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The man they call the Tom Cruise of Bollywood touched down in Dubai Thursday and generated as much buzz as the real Cruise did on opening night.
Appearing at a panel discussion at the Dubai International Film Festival in support of Don 2, the sequel to 2006’s wildly popular action film Don, Shah Rukh Khan elicited screams of “I love you” when he took the stage after a brief 3D preview of the film.
Sharing the stage with director Farhan Akhtar and co-star Priyanka Chopra, Khan set a lighthearted tone early when he was asked whether he likes playing “bad” characters like the crime boss Don.
“I enjoy being bad,” he said. “I have a black soul. I actually sold my soul to the devil years ago. This really is my favorite character I’ve ever played.”
The mostly young and female crowd hung on Kahn’s every word. Bollywood releases are wildly popular in the Middle East, and this year the Dubai fest is spotlighting India’s film sector with a number of high-profile events. In addition to honoring composer A.R. Rahman with a Lifetime Achievement Award, DIFF is presenting a number of Bollywood world premieres, like the romantic comedy Ladies V/s Ricky Bahl, which debuted Thursday night, as well as screenings of older hits like 2001’s Oscar nominated Lagaan, starring Amir Khan.
Asked whether international audiences were ready to embrace Bollywood releases, Chopra said she sees increasing interest even in places where the language barrier could be a problem.
“There is definitely a preconceived notion when it comes to Indian cinema,” said Chopra. “But now I think people are opening up in a big way to India and all that it has to offer. When we were shooting Don 2 in Berlin they went crazy even though obviously they don’t speak English.”
Director Akhtar added that increasing collaboration between Bollywood and Hollywood will help global audiences embrace Indian cinema.
“There is more collaboration than people think,” he said. “Many Hollywood and U.K. films come to India to shoot. But it’s in the early stages. Both industries are slowly starting to get to know each other.”
With the discussion threatening to become far too serious, Kahn closed the event on a typically irreverent note. Asked by an audience member about smoking on film — India recently put on hold a planned ban on smoking in movies — Khan brought the house down with his deadpan answer.
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