Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is seen as an icon of religious
unity by many the world over and experts will deliberate upon the
topic at a three-day conference from Thursday at Vienna
Titled "Shah Rukh Khan and Global Bollywood", the meet will not be
attended by the superstar himself, but he has said he feels
humbled by the endeavour. Some 40 speakers from universities
around the world will discuss a wide range of topics revolving
around Shah Rukh who is seen as a global cultural phenomenon.
The actor is lauded for playing both Hindu and Muslim characters
Shah Rukh, who is shooting round the clock for "Ra.One", said in
an e-mail forwarded by Karuna Badwal, executive assistant at his
company Red Chillies Entertainment, that he has prior commitments
but sends his very best wishes.
Adelheid Hermann-Pfandt, professor of Religious Studies at
Germany's University of Marburg, told IANS: "One of the most
remarkable features of Indian cinema is its inter-religious
Like many other Europeans, Hermann-Pfandt first experienced the
inter-religious oneness of god through a Shah Rukh film.
Titled "And I Love Hinduism Also, Shah Rukh Khan: A Muslim Voice
for Inter-religious Peace in India", Hermann-Pfandt's talk will
look at the importance of a public role model like Shah Rukh in
the promotion of ideas of unity among human beings within India
Jaspreet Gill from Canada's York University finds "My Name Is
Khan" remarkable for its positive portrayal of practising Muslims.
Bollywood is in the habit of portraying Muslims mostly as stock
characters and famous for the cinematic othering of muslims either
by demonising them, showing them as exotic or marginalised. In "My
Name Is Khan", Shah Rukh's character speaks refreshingly of the
global relevance of tolerance and understanding of the other,
points out Gill.
"This positive imaging has led to the film playing to packed
theatres in Pakistan which bodes well for an emerging solidarity
between India and Pakistan," adds Gill who will elaborate on Shah
Rukh's reinvention of the Muslim hero in "My Name Is Khan".
Huma Dar from Berkeley's University of California sees the film,
which was directed by Karan Johar, as a sincere effort to show the
plight of those deemed dispensable, less grievable, more
precarious, inherently threatening in an era of both permanent
wars and undeclared wars on other people, practices, faiths,
traditions and languages.
Just because Muslim artists in Mumbai no longer take on Hindu
names, it might be tempting to conclude that the playing field is
level. But the kerfuffle around the film "My Name Is Khan" is
ample evidence that the Muslim name carries a bonus as well as an
onus and the two are intimately intertwined, Dar declares.
In "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" (K3G), Arno Krimmer sees many traits
of Lord Rama or the ideal man. This similarity between K3G and the
epic Ramayana deserves notice by critics, scholars and audiences
alike, argues Krimmer, an Austrian filmmaker who is the first
foreign Resident Faculty at Pune's Film and Television Institute
of India where he taught screenplay writing.
London-based filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir will kick-start the
conference with a paper on "The Worlds of Shah Rukh Khan" at the
19th century building of Vienna's Museum of Ethnology, near the
imperial palace. Kabir produced the documentary "The Inner and the
Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan" in 2004.
Participants include Rajinder Dudrah, head of the Department of
Drama, University of Manchester and author of The Bollywood
Reader, and Ashish Rajadhyaksha from Bangalore's Centre for
Studies in Culture and Society.
To the question why Shah Rukh, Professor Elke Mader, Dean Cultural
and Social Anthropology Institute of Vienna University, said: "In
German-speaking countries his films have developed a cult media
and a very active fan culture. Khan's capacity to negotiate and to
integrate opposites and extremes and to connect with diverse
audiences worldwide as well as his art of expressing emotions make
him not only a superstar but a very significant figure in times of
global mediascapes and cultural flows."
Anna Mandel, a German sculpture and painter, will exhibit from her
work titled Sentiment-SRK, an on-going project that includes the
painting of 108 faces of the superstar.
Yet another exhibition will display the rich memorabilia collected
over time particularly by ardent Shah Rukh fans like Maria-Stella
The conference will include two screenings - "Kesariy Balam",
Austria's first Bollywood style film directed by Sandeep Kumar and
"Mr Khan Vienna Loves You", a documentary on hardcore Shah Rukh
fans in Vienna by Ali Hasnain, a 24-year-old graduate of Vienna's
School for Audio Engineering.
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