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PIX: When Shah Rukh Khan kept his date with Yale

Last updated on: April 13, 2012 18:59 IST

PIX: When Shah Rukh Khan kept his date with Yale

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Arthur J Pais in New York

Shah Rukh Khan, who became the first Bollywood personality to be honoured with the prestigious Chubb Fellowship at Yale University, delivered his lecture as a Fellow amidst cheering fans and students on April 12.

L
ife's simple pleasures like watching I Carly or Family Guy with your kids can be subverted by stumbling upon Kamasutra on the Net, confessed Shah Rukh Khan.

It happened to him when he came across a filmed version of the famous sex manual while surfing the net with his son. 'I can tell you that experience was not very happy,' Shah Rukh said with a sly smile. 'He's 14 and he knew more about it than I did.'
 
Shah Rukh, on the dais that has been graced by Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners and some of the most powerful American political leaders, was addressing over 1,600 students, fans and a few Yale University academics at an event on Thursday.

He was in New Haven for about six hours to honour a promise he had made to industrialist Mukesh Ambani's daughter Isha Ambani, now the president of South Asian Society at the Ivy League school, several years ago. The event was in his honour after being named Chubb Fellow, a recognition given to prominent personalities involved in public life. 

Yale is the first American university to invite an Indian movie star for a major honour.


Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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The Chubb Fellowship, which reportedly invited a movie actor from Asia for the first time, encourages Yale students interested in government and public service. Established in 1936, through philanthropist Hendon Chubb (Yale 1895), the programme is based in Timothy Dwight College, one of Yale's residential colleges.

Each year, three or four distinguished men and women have been appointed as visiting Chubb Fellows, per the school.

Chubb Fellows spend their time at Yale in close, informal contact with students and deliver a public lecture. Former Chubb Fellows include former American Presidents George W Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter; the Nobel winning authors Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Toni Morrison; filmmaker Sofia Coppola; architect Frank Gehry; choreographer Mikhail Baryshnikov; and journalist Walter Cronkite.

Guest speakers such as Shah Rukh deliver just one lecture.

Shah Rukh was recognised for his enthusiasm for improving the educational standards of Indian schools and colleges, and his desire to make entertainment that also talked about humanity and the crimes of stereotyping as in My Name Is Khan.


Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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Khan arrived from Mumbai in a private plane owned by Isha Ambani's family and was accompanied by her mother Nita Ambani.

His schedule at Yale included a press conference (which was delayed by over two and half hours partly because Khan was detained at the airport for about 90 minutes and realised, in his own words, once again how the American immigration authorities can take the star out of stardom), a 45-minute long talk, a Q&A session with two Yale students and a dinner with South Asian students.
 
"Like many people around me, I am not from Yale," said Deeanna Olsen, a George Washington University student in DC, who had come to the event in a bright sari.

She hopped on a $1 Megabus from DC and had come to the event with her two American friends. Olsen, who had studied in India said she had two passions: Carnatic music and Shah Rukh.

Fans, mostly young people who were toddlers when Shah Rukh was knocking on the doors of Bombay studios, constituted a large part of the audience.


Image: Deeanna Olsen (right) with a friend
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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Many waited for over three hours to get into the theatre braving heavy showers without umbrellas. "This is like a Bollywood movie," said one young woman in the line who had driven over 150 km from near Philadelphia to "see those fabulous dimples and touch his hand, if possible... It seems to be going on and on."
 
Most of the audience were of South Asian origin with a few whites and Arabs. They had attended the ticketed but free event, which seized all the tickets within three hours of the announcement.

If Shah Rukh's funny, earnest and life affirming speech was different than speeches delivered by other Chubb Fellows over the years, the finale was even more unexpected and appealing to the star-crazed audience.

After talking about his work ethos, his personal life, the need to appreciate the unconditional love offered by parents and his dream of seeing his children -- son 14 and daughter 11, study at Yale, Shah Rukh recited a few lines from his film Don -- and danced for over three minutes with Yale student Natalia Khosla to the recorded sounds of Chammak Chalo from his film Ra.One.

He was welcomed to the event with huge applause and his departure was followed by an applause that persisted for over three minutes and a standing ovation.


Image: Shah Rukh Khan makes a grand entry
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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He also got Jeffrey Brenzel, Yale dean of undergraduate admissions and master of Timothy Dwight College, Yale College alumna Sarika Arya; and Yale Law School student Nikhil Sud, who joined the post-talk discussion, to dance with him on the stage for a few minutes.
 
Shah Rukh, who candidly admitted he joined the film industry because he wanted to escape the cycle of poverty which had claimed the happiness and life force of his parents, said he had never been daunted by failures.
 
'Failure is a fiendish friend that can lead to success by teaching one to be pragmatic, to work harder, and to be true to oneself,' he told the gathering that included many Yale students who came to the school through a highly competitive process.


Image: The crowd waits outside the venue
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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"Many a nights I have gone back home after receiving an award... pumped up and all happy, just to read that what I really deserved was the golden banana for worst actor of the year," he said a bit ruefully but with a self-effacing smile.

"I become heartbroken, angry and completely convinced that bananas and critics, both should have their skins peeled and fed to the monkeys," he said, receiving warm applause from the audience.

He admitted it was not easy to deal with discouragement.

"I momentarily lose my ability to give and close up," he continued. "And here's where the trick is -- when you are in this place of despair, where the world is staring you down into yourself. There is only one thing you can do to survive -- hang on to who you are inside. The world will be unkind to you; it will not be able to see you. You must learn at such times, to be able to see yourself."


Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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"Life, as a creative person, is like being on a tight rope," he added.

"I begin to lose myself, in my own melodrama. It is frustrating that I find myself living up to other people's interpretation of what I ought to be," he said per the transcript of his talk by Yale.

"And when faced with dissent or unappreciation, I start losing my love affair with my audience," he mused. "It becomes a tight balance act...to keep doing what I do best...and not be bothered by the reactions of people I do it for, in the first place.

"I dance harder and cartwheel longer and pirouette on my rope. Stretched, taut, beneath my feet. And I try not to slip... I can slide but never fall off, all this while I have a smile on my face and signing autographs."


Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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The actor, who said with a bright smile that he had learned a few big words in the last few days in the process of preparing for the event, got to use several of them including 'vicissitude' and 'funambulist'.

"All I am is a funambulist...trying to balance my  action and exterior reaction to my naked show of who I am inside," he said. "I start to feel like a street artist who feels his audience is just a bunch of pausing passersby applauding out of a mixture of curiosity. pity or even disregard.

"Yet when I am playing this real life illusion out, more often than not, my honest self is sitting in the audience, applauding my performance while laughing heartily at my own stupidity.

"So my friends, learn to laugh at yourselves too. Never become cynical about yourself and your life.  Becoming cynical about your life is the single most destructive thing you can do to it."


Image: The crowd outside the venue
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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He added: "You have to know and learn that life is not just a checklist of acquisition, attainments, and fulfillments. Your qualifications and CVs don't really matter. Instead, life is difficult and complicated...and beyond anyone's control. The humility to know this will help you survive its vicissitudes."

After having talked about how his parents had not lived to see him succeed in the movies and as a parent, he emphasised the importance of young people appreciating and cherishing their parents.

"Whatever you do, whatever mistakes you make, your parents are your best friends," he said. "If you want to survive in life, it is best to begin to respect the gift of love right now. As children, your first teachers of this acceptance are your parents."

Shah Rukh said he hadn't had a fun-filled and fulfilling evening like the one at Yale in a long time. And many in the audience felt that way, too.

"He is an entertainer, and I think I got the essence of what he was saying," said a non-South Asian academic at the university who is yet to see a Hindi language film.

Brenzel, dean of undergraduate admissions who had declared earlier that Shah Rukh stood a very good chance of getting into Yale were he to seek admission, declared: "This was one of the most vibrant and exuberant Chubb fellowship events ever. Shah Rukh Khan is so comfortable in his own skin and loves to make connections with people that you have to say he makes happiness contagious.... I think students were paying attention to who he is as well as to what he was saying. They learned a lot about a rare generosity of spirit."


Image: Shah Rukh Khan speaks at Yale university
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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