It’s easy to label people and put them in neat boxes as inanimate objects because it suits us. As humans, we fear change and unpredictability. indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan‘s perception as the so-called ‘lover’, the boy-next-door who does the same thing over and over again, the Mills and Boon household hero, if you will, was alive and well for three decades of his career. as a professional actor. Rather, because these romantic dramas or rom-coms have performed quite well at the box office; be it Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or even Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham – all big money spinners. So then it was easier to categorize him as a furry hero who just spread his arms and a grateful nation rose to embrace him.
However, a closer look at his filmography would tell you that Shah Rukh often experimented and took ‘risks’ as and when he felt like it. In an earlier interview with Film Companion, the actor admitted that he gets bored easily and likes to switch every few years if the opportunity arises. Shah Rukh Khan’s career has no pattern. Things, at least according to him, were random. If a fan followed Dear Zindagi, then the projects lined up. And if he did these dark roles (read Darr, Baazigar or Anjaam) early in his career, it was because they were the hands dealt to him by the film gods. But the fact that he often took a chance on his career, took a stab at something because it appealed to his creative senses, or just maybe on a whim, cannot be ruled out.
SRK’s critics often complain about his lack of versatility, but choose to look at his acting choices through the lens of a quintessential 90s romantic hero; they have already decided on him. It is in that proverbial box at their pleasure and convenience. This is not to say that he was not a melodramatic, cheesy and loud romantic hero of the post-liberalization era. In fact, as writer Shryana Bhattacharya points out in her book Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence, the actor was the very symbol of post-liberalisation India with his soft drink commercials and stage presence. outdoor shoots (to reach NRIs). And he himself admitted that he made bad films, but also some good ones.
From playing an obsessed lover, a common man, a ‘Gunda’, a hockey coach, an NRI, an emperor, an army man, a Don, a psychiatrist and a vertically challenged person – he has literally been there and done that. But after his films flopped at the box office in quick succession (Fan, Raees, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Zero), Khan decided to take a well-deserved break.
“A lot of things change when you do it for a very long time. Two things happen: you lose the ability to surprise the audience, and the ability to fail is taken away,” the actor once said in an interview with Huffpost. And this is something the actor has suffered time and time again.
Taste the 2000 release Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani directed by Aziz Mirza and bankrolled SRK‘s now defunct Dreamz Unlimited (later transformed and revamped as Red Chillies Entertainment). The film (also starring Satish Shah, Sheeba Chaddha, Sanjay Mishra, Johnny Lever and Dalip Tahil among others) raises relevant questions about the role of the media in the country and the larger impact it has on the citizens. Shah Rukh played a highly successful TV reporter who was willing to go to any lengths to get a juicy byte. The film didn’t do well at the box office, but that didn’t stop Shah Rukh from producing more films. In fact, one of his biggest passion projects came a decade later, Ra.One, which also failed to connect with the masses, despite promising visual effects, a superhero premise and a popular international music star on board. But undaunted, Khan decided to go for it again with Maneesh Sharma’s Fan (2016), whose VFX is unlike anything seen in an Indian film. The level of detail was astounding (check out their BTS video uploaded by Red Chillies on YouTube to get the full picture). And then it failed to live up to expectations despite a solid turn from the lead star. Then there was Zero and we all know how that turned out. But like a true artist, Shah Rukh made sure to rise again and again and again. Unlike his own character Sunil from Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, he was not satisfied with his shortcomings. In the words of playwright Samuel Beckett, the actor seemed to want to ‘try again, fail again, fail better’.
With the arrival of the new year, Shah Rukh will be back with three different projects with a drastically different feel – Pathaan, Jawan and Dunki.
The actor himself said it best when he spoke to Huffpost about his ability to adapt on screen and even off screen: “I can be a part of Mani Ratnam’s world. I can sit with martial masters and speak their language. I can sit with the heads of state of the world’s largest countries and chat with them over a formal dinner. I can sit down with Mr. Tim Cook and talk for 2 hours. And I can sit with AbRam’s nanny and really enjoy myself. I can become who you are. And movies are like that. So don’t you dare tell me that something is not my space. No director, writer, storyteller or filmmaker can tell me, I would love you in this movie, this is not your space. I’m Shah Rukh Khan and I can do anything.” Or at least make us believe you can, and that’s pretty magical for anyone who loves cinema.