They watched wide-eyed as the screen showed the three of them prance around tree-lined lawns and look soulfully into each other’s eyes while re-enacting scenes of a song from the Bollywood blockbuster Kal Ho Na Ho.
In the end, the reaction of the audience, including seasoned diplomats, at the German Embassy on Friday was this — some good-natured shock and old-fashioned awe.
For, playing Shah Rukh Khan in the title song was German Ambassador Michael Steiner, with his wife Eliese in Preity Zinta’s role. And guess who was Saif Ali Khan, the third face in the ‘love triangle’ — none other than India’s former External Affairs minister, the 62-year-old Salman Khurshid.
The final twist came in the final scenes of the eight-minute, eight-second video, as Steiner was shown on a hospital bed trying hard to match that tragic expression of Shah Rukh Khan in 2003 — looking on was his ‘mother’, Madhu Kishwar, the social activist.
While the diplomats were left bemused, the video had grabbed over 300 views within a couple of hours of its launch on YouTube. And Saif, who was at the launch at the German Embassy along with mother Sharmila Tagore, told Khurshid: “Salman bhai, you were fantastic…you can put us out of a job”.
“The title says “Lebe jetzt” as in German it means exactly what the wonderful song Kal Ho Na Ho asks us to do: Live right now to the fullest,” Steiner said.
Steiner is known for his public diplomacy moves from the Zubin Mehta concert in Kashmir to the mega Oktoberfest in the capital. Apparently, the video launch was his latest attempt to connect with the Indian masses and “shed the stiff image of the no-nonsense German”.
Besides, as a source revealed, Steiner is set to retire from service this June and the video is his way of ending his diplomatic career on a high.
“It was fun,” Steiner, 65, told The Indian Express.
Khurshid, on his part, appeared to have realised his limitations. “I am not taking up an acting career, I already have a pretty good legal career,” he said.
Even Javed Akhtar, who wrote the lyrics for the song, appeared to have enjoyed what he had just seen. “I always believed that politicians and diplomats are actors. This is documentary proof of that,” he said.
According to officials, Steiner’s 34-year-old wife Eliese, who has seen more than 150 Bollywood movies, was key to the project – the idea was sown by a similar attempt made by Indian students in Germany.
“We have cupboards full of DVDs, and I can’t choose which one is my favourite,” she said.
The video, which was shot mostly at the Ambassador’s residence and its lawns at Shanti Path and partly at India Gate, was directed by Sumit Osmand Shaw and choreographed by Ahmed Khan. Filmmaker Karan Johar and singer Sonu Nigam were taken into confidence about the project, too, and send messages of support.
According to a German embassy official, “Traditional diplomacy was about government-to-government relations. Modern diplomacy is more about people-to-people relations. And culture is central here.”
As Eliese told The Indian Express, “If you had fun and a good laugh, that was the purpose.”
The final word, however, went to Kishwar: “When I got a call from the German embassy, I thought either they were mad or it was a hoax.”