NEW DELHI: India’s “King of Bollywood” superstar Shah Rukh Khan told jokes and sang for his adoring fans on Sunday during an almost five-hour online benefit to raise funds for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tens of thousands of viewers watched more than 70 of the country’s biggest celebrities – including cricket captain Virat Kohli and actor Khan – as well as international names such as actor Will Smith and rock legend Mick Jagger in the “I for India” show broadcast on Facebook.
“I can, I will, and I must help,” Khan told fans after singing a cheerful, humorous ditty about how “everything will be alright” following the deadly crisis.
Jagger and Smith spoke about the struggles of rural migrant workers, many of whom have lost their jobs and gone hungry during an ongoing nationwide lockdown imposed from late March.
“They may have lost their jobs, they may have lost their homes. They and their families may be going hungry. So I would like to ask you to donate. Please give what you can,” Jagger said.
Bollywood’s biggest names – including Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Hrithik Roshan – along with local choirs and children sang or spoke passionately in English and Hindi about raising money for those in need.
Other celebrities interviewed doctors and experts about the virus and how health workers were coping on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Organised by Bollywood directors Karan Johar and Zoya Akhtar, the event has so far raised $499,326 out of a target of $792,707.
The donations would be matched rupee-for-rupee by major philanthropic groups including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organisers said Sunday.
The funds will be donated to more than 100 groups providing food and other essential services during the crisis.
Concert organizers said the money was needed “for those who have no work and no home and do not know where their next meal is coming from.”
India, the world’s second-most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, late Sunday reported just over 40,000 cases of the infectious disease and 1,306 deaths.
The government has hailed the weeks-long lockdown aimed at limiting the virus’s spread, but the number of new daily cases has continued to gradually rise with experts calling for more virus testing.
The lockdown was extended for two weeks on Friday, but some restrictions are set to be eased from Monday in areas with fewer virus cases.
Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of New Delhi, which has the third-highest number of virus cases among India’s states and territories, said Sunday that the economic impact of the lockdown was severe in the national capital and the city needed to be reopened in non-virus “containment zones.”
“People are facing a lot of hardships. Jobs are going. The economic infrastructure has been hit hard,” he said in an online briefing, adding that he would speak to the national government about the possibilities of opening up Delhi.
“We have to start preparations so that we can learn to live with corona. Corona has now come in our country. It’s not going to go anywhere.”