It started with Fauji. He was the younger brother of the guy who was supposed to be the hero. He smiled lopsidedly, he had a peculiar way of speaking, and he had oodles of charm. He was the only actor people remembered. He had a weird name. No one knew anyone named Shahrukh.
I still remember the quizmaster Sidhharth Basu calling him the heartthrob of the nation and wondering what a heartthrob is. I remember watching Deewana a few years later and feeling nothing. Poor story, melodrama, and भयानक overacting.
And then there was Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na. A love story where (spoiler alert) hero doesn’t get the heroine. The hero is not perfect either. He is selfish, manipulative and jealous. It was great. It was path breaking. I was amazed at the risk this guy had taken.
It paid off. He kept taking risks. He had already played a guy misled by ambition in Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, a boy in love with an older woman in Maya Memsaab, he turned totally dark then. Baazigar, while not a great film, it was a great risk. Playing a guy who kills innocent people, including a girl in love with him. That was the start of the age of Anti-hero in indian cinema. Darr took him to another level of popularity, and unfortunately to a lower level of risk.
I believe two events harmed Shahrukh ‘s contribution to Bollywood. First was his association with YashRaj, and later Dharma, which led to him taking easy roles with predictable easy success. The second was him buying the house he now calls Mannat. A lavish palace at the sea coast in Bandra, it is rumored to have cost him in hundreds of crores to buy and renovate. That’s a huge obligation for an actor. And a huge disincentive for taking risks.
He also did what no other hero had done. He took all ads that came his way, he started to perform in private functions of rich people. And he changed the objective of his company. Red Chillies was made with Juhi Chawla and Sayeed Mirza to make middle of the road films like Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. That changed to making films like RaOne and Happy New Year.
Ohh there have been a few bright spots in this journey. Chak De was great and several others were good enough. But now we don’t expect an SRK film to leave us in awe of his courage.
This is the Salmanisation of Shahrukh. Play to a loyal fan base that applauds whatever you do. This is not the Shahrukh I admired. Would love to see him back.
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