Vienna: For 51-year-old Maria Stella Hinterndorfer, the wait has only just begun. Called "Shah Rukhi number one", she is one of the most ardent fans of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
She booked her flight and hotel in Berlin soon after she heard that Shah Rukh will be back in the city Feb 11 for a screening of his latest film ‘Don 2: The King Is Back’ at the Berlinale that opens Feb 9. And she is not the only one.
Eighteen-year-old Selma from Morocco has been allowed a trip to Berlin by her father only because Stella has promised to chaperone her.
"Seven years ago when I decided to fulfil my dream of meeting Shah Rukh in person, I was a non-English speaking, very shy and private person. It was other fans who helped me and gave me the confidence and generous tips on how to be photographed with him, to get autographs and hugs from Shah Rukh," recalled Stella to a correspondent.
Gabi Pirkfellner, a potter at Vienna`s 300-year-old Augarten porcelain, said she will fly to Berlin Feb 10. She will spend all of the following day waiting for a glimpse of Shah Rukh and in trying to get two tickets for the screening of ‘Don 2’ for herself, and for Eva Richter, another fan. She will be back at work in Vienna Feb 13.
The hit-and-run visit of these Shah Rukh fans in Vienna to Berlin will cost the girls around 400 euros (over Rs.25,000) each. However, different fans give different reasons for splurging.
Stella is jobless at present, but it`s important for her to see Shah Rukh if only to find out how much of a fan she still is.
Hundreds of Europeans like Stella are counted among the first fans of Shah Rukh after a private German entertainment channel first beamed ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ dubbed in the German language in December 2004.
This was the first time a series of Bollywood films were shown regularly on a television channel at prime time.
"I found the story of the film very strange. I did not like the role of the mother in `Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham`. But the only reason I did not turn away from the film was Shah Rukh. I could not take my eyes off him," professor Elke Mader responsible for introducing Bollywood studies at the Social and Cultural Anthropology Department of the University of Vienna, told reporters.
Subsequently the professor spent all her free time watching Shah Rukh films, often till the wee hours of a morning. She has spent years reaching out to other Shah Rukh fans in person and online and has travelled all over Europe to meet the superstar in flesh and blood.
However, this year she will not travel to Berlin to see Shah Rukh.
"I tell myself my mother needs me. I tell myself I don`t want to wait outside his hotel and outside the cinema hall in snowfall any more. But two years ago none of these excuses would have worked. I would have gone to see Shah Rukh no matter what," Elke says.
If new fans are making it to the list, the older ones have mellowed and no longer shy away from criticising some of the super star`s latest work.
Some first fans of Shah Rukh are even suffering from the proverbial seven-year itch that may have crept into their relationship with the Bollywood superstar.
Stella is nostalgic about films like ‘Baazigar’ and ‘Karan Arjun’. She had fallen in love with the fire that she found in the performance of his early films. She saw ‘RA.One’ when it opened in a cineplex in Vienna last year and was not thrilled.
"The more money that Shah Rukh spends on a film and the harder he tries to be funny, the more mediocre he comes across on screen these days. I miss sincerity and the fire in his performances," sighs Stella.
However, there are still hundreds of other Europeans who look forward to collectively cheering Shah Rukh at the Berlinale this year as well.
It is the secret hope of Stella that Selma`s newfound craze for Shah Rukh will infuse fresh life into her own withering love for the Bollywood superstar.