In this path breaking work Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh : India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence (Harper Collins, 2021), Shrayana Bhattacharya maps the economic and personal trajectories – the jobs, desires, prayers, love affairs and rivalries – of a diverse group of women. Divided by class but united in fandom, they remain steadfast in their search for intimacy, independence and fun. Embracing Hindi film idol Shah Rukh Khan allows them a small respite from an oppressive culture, a fillip to their fantasies of a friendlier masculinity in Indian men. Most struggle to find the freedom-or income-to follow their favourite actor.

Bobbing along in this stream of multiple lives for more than a decade-from Manju’s boredom in ‘rurban’ Rampur and Gold’s anger at having to compete with Western women for male attention in Delhi’s nightclubs, to Zahira’s break from domestic abuse in Ahmedabad-Bhattacharya gleans the details on what Indian women think about men, money, movies, beauty, helplessness, agency and love. A most unusual and compelling book on the female gaze, this is the story of how women have experienced post-liberalization India.

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