My Next Guest with David Letterman and Shah Rukh Khan (Netflix)
Rating: 2.5 stars
Director: Michael Steed
IT’S TOUGH to say who was more charming on the latest episode of My Next Guest with David Letterman — the eponymous host or the guest. On My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman, he has already had the ilk of Kanye West, Ellen Degeneres, and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton. He now tops it off with a stand alone offering where the daddy of late night TV interviews the “Bollywood megastar” Shah Rukh Khan. The one-hour show takes us into Khan’s home, his kitchen and has Letterman trying his hand at cricket. All of it has him soaking in sheer love, admiration and near fanaticism that people of India have for Khan. The sea of people waiting to have a glimpse of Khan on Eid — an annual ritual for Khan and his fans — outside his sea-facing home Mannat; or the hordes desperate to get one touch, one handshake or a selfie on Bandstand with the King of Bollywood is routine news for us in the subcontinent, but for Letterman, who has interviewed the who’s who of Hollywood and beyond, all of this is unimaginable. He is grappling with the enormity of Khan’s stardom because honestly, sitting in a theatre, with an audience that has been screened and with the option of using canned laughter, interacting with Khan on his home turf is as real as it gets.
The show starts in a studio in LA. The moment Khan appears on stage, looking very much his 53 years, but nonetheless dapper — in a charcoal black suit and an open white shirt — the theatre resonates with cheers from the audience that seems primarily desi. We are taken through Khan’s early days, his familial history, his debut on stage with the local Ramlila etc etc, and are cut back and forth to his home in Mumbai, where he is shown cooking Italian food, which he learnt to strengthen his bond with his children. Interspersed with more questions and conversation, we are given tiny slivers of information. Like how he was extremely possessive of his girlfriend Gauri before they got married; or that he is an extremely shy person; or the fact that he has to put up with the dating life of his children. He is also nocturnal by nature and sleeps at 5 am. We hear from Gauri as well, as she talks about what it is to be a megastar’s wife, and to have kids who are studying in another continent. “We are concerned parents, not hysterical parents,” clarifies Gauri. There are some sombre moments as well, when Khan speaks about losing his parents when he was all of 15, and how he views death as “extremely beautiful and alluring”.
Most of the things that are revealed in the conversation are known by most fans of the actor. His dancing skills despite not being trained, his dimples and their effect on women. But what makes the episode worth a watch is the chemistry, wit and banter between Khan and Letterman. We all know Khan is witty, we have seen him on Koffee with Karan, but this time, he has outdone himself and has both the audience and Letterman eating out of his hand. There is a self-deprecatory strain, a humility, which is endearing. This can perhaps can be attributed to him ageing, or maybe because of repeated failures at the box office. “But I think I just happened to be the right person at the right place in the right scenario at the right time… Half through I realised that I am not half as talented as I think I am… If I can’t do it with the skill and talent, then I’d better get into the hearts of people…” The jokes and one-liners don’t seem rehearsed and the laughter of the audience is not canned. It can be a perfect watch for the whole family, maybe before the evening festivities for Diwali begin.
One last thought, why is there an over abundance of shots of crowded Mumbai? Of kitchsy calendar art, flower sellers and street food vendors? We get that Letterman and Co wish to establish the mis-en-scene of Mumbai, but this seems like an overkill. And why only of the crowds and alleys and bylanes? The cobbled streets of Mount Mary would have done well as well. All of it seems like an extension of Slumdog Millionaire. There is a sequence of Letterman playing cricket with an under-19 champion, and he is not bad. Perhaps that could be a separate episode.
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