KARACHI: People can be really unforgiving. And God help you if you’re one of the biggest movie stars in the world (read: Shah Rukh Khan) and have just delivered a flop (read: Dilwale).
But you can’t blame them, can you? Shah Rukh is no ordinary movie star. During the course of his career spanning nearly 25 years, he has appeared in over 60 films. You often hear people say, “Shah Rukh is the greatest romantic hero of this generation.” But it’s not just his romantic characters that struck a chord with audiences around the world.
From a creepy stalker in Darr to a psychotic murderer in Anjaam; from, well, a baazigar in Baazigar to his big break as the dreamy Raj in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Shah Rukh won the admiration of several even when he was pushing his leading ladies off the roofs of high-rise buildings.
The transition of his character in Ram Jaane – from a small-time criminal to a notorious gangster – is in a lot of ways similar to his transition from a small-time theater and TV actor to one of the most popular movie stars in the world. Think about it: Ram Jaane is a lone wolf; a fierce risk-taker. Na koi aagay, na koi peechay; so he does everything in his power to meet his goals.
Young Shah Rukh, like Ram Jaane, was a rebel. He was comfortable in shunning much of the norms governing his line of work. “There’s a lot of ‘ji hazoori’ in the film industry. Everyone — actors, producers, directors – wants to please everyone else. So, if someone acts slightly different, they say he is arrogant,” he said in a 1994 interview.
The host goes on to ask him if he puts forth a lot of conditions before signing a film. “That’s true. I tell the director I can’t do ‘aa aa ee oo oo oo’ (referring to a popular dance number of the time, featuring Govinda and Karisma Kapoor). I have set some standards for myself,” he responded, in the most bad-ass fashion.
But more importantly, he came across as a young, talented actor who was open to taking risks, and was hungry for roles that redefined the quintessential Bollywood hero of that time.
Add to that, he had no pressure on him. Like Ram Jaane, he was a lone wolf. He hadn’t inherited the profession from a movie star and he didn’t have a godfather in the industry (his ‘love affair’ with Yash Chopra blossomed later); so, naturally you’d expect him to do everything in his power to meet his goal.
But, then, somehow he ended up playing Raj, who — as we know – is as quintessentially Bollywood as it gets. He sings; he dances; he plays the piano and knows how to woo a woman. And voila! He is a blockbuster hit. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that there was a marked shift in Shah Rukh’s choice of characters following DDLJ. He mellowed down. He was no longer a hardcore gangster; he was a lover boy. Ram Jaane became Raj. People liked Raj more than they liked Ram Jaane.
And that was the end of the first phase of his career.
During the second phase, or the post DDLJ years, he romanced, then he romanced a little more and then he kept romancing. Film after film. And people kept falling in love with him. Film after film.
There were some exceptions, though. He played Aśoka but the film failed at the box office. That must have been disheartening. Then, he featured in Swades – but, unfortunately, that too didn’t score big at the box office — something he had become so used to by then. So, barring a Don here and a Chak De! India there, Shah Rukh started playing it safe.
You can see him admitting to it in an interview recorded on his 50th birthday a couple of months ago.
“There are so many market forces, and thought processes and so many things people tell you. ‘Ub aisi [film] kar do’. So, eight to nine years ago, when people told me I was only doing romantic films, I said, ‘Fine, I’ll do Aśoka.’ And that kind of went wrong box-office wise…
“Then somebody said, ‘No, no you don’t look good in such films it’s best you wear Polo t-shirts and dance like you did in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.’ I was like ‘Okay’. I did Chak De!, and people said, ‘Why don’t you do more of such meaningful films’
“Then I did Swades somewhere and people said, ‘Woh chali nahi yar Shah Rukh finished.’ I am not saying it doesn’t affect me. It does,” he said.
So, he continued to play it safe. But at 50, it just doesn’t cut it anymore. His fans, who fell in love with him every time he opened his arms in his signature pose, are tired. He is losing quite a lot of them but does this mean this is the end of Shah Rukh Khan?
As of today, Shah Rukh has three films lined up. Fan – in which he plays a fan of his real-life persona, Raees – in which he playes a Gujarati bootlegger and an untitled film alongside Alia Bhatt — which is to be directed by Gauri Shinde of English Vinglish fame.
You don’t need a genius to tell you that Fan and Raees aren’t your typical Shah Rukh movies — obviously, it’s because he is not playing a love-struck ‘teenager’ in either of these two films.
First, let’s check out the teaser of Fan:
And now, watch the Raees teaser:
Whilst Raees is reminiscent of Ram Jaane, Fan has Shah Rukh playing an actual teenager. Observe his body language, his dialogue delivery, his tone and his appearance in both videos. What strikes you the most? He isn’t playing Raj. Raj, ladies and gentlemen, has left the building.
And so, there you have it. Shah Rukh Khan’s career is not over. This is the end of the second phase of his career and beginning of the third.
But, hang on. What about his film with Alia Bhatt? It’s fairly obvious that Shah Rukh would have to kill Raj (or kidnap him and lock him up) in order to move forward from here on. And it appears he has realised that. “The film isn’t a typical love story. It’s not about a romantic relationship in the usual manner that a man and a woman share,” Gauri Shinde was quoted by DNA as saying about her upcoming film.
That’s nice. We can’t be certain that Raj won’t resurface after these three films. But why talk about something that hasn’t happened yet?
Also worth noting is that no matter how many self-proclaimed ‘die-hard’ fans of Shah Rukh claim to fall out of love with him after every ‘bad’ film, the fact remains that there’s no dearth of true die-hard Shah Rukh Khan fans in every corner of the world. And as long as our planet is not struck by an asteroid, these fans are neither leaving his side nor letting him fade into oblivion.
So, sit back and relax — the King lives on.