All I know is, I touched SRK's hand. And I am never going to wash it off!
I'm still in shock and just can't stop thinking about it (OMG!!!). The South Asian Carnival, though poorly organized and insanely chaotic, was definitely worth the $25 I paid for a ticket. And the five hours I waited to see Shahrukh Khan.
Beth and I didn't quite know what to expect. We'd heard horror stories about events like these and, quite frankly, found the idea of SRK sitting in a booth happily signing autographs from fans lined up in an orderly fashion pretty farfetched (And it was--the event was nothing like that, which I'll describe).
The day began smoothly enough. Beth and I arrived around 12, when the event was scheduled to start, and were amazed that the crowd was smaller and calmer than we'd anticipated. The Rosemont Convention Center was spacious, clean, and (thankfully) air-conditioned. We waited in a long line by the doors to the event in what seemed to be a huge lobby and marveled at all the SRK fangear and posters.
After chilling in this room for about 45 minutes, the Rosemont staff and event organizers tried forming us into two separate lines and began collecting tickets. That didn't really work and it ended up being more like cluster of people clamoring to get their first glimpse of SRK. Of course, he wasn't even there yet. Instead, there were rows of overpriced vendors and two empty stages, one of which already had a long line to the right of it. The room was more like a huuuuge auditorium, and there was plenty of empty space between the vendor booths and the autograph stage.
We grabbed a place in line by the autograph stage and realized it would probably be hours before SRK showed up. Gulshan Grover appeared and the line started to move, but became longer and longer on the back end.
With a sinking heart Beth and I realized we would eventually make it to meet Gulshan, but would then be sent to the end of the line way before the Shahrukh portion, given he was the headliner and would likely be saved for last (Not that meeting Gulshan wouldn't be awesome in it's own right, and at one point I did get to shake his hand, but I honestly did not recognize him). We decided that at this point, Shahrukh probably wasn't even in the state of Illinois, and we'd be better off trying to find something else to do while killing time. While chatting with some newfound friends from Bollywhat, we learned about SRK's unfortunate disaster at the airport and, although we felt awful that Shahrukh had to endure something like this in our country, we began to wonder if he would even show. Or, worse yet, had America made such a poor impression on him that he would be less likely to return to the states? Was this my last chance to meet SRK? Arghh!!! We didn't know whether to go back in line, browse the vendor booths and kill time, or leave altogether. Luckily, Dia Mirza showed up and suddenly our faith was restored!
Dia was even more beautiful in person, though different looking than I pictured her. She was much fairer and shorter than I imagined, with a dazzling smile and a tiny frame. One thing I really liked about her was her interaction with the crowd, laughing and joking with her fans, and even participating in a trivia game.
At the other stage, there were two guys signing that I didn't recognize, but they were so lively and energetic that I enjoyed them nonetheless. In fact, this was the only clear shot I could really get of them since they were jumping around so much!
After Dia left the autograph stage, Beth and I were fortunate enough to nab a spot smack dab in the front of the black fence surrounding it--only a mere 3 or 4 feet from the stage! This spot, we decided would be close enough to get the very first glimpses of SRK's entrance--and would give us the opportunity to remain intimately close to him throughout the signing! So, we forfeited our chance to jump back in line (Which was now monstrously long, extended so far we couldn't even make out the end of it)and wait for an autograph that might never happen for standing at this golden spot. I think this was a the right decision, though it made us maximum targets for extreme pushing and elbowing. But we remained firm, planted in the same spot with barely an inch of foot space for a good 3 hours!
The spokesperson for the event was hilarious. Every 10 minutes or so, he would jump on the mike and say "Just a few more minutes" and "he's going to be here very soon". He kept trying to get the crowd to spread out, as the black iron barricades we were leaning against were badly caving in from the mounting pressure of pushes and shoves. But his attempts to encourage our attention to the fashion show and performers on the backstage were in vain as all everyone could think about was SHAHRUKH KHAN. Still, I found his little BS minispeeches and chides to "hold our horses" quite entertaining. And, as the moment drew nearer, he let some of us (including me!) jump on the mike to share some of our favorite SRK films/dialouges.
FINALLY, around 5 p.m. or so, SRK appeared! It was a surreal experience. I spotted him from the back as he was approaching the stage door (our spots were so awesome!). He came out with so much energy and enthusiasm, graciously addressing and making eye contact with as many of us as he possibly could. AND, OMG, when he turned to Beth and I, he kissed the tips of his fingers and gave a humble wave/bow(Believe it or not, this was how he was throughout the whole thing; attempting to have as many "moments" with as many of us as possible)! I couldn't stop shaking, and tears of joy instantly sprouted in my eyes. The photos aren't the greatest, unfortunately, because my hands were trembling so badly! But the images in my mind are as clear as can be--we were so close I could see his eyelashes!
I loved watching Shahrukh interact with his fans. With every autograph and photo, he was so humble and gracious. He would kiss the little ones on the head, and was so warm and affectionate with his fans that I saw firsthand why he is adored by so many, myself included. He did a couple little dances, signature winks and dimple flashes, and my heart literally melted into a puddle on the floor. It was such an amazing experience, and I'm so glad I had Beth to share it with me!
When Shahrukh made his way to us on the floor, the crowd continued to push so much that there were a good four security guards surrounding him so I sadly did not get an autograph. But I did reach out and touch his hand! Seeing his exhaustion from the crowd's aggresion, I let go right away but it was soooo electrifying! His skin felt smooth and cool to the touch, a soft contrast to mine which was probably sweaty and gross. Sorry, Shahrukh!
Beth and I got a kick out of how thin he was. Much smaller in frame than he appears onscreen, yet not scrawny by any means. He was wearing a brushed black velvet coat that didn't have one speck of lint on it, a white V-neck T-shirt underneath (that exposed his sexy collarbone), and silverish shoes that kind of looked like Skechers (but weren't). I don't remember his pants, though I'm thinking they were faded jeans. His hair was duller than the shiny black I imagined it to be (probably dyed a softer color, it was still thick and gorgeous), but his light brown eyes were much clearer and brilliant than I realized--definitely a striking feature. His skin was about the same color it appears in his films, or should I say, "wheatish". And yes, hands-down, his dimpled smile was even more swoonable in person!
This encounter with SRK made the South Asian Carnival worth it. There was plenty of eye contact and he was so close for so long, but keep in mind that we really did get lucky. Shahrukh offered to dance at the back stage following the signing, as he was apparently willing to stay longer, but after the crowd kept pushing against the barricade with building intensity, the Rosemont security decided it was in the best interest of the fans' safety, as well as Shahrukh's, if he left. So he was really only there for about an hour. When he left, there were many people left in line and in the crowd who didn't get very close to the stage at all.
Here are some tips/facts should you ever make it to an event like this:
*Plan of Action: Ha. There is no plan of action. Everything is unorganized and your spot in line really ends up being luck of the draw. It all comes down to being at the right point in the line at the right point of time. I guess if I were to do it all over again I would maybe get there super duper early and try to plant myself as close to the door as possible. Then I would get to the line and try to stay in the front until the headliner arrived. Also realize, though, that this may not happen if security or event planners force you to keep the line moving.
*Don't Go Hungry: The food from the vendors was pretty darn expensive. A small serving of chicken biryani was $15. Corn was $6.50. I settled on 2 samosas for around $5. Oh, and don't go thirsty either (or pack something in your purse/bag). Bottled water was $3.
*Don't Have False Expectations: As I said repeatedly, Beth and I really did get lucky. The fliers for the carnival seemed too good to be true--and they were. Like I said, when SRK walked offstage, there were many, many people in line who didn't get very close to Shahrukh at all.
*Bring a Friend: Having Beth there with me gave me someone to share my excitement with. And having good company made the waiting much more bearable. But make sure the two of you are on the same page (Beth and I were). It would be tragic if one of you really wanted to leave and the other really wanted to take the chance of staying.
*Don't Pay Too Much: $25 was peanuts to pay for this wonderful experience. But to pay any more and have it not work out would have been all the more disappointing.
*Be Prepared to Be Pushed: Have caution with little kids; they may get injured if the crowd gets out of hand. And be prepared to say no to cute little kids as well; I can't tell you how many little ones tried to cut in front of me, and how many parents encouraged them to do so. I love kids; I love Shahrukh. I'm sorry, I would never do anything to hurt anybody, but I'm not going to let some 6 year old push me out of the way. My 3 year old daughter wanted to see "Rahul" just as badly, but I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea for me to bring her, so she had to sit this one out. And besides, the front row of a crowd of pushy fans is NOT the safest place for a child to be anyways.
All of this aside, we left the Rosemont grinning from ear to ear. It didn't matter to me that the sweat dripping down my back wasn't even my own, but instead a gross mixture of 10 other people's. All that mattered was I got to see SRK!!!!I would totally go see him again. Needless to say, I've had little else on the brain since, and I've felt the sudden urge to rewatch all his films. Heck, I'll even give Don and Rab Ne another shot. This was incredible!