Openmouthed or dumbfounded? I can guarantee it will be either of these reactions when my soon to be twenty-one-year-old kid reads this blog post. Perhaps in the wildest of his dreams, he could not have imagined that I would be writing on this topic. It does not fall in my genre, and he will undoubtedly consider himself more qualified to voice his opinion. I can also see in my mind’s eye the faces of those who will have a good laugh over this piece. But since I had earlier resolved to write anything under the sun that catches my fancy, I am on the way to pen my thoughts on something so very different from my earlier subjects.
A request was made by my boy that I wait for him till he returned home from out of town to catch up with the most recent Shah Rukh Khan film Jab Harry Met Sejal. However, with reviews going downhill, the young man was wise enough to reconsider his earlier decision to watch the movie.
I have no clue how and when my kid born and raised in the United States started developing such an avid interest in Hindi films. He is extremely selective about the movies he watches, but over the years, he has become almost an encyclopedia on Bollywood. His database, so far as reviews, ratings, and releases of latest flicks are concerned, is pretty strong. We have never been the regular cinema-goer types, but our son somehow caught on to the tide rather firmly.
Just like genes that are passed on downwards, it is always by seeing or observing an elder, that one emulates actions and habits or comes to like or dislike certain things. The flow was in the reverse direction in this case. It all has to do with me paying attention to SRK who never even bordered on my list of favorite stars to begin with. But courtesy my offspring, I started evaluating and appreciating some of his performances!
My first impressions of SRK were not positive. It all had to do with seeing him play a stalker and an obsessive lover in one, and a revengeful young man in another. There is no doubt that he essayed those roles brilliantly, and they earned him widespread acclaim. It was just that the storylines of those films simply were not my cup of tea. But gradually, I started giving a thought to what made him so popular among the masses, let alone my own lovable tyke at home!
The year 1998 marked the release of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. My quiet toddler who hardly uttered a word would be all full of excitement whenever the songs from the movie were played. He would hold on to the television with his eyes glued to the screen. That was his first step. As he slowly turned into a chatterbox and started understanding much more about what entertainment meant, he became an avid Shah Rukh Khan fan. When he was a seven-year-old, we had jokingly asked him who, among his dad and the actor, was his favorite one. The loyalty index obviously geared more towards the actor was so high that he replied that picking one over the other would be highly unfair to the other.
I do not have the credentials for being a film critic. Nor have I watched all of SRK’s movies. But if I were to summarize his prowess on the basis of those that I have watched, I would say that he is definitely not the hallmark of versatility. I have admired him in several roles, but he has also been annoying in many others.
The flamboyant youngster played by Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge swept millions off their feet, and the determined hockey coach in Chak De India made him worthy of respect. He did absolute justice to his role as the adopted son entangled in a web of conflicting emotions in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. I sympathized with him as the heartbroken, failed lover in Devdas and liked him as the psychiatrist who helps his young patient come to terms with reality in Dear Zindagi. The Global Precipitation Manager at NASA yearning for home and finally returning back to his homeland in Swades did tug at the heartstrings of many NRIs, including me!
On the other end of the spectrum, there are several where he has sprinkled overdoses of histrionics. I name a few. I found SRK going totally overboard as an irritable husband in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. The superhero he portrayed in Ra. One is obviously an insult to the tribe of Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. The part of the street fighter seeking revenge in Happy New Year was a torture on the sensibilities. And Dilwale (certainly not to be confused with the iconic masterpiece DDLJ!) was another film which deserves to be forgotten.
I will not sing a paean to the star’s acting skills, for just as he shines in some, he falters in many. I also strongly feel that he exercises poor judgment by signing films with substandard scripts. It will be a lot better if he gives consideration to the fact that middle-aged, mature roles now work better for him rather than him trying to be the evergreen hero singing love numbers and romancing heroines much younger to him.
What I do sincerely acknowledge in high regard about Shah Rukh Khan is his rise to stardom. Starting from the scratch with no star family background in the industry and with low humble beginnings, he has made it high up the ladder of success. Gleaming at the forefront of the Indian film industry, this is a man with a fan following teeming in millions. Rightly is he the uncrowned “King of Bollywood.” He is a living testimony to the fact that hard work and persistence can do it all.
Skating away from the reel to the real, behind the actor who amuses and entertains with his varied garbs lies an eloquent speaker who mesmerizes the crowd. Interlaced with doses of humor, his speeches delivered to wider audiences beyond the film fraternity and his fans, are thought-provoking and speak volumes about his intellect. Speaking at TED 2017 in a fully packed auditorium in Vancouver, Canada, King Khan delivered yet another one of his life lessons. His words provided room for reflection: “You may use your power to build walls and keep people outside. Or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in. You may use your faith to make people afraid and terrify them into submission. Or you can use it to give courage to people, so they rise to the greatest heights of enlightenment.”
As he himself noted in his Vancouver speech, Shah Rukh Khan sells dreams and peddles love to millions of people. President Barack Obama mentioned him along with Milkha Singh and Mary Kom when he talked about religious equality and harmony. It cannot be denied that the Badshah sure has magical power somewhere, otherwise how could he be the heartthrob of an overwhelming multitude? Interestingly, among such a big galaxy of stars, it was his famous dialogue from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge that the POTUS lightheartedly delivered in broken Hindi while addressing the people of India from Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi.
What verdict would I want to pass on this superstar who sent me on a Bollywood journey? Well let me fall back on that age old cliché: you may love him or hate him, but you can’t ignore him!