Shah Rukh Khan’s love story with India, decoded through his films

Shah Rukh Khan remains one of the few people in India who needs no introduction. The boy-next-door from Delhi who became a mega, mega star. The man who has reigned over Bollywood – the core of the country’s soft power – for decades now. The actor who has starred in self-reverential movies, and charmed us with his self-deprecating humour and razor-sharp wit. A Muslim in a Hindu-majority nation whose stardom is all-inclusive. A man whose story mirrors that of the country – from the fledgling neo-liberalisation days to the changing political and cultural values of today amid the rise of nationalism.

As Shah Rukh completes 30 years in the Hindi film industry, Deewana came out three decades ago to the day, we revisit some of our favourite films of the star and how they mirrored our lives and dreams. They are in no particular order.Grey was a colour Bollywood heroes stayed away from in the 90s. Like the colour of the shoes and trousers preferred by many leading actors of the day – they liked their roles sparkling white (The Nirma girl – another icon from back in the day – would have been proud). Imagine a country’s surprise when TV’s favourite pin-up boy Shah Rukh Khan chose a role where he got to throw women off buildings, and plan and plot against the girl he was in love with! He not only embraced grey, he wallowed in it (Darr and Anjaam were a twinkle in their makers eyes till then). But India, ever so clear about the lines its filmi heroes should never cross, just couldn’t look away from this good-boy-gone-bad.We didn’t know it yet but it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship – there will be some heartbreaks along the way, but love’s love, you know. Maybe what appealed to us back then was that he was ready to take risks. In many ways, his story would run parallel with that of a freshly liberalised India and its new generation who was no longer risk-averse. Indians, especially its burgeoning middle-class, happy to live amid its limited means for so long, wanted the fruits of capitalism. Shah Rukh — brash, young and not afraid to say it — was its new mascot. We were a match made in heaven.

In his 30 successful years in the industry, superstar Shah Rukh Khan has done a variety of films. Right from his initial days up until his last outing (Zero in 2018), the actor has been open about experimenting with his characters. One early ‘experiment’ was perhaps playing a so-called ‘loser’ like figure in the 1994 Kundan Shah directorial Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa.

The innocence with which SRK portrayed Sunil probably had a lot to do with his own lack of experience in Hindi cinema at the time (he was only two years old in the business then). There was a sweetness, a rawness to Sunil which made his bad choices seem like honest mistakes. It was hard not to side with him, or to root for him to get the girl (who, spoiler alert, he doesn’t end up with). Sunil was a different kind of hero in a different kind of film, especially for Bollywood. It was not your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy with a predictable end, nor was it an actioner where we saw the main man beat up the bad guy.

The treatment of its protagonist, and the effortlessness with which Shah Rukh played Sunil makes the film what it is — a bonafide classic. And in case you didn’t know, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa happens to be SRK’s favourite too!

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