King Khan hazir ho..!

I hope that the young man I met 3 decades ago makes a super comeback and stops the world in his own imperious way, blabbering about competition with Oye chill yaar, This is SRK, naam to suna hoga!

Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Monojit Lahiri

When one long and leisurely evening in 1989, in the verandah of my South Delhi apartment, I conducted the Fauji star’s first-ever press interview [HT, Sunday Mag section] five things struck me straight away – and they’ve stayed. His manic energy, restlessness, witticism, self-confidence and burning ambition to make it big in Bollywood. While he did get offers from the parallel cinema directors [Aziz Mirza, Mani Kaul] he longed to play a starring role with an established director & heroine and made no bones about it. I can never forget the excitement in his voice – first, over the phone, later at my home – when he signed Raju ban gaye Gentlelman opposite “Dada, Amir’s QSQT heroine, Juhi Chawla!” It was truly infectious, even persuading fate to move in and help propel him to crazy heights ...

Today, three decades on, SRK appears to stand at the tip of a curious cross-road. The tsunami that gripped fans whenever and wherever on planet earth (yes, including Marakesh!) his films are shown, seems to have subsided with his last few films hitting a dangerously new low in terms of audience response. His last release Zero, a heroic (desperate?) attempt to do something different, a la Kamal Hassan’s Appu Raja, further shrank and dwarfed feedback, despite Katrina and Anushka as co-stars. So the question starring the Ace-of-Hearts in the face is: What to do? Whom to ask? Where to go? What happened?

Actually, it’s a peculiar situation. His popularity with fans, at a personal level, remains undiminished as the mass worship of his devotees outside Mannat on his 55th birthday indicated. His darshan has to be seen to be believed! Further, every single appearance across every show and platform continues to garner amazing response. His active involvement with his IPL cricket team, collaboration with Red Chillies multi-faceted revenue-generating ventures continue to rock. As for his Ad endorsements, he refuses more than he accepts! So everything is in place ... but why aren’t his films complementing his dazzling aura and charisma?

Actually, why a film clicks or bombs or why a star zooms north or nosedives south, remains one of God’s enduring mysteries. It is alleged that during the Big B’s MP days, he once visited the north-east to campaign for his party. The crowd that greeted his chopper and later his speech and the applause that accompanied both were unprecedented. The message was loud n’ clear – Bachchan was bound to score big. The results however, were shockingly different. His appearance certainly attracted monster crowds, but that was a star in action. No one gave a damn about his politics, so the votes were minimal! Similarly, the mast and masti filled mega star was a different proposition than the on-screen actor. There, the expectations, compulsions and demands were totally different, because it was a different platform and other things too come into play. This is precisely where the problem lies.

Fact is, Deewana, Baazigar, Darr and later KKHH, DDLJ and other blockbusters that built brand SRK as the definitive Mr Romance happened over quarter of a century ago. A zillion things have changed since then in terms of content, directors, actors, audience and that has clearly impacted SRK’s scheme of things forcing him to press the pause button. He has not signed a single film for two years (despite rampant rumours, YRF’s Pathan being the latest buzz) taking time off to introspect. After all, there are no easy solutions for an ageing superstar stuck in his stock-in-trade image of the icon of pyar, mohabbat, ishq.

A revealing and analytical perspective came from a perceptive SRK-watcher. For a little too long, there was – he believed – an uncomfortable studied silence from Khan’s loyal fans, as if to speak up was to commit blasphemy, show betrayal, give oneself to the internet lynch mob to isolate oneself as a heretic worthy of being burned at the digital stake! He says that from 1992 – Deewana – to 2010, SRK was the new, youthful and dynamic face of tinsel town and could do no wrong. Charming, witty, handsome, flamboyant, stylish, this talented, confident, camera-free guy, with his signature outstretched arms drew one and all across the globe. From 2010 to 2018, this honeymoon wavered indicating trouble in paradise. The first tremble happened when he suggested that Paki players should be included in India’s IPL. Unfortunately, the statement timing was drastically wrong because it came on the heels of 26/11! This surprised, disappointed and even shocked fans who loved his patriotic roles in Chak De, Veer Zaara and Swades. His pumping big bucks into his special effects film Ra One was an idea that went horribly wrong. Subsequently, his very public, ugly spat at the Wankhede Stadium, his thoughts on religious intolerance and his miscalculation on his subsequent films were giant steps in the wrong direction. SRK – concluded the sharp commentator – needed to do something very special to reclaim his spot in the charts and hearts of his fans and the new-age audience.

His comments make sense and avoiding the pantomime of any imagined alternative is the best idea. Those big-budget, dazzling NRI extravaganzas of his buddies, KJO and Adi Chopra are history because that ship has sailed. SRK is intelligent enough to realise it and hence the longish time to decide his next film. Will it be re-invention, a whole new persona that is age-appropriate and yet dynamic, capitalising on the actor, not the mannerism-driven mega-star? Or vehicles focusing on his fabulous, seldom-tapped comic flair? Or again his gift for drama in a riveting suspense thriller? Explore new and exciting themes, stories and genres powered by fresh, young directors who are neither awed by his aura nor tempted to do repeats of his earlier mega-hits? As of now, the throne is there, but has the king been de-throned? Here’s hoping that the young man I met three decades ago makes a super comeback and stops the world in his own witty, imperious and stylish way, of blabbering about competition with Oye chill yaar, This is SRK, naam to suna hoga!!

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