Bollywood stars bedazzle at premiere

Shah Rukh Khan and co-star Kajol take to the red carpet for first showing of movie that will be released in 65 countries: next stop, Berlin.

ABU DHABI // His name is Khan. Shah Rukh Khan. And, at the Emirates Palace hotel last night, it was the only name to be heard, over and over again, chanted by a chorus of swooning fans. The Bollywood superstar's new film, My Name is Khan, had its world premiere in the hotel's auditorium last night, with more than 1,200 on hand to see the movie and its star. At one point, the line between the red carpet and the restricted fans' area was blurred when the throng enveloped Khan for photos or autographs, or simply to claim they had breathed the same air as him.

In the film, Khan portrays Rizvan Khan, a man with Asperger's syndrome who, after a haunting episode in his life, is determined to make a journey across the United States to win back the love of his life. Khan himself described the film as "a love story about someone who cannot normally express their feelings, who cannot understand or react. It is love of that aura." Kunal Bhojwani, a businessman with Spinneys Video, brought 12 members of his family to the invitation-only premiere. "I heard a lot about the plot," he said.

"There is only one actor that can represent such a story, it is Shahrukh. I am looking forward to his acting." The film examines the life of a man with special needs and takes a unique approach in highlighting the difficulties that Muslim families faced after 9/11. Karan Johar, the director, said the film was "an ambitious project, a journey film where the protagonist embarks on the impossible". Khan said he spent a couple of months immersing himself in the subject of Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism that impairs social interactions and triggers repetitive behaviours.

He read books and watched a number of documentaries on the subject sent to him by the director and writers of the film. "This is the most research I have done than any other film," said Khan. "In this case, Karan helped a lot and there is outstanding continuity in the character." It was shot in more than 250 locations mainly in the United States, including California and San Francisco, but also on "big monstrous sets in Mumbai".

Mr Johar started research on the film in February 2007, when he visited a number of organisations in the US that work with minority groups. Upon returning to Mumbai, he said Shibani Bathija, who wrote the story and screenplay for the film, presented him with new ideas. "More than half my work was done by then, and I was going to make a different film with a similar base, but Shibani brought a great amount of sensitivity to the project," he said. "We accumulated a fair bit of paperwork on the pre-production of My Name Is Khan and credibility was given to Muslims and Islam. It was very important for us to get the facts about reduced rights, right. So we had to handle it with care."

The team of Khan, actress Kajol and Mr Johar have made a series of successful films including Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It is the first time for Khan and Kajol to appear together on the big screen in eight years, since she took a sabbatical to raise a family. Khan said the team's chemistry is unique. "It's not just one thing," he said. "Obviously, it is this team but I am very keen to work with people with similar beliefs. In this friendship, we think alike. Kajol liked it [the script], Karan wrote it and if I didn't jump in, I was afraid they would take someone else."

The team has embarked on an extensive tour to promote the film, calling at Indian cities such as Indore before stopping in New York, London, Abu Dhabi and Berlin. Despite controversy in India over the film, Khan's fans remained undeterred in the capital. After the press conference, a fan asked for a hug and almost collapsed in delight at the star's feet. Imagenation Abu Dhabi, an arm of Abu Dhabi Media Company, the publisher of The National, has teamed up with Fox Star Studios to distribute and promote the film worldwide. This is the first Bollywood film that will be released in 65 countries, according to Vijay Singh, the chief executive officer of Fox Star Studios.

"It will have the widest release any Bollywood film has ever had," he said. The film will have its European premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival tomorrow.