Monday, June 1, 2009

A day in the life of Shah Rukh Khan’s fans outside ‘Mannat’

 

Being Mannat on a Sunday is hard work. Bombarded with the harsh flashes of eager cameras, the fortress on Bandstand in Mumbai’s Bandra West, that houses Shah Rukh Khan and his family, has hundreds of fans lining up outside its gates every weekend. The release of the latest Khan thriller, Fan, which tells the story of an obsessive fan who travels to Mumbai to meet the star he worships, has only added to this weekend’s crowd of people.

It’s 2 pm on a Sunday and sturdy men in grey overalls have begun to take up strategic positions around Mannat, now one of Mumbai’s most famous tourist spots. Among the people posing before the Mannat nameplate by the front gate is 32­year­old Nafeez, who works at a restaurant on Mohd Ali Road in south Mumbai. After getting his photo taken, Nafeez turns to his friend Shoaib and gives him a ‘tour’ of Mannat — telling him the stairs unwind into the halls and which room belongs to whom. Paying great attention to this guided tour of the house are three teenagers: Kabir, Kasim and Nihal. “We come from Lower Parel every Sunday. Star logon ka ghar dekhna pasand hai (We like seeing the homes of filmstars),” says Kasim, 14.

As evening approaches, the road leading to Mannat is choked with frenzied fans and their vehicles. Around 4 pm, more than seven tourist buses and several private taxis stop in front of the mansion, all in a span of seven minutes. The Purushottamans, who are visiting the city from Muscat, have just alighted from one of the taxis. As they take turns to pose before Mannat, struggling to hold on to their bottles of packaged drinking water, Sreenivas Purushottaman says, “I have been working in Muscat for 21 years. I first came to Mumbai from Thrissur in Kerala when I needed to get my visa approved and I had to catch my first flight out. It was Bombay then and completely different. My family is visiting Mumbai for the first time and for them, the city is all about Bollywood glamour. My wife is a big Shah Rukh Khan fan.”

At 6.30 pm, another flurry of SRK fans spill out of BEST Bus 211, which halts inches from Mannat’s front gate every 12 minutes. Neeta and Suhani, students from a Churchgate college, say they decided to make an impromptu trip to Mannat after having watched Fan the day before.

“We saw the film and thought it has been a long time since we visited Mannat. All our friends from college are big Ranbir Kapoor fans and keep going to Bandra to see his house. But not us. I have been an SRK fan since DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) and for me, Raj can never get old,” says Neeta. As Suhani makes her way across the road to catch a better glimpse of the house from the platform that seats the rest of the crowd, she is stalled by vendors selling fried snacks.

Sundays are good for Sunil Kumar’s business. The 41­year­old from Bihar sells peanuts in front of Mannat. “Hum bade fan nahin hain unke. Hamein toh sirf pet paalne se matlab hai (I am not a big fan of Khan. I am only concerned about feeding my family),” says Sunil, who sets up his wares in front of Mannat every evening and leaves around 11 pm. Sunil usually obliges Shah Rukh Khan fans who come to him with requests to take their photographs. Though his family in Bihar is aware of his ‘Mannat connection’, Sunil has never entertained their pleas to bring them to the city

Around 7 pm every Sunday, the extended Siddique family assembles at Mannat to make dinner plans for the night. Niyas, 17, a die­hard SRK fan, decided on this spot as their meeting point for the family ritual. “We live close by and can come here every Sunday. It feels great to be so close to SRK,” he says.

At 8:30 pm, an auto pulls up before the house with six members of a family from Dehradun. Aleena Bahuguna has brought her four children and mother Pushpa Layll on a tour of Mumbai’s star homes. They have already stopped at the homes of Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgn and a few others. “Main toh ab marne hi waali hoon. Lekin meri mannat thi ki main khud aaun aur Mannat dekhoon (My days are numbered. I have always wanted to see Mannat),” says Pushpa. The 85­year­old pushes her luck and asks the guards if she can go in and meet the actor, but they refuse to indulge her.

Their auto driver Dawood Khan is getting restless. The meter, still running, has clocked Rs 600, but that’s not why he is fidgety. Dawood calls himself “the biggest Salman Khan fan alive” and doesn’t want to be seen anywhere near SRK’s home. He feels cheated because the family hadn’t told him of their plans when they got in. “Whenever anyone says they want to go to Mannat, I just ignore them and drive past. I am a fan of Bhaijaan’s and will take you anywhere but here,” says Dawood.

It’s 9 pm and Nilesh Pandey is a lonely man in this maddening crowd. The “struggling actor” says he comes to Mannat every time he feels his resolve shaking. “Look at this house. It was SRK’s dream. He came with nothing but a few hundred rupee notes in his pocket and now owns millions of hearts. It gives me hope that someday I can get everything I want,” says Pandey, looking up at the building.

With two hours to Cinderella hour, the crowd in front of Mannat begins to thin. The gates remain firmly shut.

The fans will return again. To another day.