SRK and the art of spreading the love
Even in a mediocre film, there is a specific kind of joy that Shah Rukh delivers. The world could do with more of that, says Anupama Chopra.
In Episode 2 of Ms Marvel, the protagonist Kamala Khan, who describes herself as “a brown girl from Jersey” and is newly discovering her superpowers, declares: “There is no such thing as a bad Shah Rukh Khan movie.”
She says this to Kamran, an attractive new schoolmate. Earlier in the episode, they discuss the merits of Baazigar versus Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Kamala is a second-generation Pakistani-American. We still don’t know much about Kamran, who has a British accent and says he and his mother have moved around a lot. But that scene made me realise how much we need Shah Rukh back on screen.
His last film, the ambitious but fatally flawed Zero, was four years ago. Since then, we have seen Shah Rukh in furniture and ed-tech commercials; there have been a few posts on social media and occasional paparazzi Reels. Last year, we caught glimpses of the actor on his visit to Arthur Road Jail to see his son Aryan Khan. That visual of his dignified namaste to the photographers and gathered crowds, amid his unimaginable trauma (his son was arrested and held in a narcotics case; he went on to get a clean chit), stayed with me.
We’ve had announcements of some upcoming Shah Rukh projects. In 2023, he will star in Rajkumar Hirani’s Dunki, Atlee’s Jawan and Siddharth Anand’s Pathaan.
We need Shah Rukh because he is the great unifier. The actor, who celebrated 30 years in the movies in June, is the poster boy for what Hollywood calls four-quadrant appeal: men, women, the old and young all love him. But Shah Rukh means so much more. He came to fame playing characters who exhibited a pliable, more vulnerable masculinity.
Shah Rukh’s persona wasn’t fuelled by testosterone and machismo, enhanced by guns and slow-motion. His characters routinely cried, loved and lost. In Kal Ho Naa Ho, as the heart ailment-stricken Aman Mathur who willingly sacrifices his love, he took approximately four minutes to die and reduced himself and most of us in the audience to a blubbering mess.
Shah Rukh is also one of India’s most successful exports. His legions of fans include Germans who queued at night in the biting cold to catch a glimpse of him at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012, Malaysians who have conferred on him the title of Datuk (the equivalent of a British knighthood), and Middle-Easterners (he is the face of Dubai Tourism).
At a shrill, polarising moment in our country’s history, Shah Rukh is a reminder of an alternative narrative. He is a Muslim married to a Hindu. The brand of patriotism he espouses in films such as Chak De! India and Swades hinges on inclusivity and nation-building. To me, when Shah Rukh stretches his arms out in that signature pose, it feels like he is embracing the world (though in the Dunki announcement, Hirani pointedly says he won’t be doing that in this film).
I disagree with Kamala. There is, in fact, such a thing as a bad Shah Rukh Khan film (Jab Harry Met Sejal was one). But even in the most mediocre movies, there is a specific stab of joy that Shah Rukh delivers. I think the world could do with a shot of that.