Beyond the Bylines: Shah Rukh Khan

Akbar Khan

Bhopal  —  “Watch this man, he will become a superstar one day,” said my father as we watched the budding TV actor’s lower lip quiver with emotion in Aziz Mirza’s Circus, back in 1989.

My father’s brilliant track record for picking out winners – having mentored many a political and hockey career – notwithstanding, I attributed the statement to sentiment, for someone who shared his last name and as I was to learn in later years, his Pushtun roots.

There was no way this man would become a superstar, Delhiites were not known for their histrionic abilities, beyond the Mandi House circuit. And this guy was just not superstar material. Though, I had to admit that he could act.

During the next few years, I often saw the guy drive a Maruti van to Panditji’s pan shop at the Chanakya cinema car park, he was almost always alone. The know-alls had him down as a ‘hekad’ who got into arguments and generally preferred to be left to himself. A serious problem considering Delhi’s habit of poking into others’ business and the career path Shah Rukh Khan had chosen.

Superstar. This Man? Never!

Beyond Deewana that earned him a Filmfare award for the best debut in 1992, his choice of films only lent credence to my opinion, of his lack of star quality and my father’s ageing instincts. After all, the mildly off-commercial route, adopted by him, was not the beaten path to superstardom in Bollywood.

In 1993, some friends from Hansraj College dragged me to watch Darr, I consigned their excitement to the fact that Shah Rukh was an alumnus of their college and relented even though, I would’ve preferred to visit Sharon Stone, who was infamously crossing and uncrossing her legs at Chanakya.

I walked into the theater to deafening whistles and excited shrieks that rendered the opening strains of ‘Tu hai meri Kiran’ virtually inaudible. Juhi looked beautiful, Sunny was himself and the storyline with its twists was original. Shah Rukh rocked! The brilliance of his performance overcame the grey hues in the character he portrayed.

But then the role was a bad career move, Rahul Mehra would typecast him and edge him out of the race for superstardom. I believed. I stood vindicated when Shah Rukh earned the Filmfare award as Best Villain for Anjaam (1994).

A year later, Shah Rukh bounced back into the mainstream when Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge became a whopping hit.

So, cinema was changing. It lacks spontaneity and the storyline is primarily focused on a marketing strategy that caters to aspirations of a new India. Far from the Roti-Kapda-Makaan thingy of the ’70s and the rags-to-riches fare of the ’80s. I thought.

In his new chocolate boy avatar, Shah Rukh kept churning out hits like Dil to Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein, Kabhi Khushi Khabhie Gham, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Om Shanti Om and Rab ne Bana di Jodi on one hand and matched them with critically acclaimed performances in off-commercial films like Dil Se, Hey Ram, Swades and Chak De India to name a few.

I was still not impressed, to me this success was brought forth by some brilliant planning and was the manifestation of a carefully crafted media personality, plotted for Shah Rukh by some terrific brand manager, who would someday write about it in his biography.

But all that changed this morning, when Shah Rukh provided the last piece to the jigsaw to help me and crores of fellow Indians understand the basis of his intensity, which obviously stems from his moral fiber and the élan with which he can risk all, for what he believes in.

Visuals of his wife Gauri Khan and daughter Suhana visiting Mumbai multiplexes caused me king sized goose bumps that had me admit that as a father, I would not have risked it. Not in Mumbai. Not today. And definitely not if I was in his shoes.

Though I am still not convinced by Shah Rukh the star, the man has me floored with his intense integrity as a Muslim and an Indian and gives me one more reason to be proud of my father and the fact that My Name Is Khan.

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