Missing the silly, old Shah Rukh Khan and his wacky sense of humour

“To be stupid, to do silly things is the most intelligent work. That’s why we love cartoons; they are so silly. It’s not a joke, there’s a whole sensibility here,” he once said

Missing the silly, old Shah Rukh Khan and his wacky sense of humour

Namrata Joshi

Shah Rukh Khan has been back in the news of late. For more reasons than one and not for any adverse political considerations, for a change. There has been a lot of chatter about his macho looks in the forthcoming Jawan and Pathan.

His invocation in the popular new web series, Ms Marvel, has excited many. Fans can’t stop raving about his cameo in Rocketry: The Nambi Effect. Then there’s the landmark completion of three decades in Bollywood. The speculation as to whether he and Salman Khan will finally gang up for a Yashraj film. And there’s even been some critique, albeit muted, of a “woman’s own star” like him opting to work with one of the ‘MeToo’ accused Raj Kumar Hirani in Dunki.

The entertainment press is back to writing about him with gusto, even though the Salman-SRK partnership gossip seems like a deliberate plant, first say, and then deny, just to keep the news cycle running.

But then the bigger question looms large right now. What to write about him? What to say that hasn’t been said before? What more to add when recently, at the time of the arrest of his son Aryan, on the alleged drugs issue, magazines, papers and websites devoted reams to him?

In my entire career as a journalist, 3/4th of which has been devoted to cinema, I haven’t written as much about any star as I have about SRK. Short of writing a book—I did do a chapter on him for an anthology though—I have pretty much said everything that I can say about him. I have interviewed him the most, gushed about each of those chats, and wondered if he should do a self-help book on the art of conversations since he is so good at them himself.

But then there’s one thing I don’t mind reiterating at this point. That I miss the fun that SRK used to be. As a person, star, and performer. At least whatever little I got to see of him. There was a sharp sense of amusement around him which gradually began losing lustre, started getting a wee bit stolid, and eventually the open face got inscrutable. The droll turned deadpan. The liveliness got a touch of the sombre.

Life takes one through a lot, takes its toll and changes one at each step, so I couldn’t possibly have expected him to remain razor sharp, candid, and jovial till eternity, but I would love to start a petition asking for the return of the silly SRK on screen at least. The frivolous and the flimsy, the balmy and the giddy, the pointlessly preposterous SRK.

I was reminded of it when a colleague asked me recently to pick one SRK, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge or Baazigar. I couldn’t. Neither works the magic for me. At the risk of being excommunicated, I must confess that not even the much-lauded Swades makes the cut for me when it comes to SRK.

There have been several of him on screen. The unhinged killer in Baazigar and obsessive lover in Darr, the experimental avatars in Maya Memsaab, In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, Paheli and Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India! And the iconic romantic turns in DDLJ, Dil To Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and so many more.

He charmed me in Fauji, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Yes Boss. It was the casual charm grounded in flaws and frailties that reached out to me. It reflected in later day Kal Ho Naa Ho, Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi built on an insouciance that was infectious.

But hidden away in the long-winding filmography is the SRK of Baadshah, a film that isn’t recalled or celebrated enough. It’s a film I have always batted for, from the front foot. There’s a madness in it to his wannabe detective Raj who due to mistaken identity and, through many twists and turns, gets embroiled in a bid to bump off the chief minister of Goa.

Be it his blind act or the X-Ray vision granted to him by a pair of goggles or the eye transplant (with those of a frog and owl, mind you) scene in a faux hospital, all are the epitome of inspired stupidity, the film taking the hysterical to a new high.

In an interview in 2007, just before the release of OSO, I had brought up the film with him. I thought it matched his own mad sense of humour which I saw on full display that day. He was in a mood to mock everything from the ‘Yashraj Films’- inscribed cutlery to Rahul Rawail’s new film, Buddha Mar Gaya, and a news item in the Economic Times which quoted a ‘prosumer’ survey to declare that Ram Gopal Varma’s Darling will be the biggest hit of 2007. It’s a different matter that few of us would recollect that film now.

He was being brutal and politically incorrect even in taking on himself, complaining to filmmaker Farah Khan about how he hates shooting with the leggy models: “They make me look and feel like a chaprasi (peon).”

Baadshah flopped at the time of its release but has come to gain cult status over the years. SRK spoke about how the film had his kind of humour, the reason why it may not have worked. “Mine [sense of humour] is more whacked out; people don’t understand it at times,” he said, adding, “It didn’t flop but didn’t do as well I thought it would. Everyone is so demented there. I want to make a part 2. The whole idea was Austin Powers, but we couldn’t give it the mad ’70s feel.”

He also reacted strongly in general against running down the silly. “… to be stupid, to do silly things is the most intelligent work. That’s why we love cartoons; they are so silly. It’s not a joke, there’s a whole sensibility here. The most intelligent guys are the stand-up comedians. George Carlin—he used to talk seriously about society, and he was so funny….For the level of seriousness, the level of knowledge has to be huge, more than that of the most intelligent guys. You can be very aware, but by seriously talking about serious issues you don’t become intelligent,” he said.

Intelligence must be off the cuff, it must be easy going, he had asserted. That’s precisely what SRK’s wit and acuity are also all about—they come wrapped in frivolity. Time to bring that spirit back again.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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