinking heavily. In 2007, she got badly drunk at a neighborhood fiesta and ended up in the hospital. When she returned home, a friend brought her some DVDs to distract her and though she had never seen cines Hindu before, it inspired her to stop drinking and change her life. Bollywood helped her appreciate nature, Marlid says, to see flowers, to focus on her family and on love. And that she did, she married a wonderful man and had a baby three years ago, whom she named Aryan Valentino, in honor of Khan’s own son. In her barrio everyone calls her Shahru, after her idol. “I don’t see Shah Rukh as a man I want to be with, you know?” Marlid professes, her small, round face lit up with joy “I see him as a man full of values, someone to admire.”

Image Credit Aleph Book Company/ Fatima Bhutto

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Excerpted with permission from NEW KINGS OF THE WORLD: The Rise and Rise of Eastern Pop Culture by Fatima Bhutto, Aleph Book Company.

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