Ever since Aryan Khan’s arrest by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) over alleged drug-peddling charges, his father Shah Rukh Khan’s fans have been declaring their undying love in support of the actor. On Twitter and other social media platforms, my timelines are flooded with stories of Shah Rukh’s generosity and humility. Unfortunately, I do not have such a story to tell. What I have, instead, is the tale of a critic who somehow ended up becoming an ‘SRK fan’.
Very early in my life, I made a conscious decision to not be in adulation of any celebrity. I wanted to retain the right to be able to criticise each and everyone, no matter how important they were considered in society. In my mind, the people who called themselves ‘fans’ of other blood-and-sinew individuals and placed them on a godlike pedestal somehow surrendered that very right.
I liked critiquing Shah Rukh Khan, a man who was an average actor by his own admission, and regularly got into fights with co-actors, journalists, and security guards alike.
My dislike for him grew stronger when I saw young, aspiring filmmakers and actors entering Jamia Millia Islamia’s A.J.K. Mass Communication Research Centre, idolising the actor, while he rarely acknowledged his alma mater himself. This dislike turned into gut-wrenching hatred for the celebrity-icon ‘SRK’, when we waited with bated breath for him to break his silence on atrocities against the students of Jamia during the CAA-NRC protests.
I now despised the entirety of his existence with vehemence; here was a reel-life ‘superstar’ who could not even muster up enough courage in real life to stand up for students of the very university he once studied in.
I did not find anything in common between Shah Rukh Khan and myself. He was a superstar, I was a minimum-wage journalist. While he had studied at a posh Delhi school, I spent my childhood at a modest Hindi-medium academy.
He was churning out one rom-com after another, and I was hung up over the fantasy genre. I was a proud Jamian, he barely acknowledged his association with the university; I spoke up, argued and lost my friends over my politics, he was publicly seen hanging out with known supporters of the Hindutva regime. I was a Muslim, but Shah Rukh Khan had shed this part of his identity to become acceptable to the ruling elite.
In exercising my right to criticise a public figure, I saw what was wrong with Shah Rukh Khan as an icon. I refused to be corrected by his fans; but more importantly, I refused to listen to the one man I should have, Shah Rukh Khan himself. I have since made amends and watched hours of the actor’s interviews, but it was only in the past few days when I felt like I actually heard him speak. I watched him blush. I listened to him speaking passionately about his mother.
I saw him charm nearly everyone he met with an impeccable disposition. Eventually, I came to admire his knowledge of philosophy, religion, and the arts. I must now admit that slowly and steadily, I had started falling in love with Shah Rukh, the person.
Ever since the controversy surrounding his son’s arrest blew up, I have watched about half a dozen films starring Shah Rukh Khan. I still cannot say that he is a great actor, but I must confess that I do find him to be a great entertainer. He does not get lost in his character. The character, though, is often lost in his persona. There is a tinge of Shah Rukh Khan, his playfulness, his charm, and his persona in every character that he has ever played.
Upon realising this, the thought came to me that perhaps the movies do not own him, he owns the movies. The audience does not go to the theatres wanting to watch an actor dish out a great performance; they are there to watch Shah Rukh Khan being Shah Rukh Khan - the exemplary ‘King Khan’ - as himself on the big screen.
Shah Rukh Khan, the actor, is Shah Rukh Khan, the person. If you love one, you ought to love the other.
Meanwhile, I now find myself looking for justification in every action of his, just like a fan would. I realise that he spoke with his silence, and continues to do so when he refuses to join the others in Bollywood in eulogising the current regime. He chose silence over endorsing hatred. A man so passionate about love feels greater pain, more so because he has to stay silent, for reasons unbeknownst to us.
He may not wear his identity on his sleeve as many of us do, but his identity does not leave him still. From being called an anti-national to a Pakistan supporter, Shah Rukh has, all throughout, carried the labels that every Indian Muslim does. He knows the pain of being a follower of Islam in today’s Hindutva-wielding India. He knows the price for refusing to bow down to the Hindu nationalist regime. He suffers more than we have ever done, and certainly more than I have.
I now see Shah Rukh Khan as not just a superstar but a Muslim superstar. I do not see him as just an actor but someone silently conveying the message of love. I do not see him as just an entertainer, but as a man brimming with intellect and wisdom.
I still brandish my right to criticise the Shah Rukh I know, but I also profess my adoration for him. In a sea of 3.5 billion fans, one person’s change of heart may not mean much, but it is indeed a testament to the nigh-supernatural powers of an icon, and the capacity to spread love in the darkest of times.
(Ahamad Fuwad is a journalist and a former Assistant News Editor at the Free Press Journal. He writes on politics, culture and public policy.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)