First things first, I am not a huge Shah Rukh Khan fan. But, then you don’t really need to be a fan of Shah Rukh Khan to admire him. His journey, from a struggling actor to becoming the king of Bollywood has been told to death, although it still doesn’t make his tale any less inspirational. He may be struggling of late, battling with a mid-life crisis on-screen. But, Shah Rukh’s body of work over the last 25 years is enough to guarantee him a place in Bollywood’s hall of fame.
The mention of SRK immediately brings to the fore the ultimate romantic hero who wows women with the drop of a hat, and a twinkle, quite literally. But, that is not the Shah Rukh I really identify with. For me, the most impactful portrayal of SRK came in the early and late-90s, the decade began with a new star being born and ended with him becoming the next big superstar. In this period, he did mushy films like DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil Toh Pagal Hai, all of those romantic attempts were blockbusters.
And yet, it’s as Raju in Raju Ban Gaya Gentlemen, Rahul in Yes Boss and Sunil in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa that Shah Rukh made the most impact on me. While all of these films did reasonably well, Shah Rukh is still identified as the great romantic hero of the last three decades. For me (and perhaps many middle class youngsters growing up in the 90s though), it was a different Shah Rukh I admired.
He was not wooing girls running around trees or in breath-taking foreign locales. Instead, this Shah Rukh was the everyday ordinary man, bumbling his way. Whether it is travelling in crowded trains or buses or heading to an interview with torn shoes, Shah Rukh was the everyday man out on the streets struggling for survival. His portrayal of the common man was so realistic and endearing, that it resonates in my mind to date.
When he is being scolded by his on-screen dad, portrayed amiably by Aanjjan Srivastav, over his failure in exams in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, one could feel his pain. It was something almost every middle-class student would have experienced in real life. Shah Rukh, as the ordinary man, made one feel for the character he played. He is affable even when the situations are over the top, like piecing together parts of the interview letter in Raju Ban Gaya Gentlemen or asking Aditya Pancholi to bring mangoes in an effort to rescue another middle-class ambitions girl (Juhi Chawla) from the former’s clutches.
To be a superstar though, Shah Rukh Khan had to go beyond those middle-class roles. He did, and how. It’s been two decades still SRK stopped playing those characters that resembled the common man. A lot has changed since, people have moved from what’s up to WhatsApp, and even cable has gone out of fashion. But, even now, when I see Shah Rukh Khan as Raju or Sunil, the emotional connect remains.
Shah Rukh Khan may have gone on to become the King of Bollywood, but they are still many middle-class strugglers looking to make it big. And, when it comes to inspiration, they still look up to him. After all, it was he who famously said in Yes Boss, “Achche logon ke sath hamesha achcha hota hai.” So, Happy Birthday SRK, have a ‘good’ one.