By Kouser Fathima
Shahrukh Khan is just not an actor but a phenomenon, an enigma who redefined superstardom at a global level. While he travels abroad, we have seen how people react to SRK. That is the reach of his stardom. SRK is seen as a great Indian actor who has mesmerised his fans globally. His journey to stardom has been adventurous, fascinating, and definitely not an easy one.
A Delhi boy with no Godfather in the industry managed to get a break in Bollywood. He first acted in television serials, later in a few obscure movies, until he did Bazigar, which heralded the arrival of a new star. Bazigar‘s success was significant as he played a character with shades of grey: the hero of the movie not only kills for revenge but also dies at the end. How many newcomers would have dared to take up this role, especially at a time when romantic films were in vogue? SRK gambled successfully, starting a new trend in Bollywood. He again played a negative character in the movie, Darr, breaking all stereotypes of a Bollywood hero.
While many predicted that he would be trapped in the negative hero image, he acted in a romantic film, DDLJ, which even today is unsurpassable in the genre of romantic films. He added life to the character of Raj and invented a new romantic hero. Be it Raj or Rahul, he is the heartthrob of millions of female fans. SRK taught young India how to be romantic, how to charm girls without being too macho or masculine. At a time when Eve-teasing and stalking girls were marketed as romance in movies, SRK reinvented the image of the romantic hero. This new hero was all courteous, refined, gentle, and chivalrous. Although he played similar roles in successive movies, his female fans never got tired of watching him and his male fans never complained about it.
SRK is not only talented but a very smart guy. He cleverly marketed the new image and made friends with the bigwigs in the industry. As someone who entered the industry with no Godfather, he was now an integral part of many Bollywood families. He worked hard, networked diligently, and played his cards wisely. He worked hard not only on his movies but also on his PR. His Diwali and Eid parties were the talk of the town; he made the right kind of friends; he survived in an industry that was known for its camps and loyalties. He was now the blue-eyed boy of the Chopras and Johars. All big names thronged to his house to sign him – an SRK movie was a sure-shot success both in the country and overseas. He tapped the NRI market for Bollywood, did promotions in cities with huge NRI population, did shows, and even danced in weddings. He connected with desis, who were feeling homesick, as his movies had so much to offer to them. Desi songs, romance, and all that desi feeling, packed into a three hour movie.
He managed to outsmart all his competitors. When his critics thought that he was over and out, he successfully reinvented himself each time to prove them wrong.
With time he has also managed to develop the image of a cultured man, with intellectual prowess. SRK comes across as a man, who is well read, articulate, witty, and knowledgeable, unlike many other Bollywood heroes.
SRK tried to stay away from controversies but controversies could never stay away from him. His fight with the other Khans and alleged rivalry with other male stars made it to the tabloids. He took a tough stand when Shiv Sena called to ban his movie in Mumbai. He was dragged into the debate on nationalism, where a smart anchor coxed him into making a statement that did not go well with many nationalists. He didn’t go overboard trying to clarify himself but tried to stay away from further controversies.
While some of his films didn’t do well, many felt that it was because of the rise of a new identity politics emerging in India. However, the fact remains that those movies were really poorly made. They failed at the box office because they failed to connect with the audience. Even his diehard fans were disappointed with movies such as Dilwale and Fan. The critics jumped in to bash him for his repetitive roles, the rivals mocked him but SRK again proved them wrong. The SRK in Dear Zindagi was new, a different one: very calm, erudite, with none of the repetitive gestures and hamming. He had tried a similar role years ago in Chak De. But even after its success, surprisingly he didn’t work on that image more. Years later the same SRK is seen resurfacing in Dear Zindagi. His role is not very long but it has made an impact. In Raess, he brought back the image of the angry young man of the seventies; it is vintage SRK. We hope he retains both his new images, along with the witty, refined one.
SRK has had a long journey, every turn of which is fascinating, successful, and larger than life. His journey has not yet ended. Rather, a new era has started which, we assume, will be as exciting as his older ones. I hope he would continue to teach and inspire men to be chivalrous and refined which is largely lacking in this time and era.
Dr. Kouser Fathima is a Bangalore-based dentist who writes on issues concerning women, especially Muslim women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kouser2012
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