Social media was all abuzz recently with the news that Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) would be doing a TED Talk at TED 2017 in Vancouver, Canada – so much so that one of the jokes was that here was a TED Talk that would break the internet, so popular is Bollywood’s Badshah. SRK’s ability to turn on the charm and speak off-the-cuff in a way that is funny and intelligent meant that this would be a TED Talk worth tuning into. SRK’s talk is entitled “Thoughts on Humanity, Fame and Love”, and in it he shares, well, thoughts. On humanity. On fame. And on love.
“I sell dreams,” SRK told his audience, “and I peddle love to millions of people.” Khan likened the world to himself – an aging movie star, far from his beginnings in a world that seemed much simpler, much easier to navigate. A world in which the internet and social media aids in the creation of superstars, but which also serves to tear them down in troubling ways. With the internet, SRK posits, “…we had expected an expansion of ideas and dreams with the enhanced connectivity of the world.” What we got, unexpectedly, was a medium in which everything was judged – everything we do, and, as SRK points out, everything we don’t do also becomes something to be examined and judged as well. Worse still, social media provides new ways to spread lies and misconceptions with frightening speed – something SRK knows all too well, and which he shares with the TED Talk audience.
Now, one of the problems with TED talks is that they can come across (with some exceptions) as highly polished inspiration-mercials, and SRK’s TED talks occasionally falls into this trap. It is, of course, not surprising as well as commendable that SRK made the effort to share something of substance in a talk geared to jumpstart the spread of TED to India with the Nayi Soch (New Thinking) series, which he will host on the Star Plus network in the fall of 2017. But SRK has always been at his best when he’s spontaneous and off-the-cuff – and the best moments of his TED talk are those in which he shares personal stories and reflections, rather than those in which he aims to inspire.
TED Talks are designed, specifically, to make people feel good. To make them feel better. To make them aspire to …something. SRK’s TED Talk does that, especially when he tells the audience, that “if there has been a momentous time for humanity to exist, it is now, because the present you is brave. The present you is hopeful. The present you is innovative and resourceful, and of course, the present you is annoyingly indefinable.” But he also speaks about the “future you” – a “you” who has taken all of your present potential, hope and courage, and combined it with love and compassion in order to break down walls and lift others up. At its simplest, SRK’s message is that “the future ‘you’ has to be a you that loves. Otherwise it will cease to flourish. It will perish in its own self-absorption.”