Khan plus kitsch equals ballyhoo over Bollywood


"Maybe I'm German since the people here like me so much. I can't explain it any other way," India megastar Shah Rukh Khan quipped about the Bollywood and King Khan frenzy sweeping not just Berlin but also Germany.

"You don't need to sit down and understand a film, you have to make cinema that is felt," he said. "I think the Germans are feeling it."

Police vans and security guards flanked the International Theater on Friday when Khan walked the red carpet as the premiere of his film, "Om Shanti Om," screened as a Berlinale Special selection. Fans who had lined up for hours broke into the film's song and dance numbers not only along the red carpet but also during the screening.

The star wattage of the Indian actor also known as 'SRK' to his loyal admirers equals that of Tom Cruise plus Brad Pitt x 10 to these fans.

"It's a very humbling experience for me," Khan told The Hollywood Reporter. "I never imagined that, not knowing the language or the culture of our country, the audience would react to a movie that is a take-off on the Indian movie industry and like it so much."

Typically, when a star-studded Hindi-language film premieres in major cities around the world, Bollywood-mania strikes enthusiastic fans who mostly are NRI's (non-resident Indians.) But what is unusual in Germany is that this fan base is not just Indian but German. The growing popularity of Hindi-language films shown on local TV channels here has created a newfound interest in all things Bollywood.

Khan, whose fan base in India could well reach hundreds of millions, is himself amazed at the Bollywood craze in Germany. "I can't intellectualize and say that love and art crosses all boundaries and binds us together in globalization of cinema," he said, "but people have suddenly started realizing India is in the time of celebration."

The melodramatic tone of a typical Bollywood film spiced up with song and dance is what draws the German audience, says Stephan Holl, whose Cologne-based company Rapid Eye Movies is a market leader in distributing Indian and Asian films in Germany.

In 2003, the company began distributing Bollywood films theatrically and on TV channels like RTL2. The television exposure further helped the DVD sales, Holl said. The company's DVD catalog now includes more than 200 titles.

"It's a cult phenomenon — the audiences can connect to the emotional films," Holl said. "It's a relief for the German audience to cry once in a while, me included."

He added: "Let's forget about the Bollywood name. In Germany, it's a Shah Rukh Khan market. He is a guarantee for boxoffice."

Holl cautioned that because of the heightened interest, the German market is flooded with Bollywood films, some of them mediocre. Therefore, the market has dropped.

Khan is keen to build on the growing popularity of the Indian cinema in Europe. "The novelty that has allowed us to enter the hearts of European people in Germany, France or Poland, we should not let go of this opportunity," he said.

But changes are needed to sustain this interest, like trimming films' length from their usual three hours. "We shouldn't make movies that require an interval," Khan said. (In India, the interval or intermission is generally the time for a chai and samosa break.)

Still, the Indian way of storytelling should be maintained, the actor-producer said.

"There's nothing wrong with it," Kahn said. "Unabashedly, without being ashamed of the fact, I say that our cinema is kitsch, it's got a lot of songs and its loud, but that's who we are."

Khan, who has produced six films, including "Om Shanti Om," under his Red Chilies Entertainment banner, does not want to direct.

"Direction is a lonely job, and I'm not cut out for being lonely," he said, smiling. "You've seen the crowds. I love the people."