That I am a big Shah Rukh Khan fan is not a very well kept secret. It is not meant to be either.
Through out his big screen career spanning a little over two decades, the Badshah of Bollywood has given many superhits and spread cheers among cinegoers, but the biggest of them- “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” celebrated its uninterrupted run for 1000 weeks at the box office on 12 December 2014. For many of us who grew up on 90’s Bollywood, DDLJ is more than just a film, it is a phenomenon which is hard to describe. Every time SRK’s character ‘Raj’ flashes his trademark dimpled smile while zooming across the beautiful streets of Switzerland in a probably ‘then’ trendy motorbike, our heart still skips a beat. For many of us Raj is the ultimate dream man. One who makes you smile at every possible juncture of life. As usual, the blogosphere has been agog with posts celebrating Raj and Simran’s (names of characters played by SRK and Kajol in the film) timeless love story. Twenty years on, many things have changed but not the fact that every Indian who visits Switzerland till now, carries a little bit of his own DDLJ story in his heart.
But this post is not about Raj or Simran. This is about SRK. Amidst all the celebrations about a movie remaining as much a favourite to many of us as it was 20 years back, we seem to have forgotten, or rather not highlighted, the journey of a self made man whom the world knows as SRK.
To tell the truth, love him, hate him but you just cannot ignore him. Just like you cannot miss out on the spontaneity or the inherent wit with which he faces the media or his fans.
20 years later, many people blame SRK about being repetitive and that he has somehow got stuck to his NRI loverboy image of Raj, forever. That he does not experiment with his characters and that he will be best remembered for playing “Rahul” and “Raj” in numerous of those postcard looking family dramas from the Yashraj or Karan Johar stable.
I generally do not take offence and try to laugh it off, because it is no mean achievement to play that perfect boy whom you will always prefer to take home to meet your family, for 20 years at a stretch – because even sweetness can turn out to be synthetic.
A few days back, a few of my friends and I were discussing the 1000 weeks run of DDLJ and somebody told that he is past his expiry date as an actor and that he continues produce trash in form of “Happy New Year”.
(Image Source: Here)
I felt bad and thought back. A man from a theatre background in Delhi comes to the land of big dreams to make it big and takes up roles which nobody wanted to do at that point of time. Roles which could have typecast him as a regular Hindi film villain – Roles which many of his contemporaries with illustrious backgrounds rejected because they did not feel confident enough to portray it.
Those two negative roles in “Baazigar” and “Darr” changed the way we envisioned a Hindi film hero. He defined the terms about how a negative character can go ahead and hog the limelight in a Hindi movie. Mind you this was 1990’s Bollywood. India had still not woken up to the amazing power of internet, multiplex mania, unconventional films doing well and far more refined tastes of the audience preferring variety in everything. So while today we have space for a Ranveer Singh playing two absolutely different characters in “Lootera” and “Gunday” in the same year, within the commercial space, it was a completely different ball game then. The actor who is considered a maverick of experimentation with roles and looks,Aamir Khan, too declined “Darr” at that point of time thinking it will not go well with his romantic hero image.
Before we jump on to the comparison front, I feel that it is extremely important for us to remember that the risk taken and the breakthrough achieved by SRK at the very beginning of his career is something that is rarely acknowledged. He did something, much before it became fashionable!
And from that menacing anti hero in “Darr” or “Anjaam”, he went on to play “Raj” in DDLJ – and people still have a problem with his lack of experimentation.
The next question that is usually asked is where are those experimental traits gone now. Sure, we have not forgotten “Kabir Khan” of Chak De! or “Swades”. And even when he produces a terrible disaster in form of a “Ra One”, one should not forget that it was still an attempt to move a step forward in form of incorporating science fiction and special effects in Hindi films. If remembered well, many of his contemporaries were busy that year churning out 100 crore films which not only looked tacky but successfully transported us back to the 80’s with the regressive story line, content and treatment.
Surely, there is no harm in earning money and that’s why he makes “Happy New Year” – the kind of films which are absolutely unrealistic and absurd, but ends up making us happy at the end of the day. But you have to accept that even when he makes a film like “Main hoon na” or “Happy New Year” he promotes them as absolutely commercial vehicles meant to set the cash registers ringing. There is no inhibition about it and he will be the last one to promote these films as some intellectualised piece of movie making where the hero’s handle bar moustache or the lead heroine’s ghostly act ends up making more noise. After all he wants his fair share of money too and had to earn his own fortune that he can proudly boast of today. The house where he stays in Mumbai – one of the most visited landmarks for a first timer in Mumbai, was not passed on to him because of generations backing him up. Nor did he get a fancy launch that many star kids of his could afford. Wherever he is today, its because of his sheer hard work and the rapport he could strike with his numerous followers world over. He had to win it over – every magazine cover shoot, every film, every role (including the rejected ones).
Sadly for us, we have low tolerance level for brutal honesty and that’s why we are always uncomfortable about SRK and his success. We accuse him of being less of an actor but more of a hero who can ham his way to glory. But isn’t it a bit unfair on our part to underestimate the collective intelligence of millions of his fans spread across the world, who have loved him in every way he has presented himself to the world?
Truth be told, we as a country cannot take success of anybody without a pinch of salt. So if there is whiff of one scandal, we try to jump on it and make a big story out of it. It’s a habit unique to us and we cannot do anything about it. But the problem with SRK is that in his personal life too, he is too secure a man to be put under scanner. In an industry, where broken marriages are the norm, he has not only managed to remain committed but also has been happily married to his childhood sweetheart for eternity.
And that’s what so special about SRK – the man! He never felt any need to hide his marriage when that was the norm with the leading heroes of his time. That’s SRK for you! Spontaneous and so very ‘him’. His sense of humour, which does not always go down well with everyone, is an example of how he prefers speaking out his mind..which sometimes turn out be disastrous for filmy friendships and political accuracy.
But it’s that erudition and wit that makes him a man to die for!
It is not that he does not take decisions which anger me as a fan. A few years back, he made a business decision of excluding Sourav Ganguly from the Kolkata Knight Riders side. As a life long Dada fan, it was dilemma of a lifetime. I did not understand the cricketing or business side of the decision, but that is SRK for you – a man of flesh and blood, one who is fallible and one who can fight back. He knows smoking is bad for him and that it can be a corrupt piece of influence for his followers, but he is equally open to accept that he cannot give it up.
That is SRK for me- honest, sometimes dangerously to the point of being suicidal, but very believable – one who has fought his way to the top. Unlike Raj, he did not have a well written script in place. He wrote his own story.