Shrayana Bhattacharya, author of Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh, talks about the SRK effect at a session of The Write Circle in Dehradun
Prabha Khaitan Foundation, under its The Write Circle initiative, organised a lively session with the economist and author, Shrayana Bhattacharya. Taking the audience down memory lane, Bhattacharya recounted her life’s journey, making a special stop to discuss her celebrated work, Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence. Having been a senior economist at the World Bank, Bhattacharya’s book is a unique blend of movies and economics, which she traced in a free-flowing conversation with Pooja Poddar Marwah, Ehsaas Woman of Dehradun. Pooja Khanna, Ehsaas Woman of Dehradun, introduced the speakers to the audience.
Bhattacharya revealed that her introduction to Shah Rukh Khan was through the film Baazigar. “Although that movie did not turn me into an ardent fan, I kept watching Khan’s movies until I became one, having realised that he epitomises romance and redefines masculinity. I think there’s a lot of woman in him. I see him as a female icon.”
What led Bhattacharya to use Khan as a research tool when speaking with women from the slums of Ahmedabad, the forests of Jharkhand, and the villages of Uttar Pradesh? The author revealed that conversations about Khan, who unanimously turned out to be a favourite among these women, helped them break through their prejudices and fears and open up about the basic question of their freedom. The book was a 15-year journey – one filled with changing perspectives on love, life and career, and myriad emotions that challenged her. Although difficult at times, the research brought to the fore the immediate need for massive changes to ensure financial independence for deprived women in India. Bhattacharya believes the book is a testament to the women’s belief in her.
“I kept watching Khan’s movies until I became a fan, having realised that he epitomises romance and redefines masculinity. I see him as a female icon.”
Bhattacharya addressed the inequality between men and women in India as well. Recalling a personal anecdote, Bhattacharya recounted how a male friend of hers refused to look at her while speaking. While this annoyed her initially, it led her to realise that this behaviour stemmed from how he, and Indian men in general, are brought up. This, Bhattacharya insisted, needs to change.
She spoke also about the deep passion she harbours for her job as an economist. “During the pandemic, I spent my time trying to understand the struggling economy with colleagues and leaders, aiming to make a change,” she said. “The Indian economy did fairly well in comparison to other nations. We had our challenges and struggles, but we made it.”
As the session came to a close, Bhattacharya spoke once again of the challenges faced by many women in India. “Women don’t have time or purchasing power,” she said. “They are stuck between the four ‘M’s – men, money, marriage, and market.” As women jumped through the social hoops, Khan brought them deep psychological relief. “Because, as real life disappoints, Shah Rukh Khan comes in and gives them a few hours of love, laugh and longing,” said Bhattacharya. Such is the power of the Bollywood superstar.
The Write Circle Dehradun was presented by Shree Cement Ltd in association with Hyatt Regency Dehradun and Dainik Jagran and with the support of Ehsaas Women of Dehradun