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October 27, 2001
Shah Rukh takes New York by storm
Aseem Chhabra in New York
Shah Rukh Khan arrived in New York City on October 25, to promote his second home production Asoka based on the life and times of the legendary Mauryan emperor.
And rather in the manner of the monarch he portrays on screen, Shah Rukh took the city by storm -- being mobbed by a screaming, unruly crowd of fans some of whom had paid $150 apiece to catch the film’s premiere.
Hysterical young girls, women, men, even press photographers literally flung themselves on the Hindi film star when he turned up for the premiere party at the Reebok Sports Club in Manhattan’s upper west side. Typical of Bollywood standard time, the star was an hour late, although the invitation said that the party was to start at '7:00 pm Sharp'.
Shah Rukh, natty in a black Nehru jacket, managed to smile through it all, even when his security staff gave up the struggle to control the fans. The star spent 20 minutes being pushed and shoved around, before managing to escape through the back door.
Asoka, produced by Shah Rukh’s banner Arclightz and Films Pvt Ltd, gets the biggest ever release for a Hindi film in the US and Canada, commonly clubbed together and referred to as the North American market. The film opens on 68 screens this weekend, according to the film’s associate executive producer and US distributor Mark Burton. So far, the honour for the biggest Hindi film opening -- on 59 screens -- belonged to the November 1999 Diwali release Hum Saath Saath Hain.
In the UK, Asoka opens on 80 screens, including in many theaters which have never played Hindi films in the past. In recent years, major productions such as Hum Saath Saath Hain, Mohabbatein and Lagaan have all performed well in the UK market, but in each case was released on 30 screens or less, in theatres that exclusively show Hindi films.
Asoka, a fictionalised account of the life and times of the Mauryan emperor who renounced war and converted to Buddhism, underlines its antiwar message by thanking the Dalai Lama in the opening credits. Shah Rukh, appearing at the premiere that followed the party, at Manhattan’s Sony IMAX theatre, said he wished that President George W Bush and suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden could see the film.
This is Shah Rukh’s second appearance in New York to promote the film. Earlier on September 10, the actor-producer and director-cinematographer Santosh Sivan, en route to the Toronto Film Festival, stopped over in New York for a press conference on the occasion of the release of the film’s soundtrack. On that occasion, their stay was forcibly extended by several days due to the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
The premiere was a more controlled version of the chaos of the premiere party earlier in the day. Shah Rukh was escorted into the theatre after the lights had been turned off. "Can we have some lights please," he asked, repeatedly, before the lights were turned back on.
At once, screaming fans made a beeline for the star, but this time they were unable to get close to him.
Reacting with annoyance when a microphone was pushed too close to his face, Shah Rukh told the audience, "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming for this screening. I believe some of you are here from New Jersey. Well, I have traveled all the way from Bombay for this evening."
The star had earlier stopped over in London for two premieres, on October 23 and 24.
"I have come here in the past with other films, some of them were bad, but you liked them," he told the audience. "We are a small market in Bombay, but whenever we hear that our films are doing well overseas, we know it is because of you."
He thanked the audience for spending $150 apiece to attend the film premiere. "I hope the film is worth it," he said. "I know that the cause is."
According to the organisers, net proceeds from the premiere will be donated to Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, a charity created to help the children and spouses of victims of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Before he left, Shah Rukh emphasized the need to control the menace of video and DVD piracy of Hindi films. "Your being here means that you like to watch films in cinema halls," he said. "Please do not watch the film on a pirated DVD. And guys, the girls look a lot sexier on the big screen!"
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