Shahrukh Khan PR Report: The Beard is Gone, the Good Press is Back

Woo-hoo, Shahrukh’s PR team! You deserve congrats, champagne, and a nice long vacation. Shahrukh got another honorary degree and the coverage has been spun just right. It’s like a perfectly tailored suit, so well done as to be invisible and just allow the man within it to shine.

Let me give you a selection of headlines:

London’s Law University Honors Shahrukh Khan With A Doctorate Degree (
https://www.aninews.in/news/entertainment/bollywood/londons-law-university-honours-shah-rukh-khan-with-a-doctorate-degree20190405114733/ )

Another feather in his cap: SRK receives honorary doctorate by The University of Law, London (//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/68731821.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)

Shah Rukh Khan Gets His Fourth Doctorate While We Still Haven’t Collected Our College Degree ( https://www.mensxp.com/entertainment/bollywood/51713-shah-rukh-khan-gets-his-third-doctorate-while-we-still-haven-rsquo-t-collected-our-college-degree.html )

Pics: Shah Rukh Khan looks dapper as he returns to Mumbai after receiving honorary doctorate in Philanthropy (https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/news/pics-shah-rukh-khan-looks-dapper-he-returns-mumbai-after-receiving-honorary-doctorate-philanthropy-445641 )

And some opening paragraphs:

“Shah Rukh Khan, one of the most refined actors in the industry adds another feather to his cap. The ‘Zero’ superstar received an honorary doctorate in philanthropy by the University of law, London.  He’d already received the same honour from the University of Bedfordshire and the University of Edinburg and now, it was the University of Law’s turn to honour the deserving actor.”

“After the honorary doctorates from The University of Bedfordshire and The University of Edinburgh, superstar Shah Rukh Khan has received an honorary doctorate in Philanthropy by The University of Law, London.”

“The Badshah of Bollywood, Shahrukh Khan, has added yet another feather to his cap. The actor, on Thursday, was conferred an honorary Doctorate in Philanthropy by The University of Law, London. Earlier, Shahrukh had received two doctorates from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Bedfordshire.”

Now, this is how you control a story!!!!!! Every headline in lockstep, every opening paragraph almost word-for-word identical. Somebody somewhere sent out a press release complete with suggested language (“feather in his cap” is not a common phrase) to every media outlet available. No more just waiting for them to find the story, or even trusting on Shahrukh’s tweets to be repeated, total control is the goal.

In fact, let’s take a moment to look at the tweet Shahrukh put up:

It’s courteous and correct, but it does not tell the story. In fact, it encourages readers and news outlets to search for more details on the story, you can’t really have an opinion just on this tweet, you need to get real facts and fill in the gaps. And the SRK PR team is here for you with those facts!

What’s really impressive is the follow up Pinkvilla report about him arriving back from the airport. Airport shots are the point of the post, but they need some kind of headline to differentiate it from all the other SRK airport shots, and POOF! The first thing at the top of their minds is “Honorary Doctorate”. Not “controversial” or “unpatriotic” or “flop movie star”, but “Honorary Doctorate”. ReBranding Successful!

Speaking of flop movies, the PR team is taking a stab at redeeming Zero too. I admire the ambition, but I don’t have much faith it will work. If you search for Zero now, these are the headlines you find:

Shah Rukh’s ‘Zero’ to close Beijing film fest ( https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/shah-rukh-s-zero-to-close-beijing-film-fest-119040301039_1.html _)

Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero To Close The Beijing International Film Festival – Rocking Or SHOCKING? ( https://www.koimoi.com/bollywood-news/shah-rukh-khan-zero-close-beijing-international-film-festival/ )

Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Zero’ to close Beijing International Film Festival (//economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/68714644.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)

Now, here’s the really interesting one, the original article reporting this is in Variety! So in this case, it’s not so much that the SRK PR folks sent around a press release, as that they steered everyone towards the correct article and let them go from there:

Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Zero,’ Chinese Propaganda Titles Set as Beijing Festival Highlights ( https://variety.com/2019/film/news/beijing-film-festival-shah-rukh-khan-1203179326/ )

The Variety article accurately pointed to Zero as part of a larger trend of Indian-Chinese film crossovers:

“The decision to program “Zero” in such a prominent slot underlines the growing success which Indian films are enjoying with Chinese audiences.”

That’s the bit that the Indian articles picked up on, For instance from Koimoi.com:


“The love of Chinese audiences for Bollywood dramas is well known, especially in the recent past, several movies including Hindi Medium and Hichki have worked wonders amongst the movie lovers there. Now, Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma-Katrina Kaif starrer Zero is all set to enter the elite list, as the romantic saga to be part of renowned Beijing International Film Festival. ”

Zero is no longer a “flop” film, it is a crossover hit with China, a brave representative of the Indian industry in the international market. Honored by overseas festivals, very respectable.

Long term, I doubt this will work, Zero will hit the festival and then leave and India will go back to thinking of it as a “flop” film. But at least for a few news cycles, Zero gets a break. And in future, along with “flop”, they can push to add the descriptor of “honored by China” to any articles about it.

We can see the vision of a larger strategy here, right? The goal is Shahrukh=Respected International Philanthropist and Secondly Actor. Move the movie star stuff to the second level, he’s not giving TED Talks on that any more or doing stage shows and stuff, he is a philanthropist first and actor second. Which also means that his acting career’s hits and flops do not define his public image, the films do not control him but he controls the films.

Also cut out the personal stuff, no more “Shahrukh, loving father and husband”, instead “Shahrukh, thinker on legal and ethical issues and active giver to the community”. Minimal personal tweets, no interviews, no public appearances, just awards and speeches. And focus on the international angle, the Indian film festivals and universities aren’t allowed to give him awards any more, but international is even better. Collect everything you are offered from everywhere and promote the heck out of it until the Indian public starts to think of you as a respectable person again and starts to wonder why you aren’t getting awards at home. It redeems Shahrukh-the-Person without forcing himself to compromise his principles, or opening up the more personal areas of his life where attacks hurt more.

Doesn’t hurt that he is mixing in tweets like this with his personal tweets.

The best part is, Shahrukh’s Indian political opponents can’t fight back. Not with the way he has positioned himself. You can’t attack an international award without also attacking the international market, and no one wants to attack the international market. Sure, it’s easy to start a social media campaign of “Shahrukh gets an award from London University, where the colonial oppressors who almost destroyed our culture were born, Shahrukh is a collaborator and blah blah blah”. But no one wants that campaign right now, we are in the era of the Global Market, we have to make nice. If he was getting a local award, you could say “This particular university did such-and-such, so we all hate them”. But no one has enough awareness of the specifics of these international things to get a good hate going on them. Keep the international coming, and eventually you will yank India into following, because they can’t fight back against it.

This is all making me think about two posts I wrote. Remember my post on Brand SRK and how he needs a rebranding? How the nice average boy next door doesn’t work any more? Here it is, this is the rebranding. He is ruthlessly cutting out all personal angles to his public image and replacing them with Shahrukh = Charity.

But even more interesting is thinking about this in connection with my hegemony post. There is a cultural hegemony of “you have to hate SRK” and there is seemingly no way to fight back against that. So instead, his team is ignoring that hegemonic message and jumping on the back of a different message, “India is/should be a global power and globally respected”. Mix Shahrukh into that whole dish, and there is no way to fight back without destroying the larger message. It’s the same trick everyone else is doing by becoming more and more Hindu, or patriotic.

Everyone else is going to a temple to pray for the success of their film (with lots of photographers around to watch them), or posting some patriotic pablum on Independence Day, and gaining a backfire to shield them from accusations of being unIndian or bad for the country or whatever. But Shahrukh won’t bend that way, won’t give up his principles, so he found a different message that he can leap into, a different stream he can disappear into and slowly redirect until it overwhelms the other small stream of “Shahrukh is the worst” hegemony. You say Shahrukh is the worst? Well, you better be willing to say England is the worst too, and global respect for India, and all these other things!

But mostly, I just want to find out who the team is that is handling SRK now and send them a gift basket and a big CONGRATS message. Oh, and also a little handwritten note saying “I appreciate all you are doing, but is there a way he could get awards and still keep the sexy unshaven look?”

(Oh right, last time I put up a post like this a bunch of people got mad at me. Let us accept that Shahrukh truly is a good charitable person and has been doing these things and getting these awards all along, I’m not saying he is a liar or a hypocrite or anything, I am just saying that his PR team is now trying to promote the things he has always been doing. In fact, I really admire him for sticking by his principles and refusing to give in to jingoistic patriotism like everyone else in the film industry, instead finding a message that is both acceptable to the Indian public and something he really believes in: global connections, charity, women’s empowerment)

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31 thoughts on “Shahrukh Khan PR Report: The Beard is Gone, the Good Press is Back

  1. I too noticed the PR with these honorary degree articles which is the first time I’ve seen it blatantly for SRK. I see these types of press releases all the time with the other actors but never before for him. Normally the media would just find and pick up on things and spin it in all kinds of directions. Seems like he’s finally hired a team or hired a new team.

    However, I really don’t think the family messaging has been cut out but I did notice a change in how it’s done now. For the last few months, I’ve seen that only Gauri posts things related to SRK as as a husband or father. Even if the picture doesn’t include her and only SRK and AbRam are in it, it is Gauri who provides it. If they go on vacation, Gauri posts a pic letting fans in on what SRK was up to. If they go to a party, Gauri posts the pic again. SRK and Gauri picked up an award for being the Most Stylish Couple a few days ago but only Gauri posted about it on social media. SRK sticks to tweets related to his foundation/charity or sports.

    He is doing interviews too but has probably just cut down a lot. The University posted a pic of SRK being interviewed by the BBC and a couple of short clips have come out so far. This is actually perfect. Talk to the international press. They won’t try to trap him through Indian political questions and they really don’t give a damn what the other Khans are up to or what new actors are making at the box office. So those types of pathetic questions don’t get asked either. These are the safest interviews he can do. Even during Zero release, I noticed a change. No interviews with the usual suspects like Rajeev Masand and Anupama Chopra and instead interviews given to popular/famous youtubers . It might have been the wrong film but the strategy was correct.

    As far as people not being able to attack international honors, I have seen attempts made but I think they’re not able to stick. For example, whenever anything related to SRK comes up, it gets flooded by comments from fake accounts (no followers, no pictures, etc) and this time the message was “it was bought with money.” But unlike the other types of attacks, this one just comes across as being plain foolish so it doesn’t have impact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually strike that out about the family stuff. I just checked his twitter and SRK has definitely posted pics with his kids recently. He posted a lovey dovey tweet about Gauri too last week. This one: “Being with you is like being on Stage. There’s so much light, I can’t see anything else”.

      But he does post a lot less about his family than his wife does. But he has never posted too much about that aspect to be honest. It’s just that Gauri has ramped it up compared to before when she was extremely reluctant to allow the media in.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that is fascinating about the family photos! So smart in multiple ways. On the simplest level, people would have to do the work of following Gauri (which even I don’t bother with) in order to find those posts, so there is an immediate screening process just to folks that are smart and care enough to do that. And of course it also positions his family life as only existing jointly with Gauri. Makes their marriage a harder target to hit, and also gives Shahrukh a bit of a human shield since you can’t attack him personally without seeming to attack his wife.

      You know what else is nice about the international press interviews? It’s harder to make an accusation of favoritism. Just like with the awards. If Anupama interviews him, suddenly it’s all “she didn’t ask the hard questions, Shahrukh escapes again” blah blah blah. But if the BBC interviews him, those accusations don’t really hold water. Just like with the “it was bought with money” attacks, it’s kind of a stretch.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, once again, my thoughts exactly. Also, he was up to more in London than just this. He didn’t need to be there so long to receive this award and in the middle of it Suhana went home to Mumbai so it wasn’t to stay and see her. I’m hoping he’s scouting locations for a netflix series, but that’s just me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He was spotted with Sujoy Ghosh (who directed Badla) in London too. It might have been just a friendly meeting but I think Red Chillies will want to keep Ghosh on their team so they will do something else with him whether or not SRK stars in it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Badla did really well in the UK market, and it looks like it was filmed almost entirely over there, plus most of the cast were UK actors. I wonder if Red Chillies might start moving more in that direction? Doing more production overseas? From a purely paperwork standpoint, the hassle of dealing with Mahira’s status as a worker in India must have been enormous, safer to film the whole thing overseas and use local talent as much as possible.

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        • Yeah, I was thinking overseas shooting these days can end up being cheaper than India because these countries offer so many subsidies. Trudeau tried to woo them to work in Canada. The Mayor of London also explicitly asked them to come and film in London especially after Brexit fears. For SRK, it’s easiest since he’s very comfortable and familiar with London, his daughter is there, he owns a house there, and it’s so much quicker and easier to get to than the US.

          But the biggest issue is that the Indian audience is obsessed with rustic and rural films these days. Overseas locations are automatically derided as 90s or NRI style. I think Badla got away with it because it was a small under-the-radar kind of film so there wasn’t enough time or attention given to it in order to start frothing at the mouth.

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          • Well heck, Shivaay filmed mostly in Europe I think. Just set your rustic rural film in the mountains and film in Europe anyway.

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  3. I’m so glad you wrote this piece! I’ve been seeing all the positive press about him hosting Filmfare, Zero winning best VFX, Zero at the Beijing Film Fest, he and Gauri getting the most stylish couple award (I mean, she spoke on stage with him and everything!), the Meer Foundation, and now the Honorary Doctorate, and wondering what you and the commenters here would think of it all.

    I think for a while his message of bringing Indian film to the world, making it the best in the world without losing its Indianness, has been coming through, but it has been wedded nicely with the philanthropy and general thought leader ideas lately.

    I feel a little tinge of sadness because I think he may be having to bend on his “if you get recognition for charity it isn’t charity” principles, which are part of the Muslim view of charity, but he said in an interview recently that he’s come to realize that he will have to be more public to help the Meer Foundation grow, so that it can do more good work. By grow, I mean through partnerships to get their work done well in more parts of India, not necessarily through outside funding.

    I agree it’s a smart strategy to have his “movie stardom” take a backseat to his leadership/vision and philanthropy, with acting falling somewhere in the middle.

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    • You are making me think about the micro-level of the Meer foundation now, and it’s kind of blowing my mind. If I am a young woman in rural India who just suffered an acid attack, I now know that I can contact the Meer foundation and get support and love and my life isn’t over. Which is something I wouldn’t have known yesterday before all these stories came out. Same goes if I am a doctor running a small clinic trying to treat my patient who was just attacked, or a constable in a police station, or all the other small moving pieces that could reach out for help if they only knew about it.

      One thing that occurs to me with the comment about Gauri posting family photos, and you saying they got the Style award together, it’s kind of a neat way of ducking the “nepotism!” angry mob. If he talks about his kids now, especially Suhana and Aryan, it’s seen as setting them up for a career. But Gauri has her career, all on her own. And you would have to be pretty gutsy to try to start an obvious campaign against working wives. If the focus stays on them as a couple, Shahrukh keeps his family identity without setting his kids up to be attacked.

      On Fri, Apr 5, 2019 at 2:54 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. And maybe Gauri is feeling more confident in herself as a public figure and wants to grow her business too.

        I’ve been super impressed that the Meer Foundation seems to be partnering with existing groups already working with survivors of violence, learning from and strengthening others instead of starting from scratch with the arrogance/naivete that family foundations sometimes have. Now they just need to hire me! 😉

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        • That makes sense as an outgrowth of Shahrukh’s previous charity style, just giving away money instead of trying to build something himself, he didn’t sit down to build a hospital, he found a hospital he liked and gave them a bunch of money. Probably good to come at it with a mindset of 30 years of giving away money to worthy causes, makes him ready to partner with folks instead of think he can build something perfect on his own.

          On Fri, Apr 5, 2019 at 3:07 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Oh but Gauri gets targeted by nepotism shouts too. “She has no talent, people give her work to suck up to her husband, he buys her awards” etc. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. It’s not like SRK is going to give you anything if you get your house designed by Gauri. But then attacks never have to make sense.

        His kids will never be able to dodge the nepotism cries no matter what strategy they adopt. I doubt that there is anything that can soften the blow.

        The most that can be done is to make sure the kids get a real education in the field, which they’re getting. If they have degrees in acting/filmmaking and experience on stage in the UK/US, it will be harder to target them but it will still happen regardless. They will be the lightening rod for this nepotism thing in a way none of the other star kids have been so far because they’re most obviously the biggest names.

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        • This whole “nepotism” thing is so sudden and recent, the smartest thing Shahrukh can do as a Dad might be to just keep them in school and training long enough that it blows over and there is a new issue for people to get excited about.

          Or, advise them to get American careers first. If he wants it, Aryan is in a good position to just stay in LA and keep his head down and do the slow boring American thing. Get a film in some festivals, build buzz, get the American awards before he even tries in India, I don’t know what his career goals are, but if he has the family money to cover day to day expenses and any kind of in born talent, he can do enough unpaid internships and stuff to build up decent connections and survive and thrive. Suhana would have a harder time, getting any sort of acting job as a woman of color would be a lot harder. But again, if she has the family money for day to day expenses, she could easily move between theater groups and stuff and get some nice regional awards.

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    • For whatever reason, Gauri seems to have been convinced lately to be a little more open than she used to be. It was shocking that she went up on stage with him because in the past I’ve seen her turn around and walk away the minute a camera tries to go near her. She also did a tiny interview on the sidelines of that awards show regarding her husband. I feel like she’s genuinely playing the human shield for him right now. She tends to come out of her shell when the attacks against SRK exceed a certain level. She did the same when he was being pulled down during Hrithik mania as well. (I recall SRK saying that Gauri and her mother would hide newspapers and rip pages out of magazines while he was sleeping so he wouldn’t see it because of how badly he was being written about.)

      Same goes for the charity work. He has always done a lot silently but if you’re going to get attacked constantly as some sort of evil selfish rich guy who is hoarding money, you might as well do the charity openly than endure those lies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I assume these awesome new PR team/strategy is controlling Gauri as well. Well, not controlling, but including her in strategy discussions and planning. I don’t think their PR as a unit has felt so coordinated before. Which is a good thing, there would be those odd periods when he was very visible for whatever reason and she wasn’t, and then she would be visible and he wouldn’t be, and it blunted the effect. Might as well coordinate just a little for optimum power. Especially in this “human shield” period. I remember you have mentioned before how she would suddenly come out with an interview out of the blue to defend him, and I know with My Name is Khan Shahrukh had no idea she was planning to take Suhana opening day to a downtown theater until after it happened. That was great, and I love Gauri for being so fierce, but if she really wants to help, better to make it part of a long term plan instead of her just suddenly doing something.

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        • I think she’s a shy person and all this goes against her being. Even in the small interview she did after the recent awards show, you could see her frustration as the interviewer was noticeably flirting with SRK in front of her. Gauri almost rolled her eyes at what she was witnessing.

          Yes, that big interview she did was during Hrithik mania. She hadn’t spoken to the media in years at that point and suddenly did a big magazine cover story to basically tell them to back off her husband. She put a clear message out that Hrithik may be good but he can’t be compared to SRK and that the attacks against him are unfair. She also put out a very well built (and true) case about how everyone in the industry has parents and siblings who they can turn to but SRK has nobody to rely on. She did a very successful job of framing him as the underdog, the brilliant one, and the one who built his career with grit and hard work. It kind of took the wind out of the Hrithik story and helped to change the narrative.

          She doesn’t like being involved in SRK’s career but I’m guessing she thinks she has to again so she is. It does seem more coordinated but I think it’s because this is the first time they have hired a real PR. Earlier SRK used to just handle it himself and it was obvious what a mess the PR situation was for the last few years.

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          • Yeah, thank goodness he has a real PR team now! It was fine earlier when it was just a matter of being charming in interviews and having his secretary handle his schedule and stuff, and the studios doing the work for the movies. But now it really needs someone to do specialized personal work. I can imagine the pitch meeting, saying “we don’t want to trap you and control you, we want to free you up so you can do what you need and let us handle how it is perceived!”

            Kind of feels the same as when they bit the bullet and sent the kids overseas to school. They could spend all their energy and time trying to make the situation work in India, or they could just hand it off to someone else and be only the “parents” and not also the “bodyguards, news agents, etc. etc.”

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          • Also, just watched that interview, and you are so right, Gauri looks like she is trying but would really rather not be there. Shahrukh had his perfect charming smile on the whole time, but then it is his job to do these things. Still a smart PR move, she didn’t look angry or grumpy or anything that would cause a bad story, but poor Gauri having to put on the smile and fake it.

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  4. Sorry for spamming but I have a day off, hah.
    This honorary degree reminded me that SRK still hasn’t gone to Oxford! After he spoke at Yale for his Chubb Fellowship, the Dean at Oxford had asked him if he was willing to come and speak at Oxford too. SRK hadn’t replied until it became a thing in the media and he gave a vague statement to the media that he may go if/when he has time. Then a long time later (maybe 2 years!) Malala (who goes to Oxford currently) tweeted to him again that she was still waiting for him and he replied that he would come soon. It’s again been months since then. I wonder why he’s not going? He’s not even working currently so he has the time and he went to his university now. Very strange! Or do you think he’s trying to time it correctly instead of smooshing up these events too close to each other?

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    • Could be, or maybe there is something complicated from the Oxford side, they have to figure out who gives him the invitation and how and all of that. Academia is weird, there’s so much precedence that it is hard to do anything.

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  5. I would guess he hasn’t been to Oxford because he hasn’t been invited. You are right Academic red tape is wild and who knows who’s blocking it. Also when he was at Devos he said that he had been convinced of the wiseness of more public charity as a way to do more good. You are right: any victim knows where to go for help. Call Shah Rukh. Another note: in his speech at the University of Law he said that he has been dealing with lawyers. I don’t believe it is as he joked because he has been bad, but I do wonder what big deals he is working on in London.

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    • Does Europe have a cricket Premier League like India? That’s probably a really stupid question, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind for me if SRK is looking for business expansion in London. The internet/international people like Netflix and Twitter come to him, no reason to go to London to talk to them. I could see real estate, theme park, but a new sports league makes the most sense to me. Heck, maybe he is buying an existing team! Wouldn’t that be a kick?

      On Tue, Apr 9, 2019 at 4:41 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • He does love field hockey, but I doubt it. My new theory is that he did some health related thing. He started wearing this jade necklace which he did before when he was having very bad back and knee issues. Then he wore a very uncharacteristic jade ring. You are probably too young to remember or know the phrase Kremlinology. When the iron curtain was firmly down and it was hard to find out info about goings on in Russia the American’s in charge of Kremlin analysis would parse the tiniest clues to try to figure out what was going on there. That’s what we fanatical fans do with Shah Rukh….

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          • Media too. Every time Farhan goes to Shahrukh’s house, it’s “Don 3! Don 3!” and I am pretty sure they are just sitting around eating pizza and playing video games. But we are so on alert for the slightest sign, everything could have meaning.

            On Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 10:46 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Or the pics at the KKR match of him sitting next to the South Indian director: “He’s doing a remake!” Or, he invited him to come sit with him at the match….

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          • At least it makes it easy for his PR people! No need to start rumors or anything, the media is self-starting.

            On Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 11:03 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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            Liked by 1 person

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