No one romances better than Shah Rukh Khan.
My first memory of love, or a man I love, is of him. SRK, dimple-cheeked, arms wide open, standing in a mustard field in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), is what dreams are made of. Or him hopping off a helicopter and whipping off his shades in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G); or him dancing in the rain with Kajol in a gazebo in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai; or in the black suit leaning rakishly against a pillar, whispering to Madhuri Dixit “aur paas” in Dil To Pagal Hai… these are all scenes ensconced in my memory. There is no movie of his I haven’t seen, even the questionable ones that fair-weather fans avoid.
But with him comes another association—that of London. Off- screen, it’s one of Khan’s favourite cities. He’s bought a house there and shooting in London, he says, makes him happy.
Call it colonial hangover, but the city has always fascinated Indians. The idea of London intrigues, entices, and is shown beautifully in Shah Rukh Khan’s movies. Take Aditya Chopra’s DDLJ (1995). The opening scene sees the patriarch Chaudhry Baldev Singh (Amrish Puri) feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square (an act now banned) and dreaming of Punjab before he hears the bells of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and walks back to his shop in Indian-dominated Southall in West London. He takes the most touristy (and long-drawn) of routes, crossing the Westminster Bridge, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Ministry of Defence, with the sequence introducing London to viewers. The paths of the lovers Simran (Kajol) and Raj (SRK) first cross unwittingly in Leicester Square. Before riding off into the sunset with Simran on a train in the climax (shot at Apta Station), he pulls her onto a train at the Victorian King’s Cross Station in London, ensuring she makes it for her Europe trip with her friends (he’s on one too with his). Another song features them dreaming about each other in London’s open-top buses, parks, or while riding the escalators at Angel Underground Station. The second half is shot in India, but by now London is firmly embedded in the fan’s (and my) brain.
In Karan Johar’s K3G (2001), Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) learns from a distant relative’s kid that his estranged elder brother Rahul (SRK), has moved to London. “Woh London gaye. Ek din mein bhi jaunga,” the kid tells Rohan. These words were echoed by a friend of mine, another diehard fan, when she visited the city for the first time last year. There was no bevy of girls singing “Vande Mataram” to welcome her on the other side, as in Rohan’s case, but she managed to get her photos at Tower Bridge, The London Eye and Natural History Museum, spots Rohan is shown in. Fans can dine at Cantina del Ponte at Butler’s Wharf. It’s got one of the most scenic views of Tower Bridge. This Italian restaurant is also the beginning of Rohan and Pooja’s (Kareena Kapoor) flirtation, and where she agrees to help him reunite their family. Rohan moves into Rahul’s Hampstead house soon after. Here, he teaches Rahul’s son and his classmates the Indian national anthem, which they then perform for the annual day function—a scene shot at the Osterley Park and House, one of the largest green, open spaces in London. A visit to the mega-shopping complex Bluewater in Kent though is a real fan’s deal, with its 330 stores and a 17-screen theatre. An hour away from the main city, it is pivotal to the movie. It is here that Rahul is reunited with his mother, Nandini (Jaya Bachchan), after a decade of separation. I tear up every time.
Director Yash Chopra’s last movie before he died, Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), was predominantly shot in London too. Starring SRK, Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif, the movie is as much a love song to the city as it is about Khan and Kaif character’s journeys. Samar (SRK) meets Meera (Kaif) when she comes to the 19th-century All Saints Church in Blackheath, one she’s oddly attached to. He sings for money at the buzzing trade district Canary Wharf, and poses with Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman’s statue at St Pancras Station. Samar romances Meera across the city during the song “Saans”—in Covent Garden’s colourful alley Neal’s Yard, in a Hyde Park turned autumn-russet, in a red telephone booth. The elegantly decked-up couple swirl under the glass dome of Syon Park’s neoclassical Great Conservatory and frolic around Somerset House’s lit-up, burbling fountains. The duo sizzles in the dance number “Ishq Shava,” shot at night in the graffiti-brimming Banksy Tunnel in Leake Street, and at Trinity Buoy Wharf, a creative hub bursting with art studios and exhibitions. In one of the behind-the-scenes videos, Chopra states that he could’ve shot the movie anywhere, but he wanted the story to be set in London. I can see why.
If you are going down the road to chase shoot locations, set forth from London to explore the many manor houses and palaces around the city that have been home to scenes from Shah Rukh Khan movies, which may or may not be set in India.
Remember Kareena Kapoor sashaying in a hot pink skirt at her college in K3G? Or the driveway where Hrithik Roshan vrooms in a red Lamborghini and catches her eye? It’s all here. Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, acts as a backdrop for their college.
Set in the expansive estate of Stowe House, this independent school was shown as Hrithik Roshan’s alma mater in K3G. In fact, the movie opens with Shah Rukh Khan’s voiceover reinforcing the movie’s ‘love your parents’ theme while Roshan hits the winning ball in a game of cricket, played on the school’s lush grounds.
The seat of the Marquess of Bath, the Longleat House and its grounds were the setting for Mohabbatein’s (2000) Gurukul. Whether it is Shah Rukh Khan playing the violin in the gazebo, or Amitabh Bachchan framed at the entrance while the wind whirls around him, Longleat’s Elizabethan facade is unforgettable. It was even on the film’s poster!
The Raichand House in K3G, supposedly set in Delhi, is in fact Waddesdon Manor, built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1880. The movie familiarised the audience with the manor’s neo-Renaissance architecture by sneaking in aerial shots of the estate, and of Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukerji jogging along its grounds.
Lubna Amir travels in the search for happy places (which invariably involve a beach) and good food. When she’s not planning her next escape, you can find her curled up with a book or researching recipes.