Of all the six superstars, he is in the most peculiar position today.
Imagine a man who pulls in audiences like the proverbial magnet, especially in upmarket Indian zones like the metros and cities, and yet has not given a hit for over three years! Yes, like the other five superstars we have already discussed, he is simply above hits and flops today. Oh, yes, we forgot—he is just God overseas, a King Khan (as he is called by his devotees), an icon who can do no wrong.
Way back in 1994, Hum Aapke Hain Koun!… showed that overseas, especially the USA, could be a massive territory. A year later, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge not only reaffirmed this, but set a trend that was followed so much so that Shah Rukh, way ahead of Salman Khan then, proved that big money could come from there even when a film did not do well in India.
But we are jumping ahead. Let us go back to the man’s humble beginnings, a Delhi boy, impulsive, ambitious, yet scared of his father, who wanted to be an actor, and who started doing theater.
Television to movies—the big jump
Destiny beckoned Shah Rukh Khan right from 1987—he had gone to drop a female friend off for an audition for a serial directed by Hindi film veteran Lekh Tandon, Dil Dariya, but ended up being spotted, auditioned and chosen himself!
Word spread and the young lad got a meaty protagonist’s role in Fauji, a hugely popular serial then, and this became his first public exposure as Dil Dariya was delayed.
More serials followed, like Circus, and Shah Rukh Khan met and became a close friend of two people behind the serial—Kundan Shah, who had already directed Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1985), one of those rare flop films that had begun to achieve cult status, and Aziz Mirza, who wanted to make films.
Hema Malini was planning to produce and direct a film then, and she called the lad down to be based in Mumbai. Shah Rukh Khan did come, but G.P. Sippy was the first producer to actually sign him, for Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman¸ as Aziz Mirza was starting off his film career, but big name Rakesh Roshan quickly signed him for King Uncle, which was the first film for which Shah Rukh actually faced the cameras!
However, as with television, Lady Luck had decided on giving him royal treatment. And a relative quickie, debut-making director Raj Kanwar’s Deewana, released first in early 1992. Yes, very soon, Shah Rukh will complete 25 years in films.
So what was Lady Luck’s contribution? Deewana was a musical blockbuster. Among the last hits of eternal lover boy Rishi Kapoor as a leading man, it had Shah Rukh making a grand entry on-screen to the chartbuster, ‘Aisi Deewangi’. In the same year, Raju… became an average success, Dil Aashna Hai flopped, and in early 1993, King Uncle, in which he was second lead to title-role player Jackie Shroff, also bombed. Yes, after Deewana, 1992 had seen Shah Rukh do his first solo film, Chamatkar, which was also a moderate success.
Swift and sure stardom
1993 thus began on a dull note for this Khan, but the end of the year was altogether different. An arty film, Maya Memsaab, came and went, and then it began.
Venus’ Baazigar and Yash Raj Films Darr saw Shah Rukh storm into stardom—that too in negative roles, a unique feat indeed. Both films had the audiences rooting for him even as they sympathized with his reel enemies—the good guys!
1993 was the foundation of Shah Rukh’s career even in other ways. It saw the beginning of the iconic SRK-Kajol team, a decent partnership with Venus, which finally saw its culmination in Shah Rukh’s first home production Main Hoon Na, 11 years later, and the start of a lifelong association with the Yash Raj Films banner.
The failure of his third film in a negative role, Anjaam, the following year that too opposite then-Numero Uno Madhuri Dixit could be better ascribed to the fact this audience, while appreciating him, thought that enough was enough. They were more partial to the other and middle-of-the-road movie, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, which marked Kundan Shah’s first commercial success. They wanted their new icon to be a good guy! By now, the actor had signed a fair amount of films.
The boom begins
From 1995, Shah Rukh Khan could do no wrong. The stage was set with Rakesh Roshan’s second film with him, Karan Arjun, co-starring Salman Khan, and it did not matter that Salman was better than him-Shah Rukh was the hero with the better heroine (Kajol again), better and more songs and had been Rakesh’s first choice—remember that Salman came in only after Ajay Devgn quit the film.
Yes, there were debacles this year, like Subhash Ghai-Mukul S. Anand’s behemoth Trimurti and the unbearably arty Oh Darling Yeh Hai India, and a lukewarm Ram Jaane, but no one recalls them. For everyone, 1995 meant Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, also with Kajol, also with Yash Chopra, marking the debut of his whiz kid son Aditya Chopra as director, and the film that started the NRI’s process of deifying Shah Rukh—yes, SRK was no less than a deity now!
The role of great music in building up the SRK charisma was there since Deewana and Jatin-Lalit’s brilliant music in Raju…, and this peaked with the timeless melodies of Jatin-Lalit’s iconic DDLJ, a cinematic milestone that has inspired three generations to live, love and sing. This year, SRK-Kajol resoundingly replaced all iconic star pairs of the past as the ultimate reel lovers.
The superstar swept through the years that followed with increasingly nimble entries into the hearts of all ages. Son, lover, husband and more—Shah Rukh was the ideal everything. If Pardes, Dil To Pagal Hai, Yes Boss, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Josh, Mohabbatein, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Devdas, Main Hoon Na, Chak De! India and Om Shanti Om kept boosting and elevating his star status, also-rans or disasters like Chaahat, Duplicate (despite a brilliant dual role), Koyla, Dil Se…, Baadshah and Swades did nothing to sully his stardom. In fact, most of these films saw his performances loved as much as the films were detested or cold-shouldered!
Two points here: Shah Rukh turned producer with the 2000 flop Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, following it up with another egg, Asoka—The Great. To repay his debts to distributors (something SRK is very clear about even up to Dilwale in 2015) he even produced the modest quickie, Chalte Chalte, which proved a hit.
By this time, his business partnership with co-producers Juhi Chawla and Aziz Mirza ended and he began afresh, with wife Gauri Khan as official producer under a new banner-Red Chillies Entertainment, which produced his biggest pan-Indian hits in years, Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om, helmed by soul-mate Farah Khan.
And here is where Lady Luck began to lead SRK on a quirky path. Kal Ho Naa Ho, Veer-Zaara, Don, Don2 and Jab Tak Hai Jaan were films that did only modest business in India but earned a bounty overseas. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name Is Khan, Ra.One and Dilwale were major flops here that became money-spinners overseas, and while SRK honestly admitted that his appeal was restricted to urban India back home, he did pretty little to augment it. Strange for a man, who was and is a shrewd marketing expert!
Fired by his success and growing appeal overseas, and his flair for mixing offbeat cinema with the mainstream, SRK got into the complex zone of wanting to be a truly “with-it” hero for the Yo generation. The exceptions were Aditya Chopra’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Rohit Shetty’s Chennai Express and Dilwale and Farah Khan’s Happy New Year, but in the last two cases, as with Raees now, some confused sensibilities took their toll even on otherwise mainstream commercial cinema.
The irony is that as Shah Rukh Khan is growing as an actor, artlessly getting into every kind of character from a kinky star-fan to a psychiatrist, his cinematic company in terms of writers and directors is getting truly questionable for his stardom.
Yes, Shah Rukh Khan was and is above hits and flops, and he can still command incredible collections even for disasters like Fan and the mini-calamity Dear Zindagi, but he must not take his superstardom for granted.
After all, a Shah Rukh Khan is only born once in a millennium.