I perceive Shah Rukh Khan to be a positively backward-thinking person. In doing so, he joins an elite list of list of people I really admire, including JRR Tolkein and Michael Jackson. Khan himself said that he would like to be remembered for the person he is, he was. The past half-decade or so has been challenging. Not for Khan per say, but for an average Indian citizen going to movie theaters.
Mr Khan flourished as the Bollywood romance king ever since the mid 1990’s. Riding on his initial success as the anti-hero in some of his early movies, he strode into a genre that already had fresh, successful faces of the two other Khans – Salman and Aamir. The two had the traditional backing of family ties in the movie industry and went on to charm audiences with separate performances in movies like ‘Saajan’ for Salman and ‘Qayaamt se Qayaamat Tak’ for Aamir. They later joined hands and provided the cult-classic ‘Andaaz Apna Apna’ in 1994. Shah Rukh, meanwhile, took up movies that featured a seemingly different script. While the other two Khans played it safe, choosing projects that catered to their already-established, family-pleasing appearance, Shah Rukh appeared in ‘Baazigar’, ‘Anjaam’ and in perhaps his career-defining role in Yash Chopra’s ‘Darr.’ Playing a tormented son craving for vengeance, or a creepy lover obsessed with attaining his woman, Shah Rukh shone in roles, unheard about for a newcomer. He made sure the country noticed his acting powers and boy, we did.
In 1995, Shah Rukh Khan ventured into a turf somewhat unknown to him. Well settled into his marriage by then, Khan had been known to take up cute, comedy roles in most of his romantic comedies. ‘Chamatkar’ with Naseeruddin Shah and Urmila Mathondkar and ‘Raju Bangaya Gentleman’ with Nana Patekar and Juhi Chawla were examples. Khan was not known to be hero who would sweep a girl off her feet and leave her swooning in his love. That all changed with ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge’ and some. DDLJ, as it was commonly known, provided a podium in Bollywood history for Shah Rukh, and he would stand aloft on the highest step for the next few years. He, along with Salman and Aamir, would interchange places, with SRK taking first place more often than his peers. This triumvirate would go on to rule Bollywood until more recent times.
DDLJ filled with picturesque Europe and a captivating pair of SRK and Kajol, would become a flag mast for an entire generation. Dialogues from the movie would become immortal. Its songs are still sung on competitive stages even today. The Chopra film house’s tradition of beautiful locales can still be found. Moreover, Khan would change his public persona forever. The lover boy was here, and here to stay. ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ and ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ followed, cementing his place further. The early 2000s were a slight dip in form, but he still managed to churn out hits like ‘Mohabbatein’ and the epic family-drama ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.’
Things were changing now. News actors began weaving their magic onscreen. Several of Bollywood’s known households introduced their sons and daughters into acting, and with enjoyable successes. Among the male performers, Hritikh Roshan stood out. Graced with God-like looks and powerful acting skills, Roshan produced a flurry of hits like ‘Kaho Na Pyaar Hai’, ‘Fiza’ and ‘Mission Kashmir’ all in his debut year. With inevitable competition looming ahead, Shah Rukh had to expand his acting portfolio. Dramatic roles in ‘Devdas’ and ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ followed, with Khan playing dying lovers in both, but with vastly varying characters.
2004 came and SRK was peaking in his career. He kicked off the year with ‘Main Hoon Na,’ carrying with him his usual charm and gift of comedy. But it was with his next two movies that Khan showed us he was capable of reaching levels of super-stardom that few had dared to ascend. ‘Veer-Zaara’ was milestone in fine film-making with a simple, genuine story, and Khan excelled in it. He carried Ashutosh Gowariker’s ‘Swades’ on his lone star power and gave us perhaps his career’s best performance, rightly taking all accolades that year. He did stall over the next year or so, appearing in cameos and even taking to the small screen as the host of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati – 3,’ but to limited success.
Shah Rukh united with Karan Johar in 2006 again and this time for a role that raised eye-brows, but lowered Khan’s box office returns. ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’ was perhaps his most understated role, and Khan deserved a lot more praise than he actually received. To challenge a notion that was frowned upon in our society and carry off a character with such ease and elan, it required him to dig deep into his dramatic roots. Though nominated for a ‘Best Actor in a leading role’ category in various award shows that year, he lost out to the more enigmatic character played by Hritikh Roshan in Dhoom – 2. That movie and that year was the turning point in Khan’s career.