Shah Rukh Khan at 53: Such a Long Journey
When we talk about Shah Rukh Khan we often forget that it was Hema Malini who gave him his break in Dil Aashna Hai. There is an interesting story about how it happened. Hema Malini was ready to go on floors with the entire cast and crew in place but she had to still finalize her hero. Then one day, as she was surfing TV she spotted Shah Rukh in Fauji and on investigation she learnt that he was a stage actor from Delhi.
Hema decided that she wanted to meet Shah Rukh Khan and asked her assistant to phone him and call him to Bombay. When Hema’s niece Prabha phoned Shah Rukh, he thought one of his friends was playing a prank on him and did not take the offer seriously. Exasperated, Prabha gave him the office number and asked him to check out for himself.
He did and discovered that it was indeed Hema Malini’s residence. Next morning when Shah Rukh stood outside Hema Malini’s bungalow waiting to be escorted inside he could not believe that he was going to meet the Dream Girl in person.
Hema suggested that they do another test with his hair gelled back and wearing a plain shirt instead of the colourful jacket he was wearing. This time Hema Malini was satisfied but she needed to be hundred percent sure. So she called Dharmendra to come and have a look at the young actor. Dharmendra arrived and approved of Hema’s choice.
That is how Shah Rukh was signed as the hero opposite Divya Bharati in Dil Aaashna Hai and the pair came together again in Deewana.
I first met Shah Rukh in the year 1993 soon after the release of Baazigar and Darr. When I reached Mehboob Studio he was not in his makeup room. A studio hand told me to follow the cigarette butts on the floor and I would find him. I did and located him sitting on the building terrace of the blowing smoke rings in the air.
Looking back, I feel I had overreacted. As a senior journalist I should have indulged a young star in the making. I didn’t. Shah Rukh admitted to me years later that he should have exhibited more restraint. He didn’t and there was nobody to reprimand him.
Some more years went by and Shah Rukh moved from the anti-hero of Darr and Anjaam to the obsessed lover in Maya Memsaab. In 1995 Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge turned him in to a youth icon followed by a series of super hits like Dil toh Pagal Hai and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. He was now a star to reckon with and moved out of his tiny apartment in Bandra into a sprawling bungalow Mannat, Bandstand.
We often bumped in to each other from time to time, be it the screening of Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, on the sets of Dil Se…. He still spoke breathlessly, still consumed gallons of Pepsi and only ate chicken, his favorite meal, said old habits were hard to break and yet he had changed. He was now careful about what he said. He was always sensitive but now he was responsible in relationships and did not want to offend people because of his crazy sense of humour.
He was realistic about his success and took his failures in his stride. When Dil Se... bombed he said,
Similarly he was untouched by the overwhelming praises for Devdas.
He accepted Hum Tumhare Hai Sanam was a compromise, “We all make them sometimes for different reasons.” For his home productions however there was no compromising. He proved a good producer in Asoka, Chalte Chalte and Paheli even though none of these fared well at the box-office.
Post Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kal Ho Na Ho and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna he was the undisputed king and the media termed him the Badshah of Bollywood. His fan mail was crazy and distributors swore by his success but his critics were hard to please. They complained that Shah Rukh only worked in feel good films. He disagreed and juggled Swades, Paheli, Veer Zaara with Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om and silenced all. In fact in the year 2004 he received awards for all three releases Swades, Main Hoon Na and Veer Zaara from different magazines but on all the platforms he maintained that his trophy was for all his three directors.
Another decade passed by. Shah Rukh now owned a multi-storey office, launched a television production, endorsed a few more brands and did few more films. He was still romantic on screen, though there were exceptions like Chak De India adored by his detractors and his fans ached to watch yet another interpretation of love from him which they got in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, a story about anguish and yearning. Shah Rukh accepted that the concept was outdated but existed all the same, he said, “It is natural that when you love someone you see almighty in him”.
He looked forward to My Name is Khan with Karan Johar and was happy that the message was well received. He was as emotional about Jab Tak Hai Jaan probably because he had sensed it was his last with Yash Chopra.
Today a father of three kids and baron of a large empire, Shah Rukh Khan in a few years will complete three decades in show business. He is still the biggest draw overseas and continues to produce entertainers, some good, some passable, some indifferent, some embarrassing entertainers and some successful and his diehard fans still wait to watch him romance younger leading ladies like Mahira Khan in Raees or Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi.
Today, Shah Rukh Khan has reduced his smoking or so he claims and you don’t have to follow the cigarette buds on the floor to locate him. He does not blow smoke rings on your face and doesn’t need spectacles to read his phone messages after his eye surgery but yes, there is a better way to locate Shah Rukh, just follow little Abram and you are sure to find Shah Rukh Khan.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. You can follow her on Twitter @bhawanasomaaya)
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 1 November 2016. It is now being republished to mark Shah Rukh Khan’s birthday.)