Exploring what Bollywood has given to and taken from actor, producer, and item boy Shah Rukh Khan, who completes 25 years of being Bollywood’s busiest multi-tasker this June.
KOI | DEMIGOD | PASTA
Because it happened mid-song, Shah Rukh Khan’s first word in Hindi films was ‘koi’, literally translated as ‘somebody’. To his credit, Khan has been a somebody in the Indian film industry for only three months less than I’ve been alive – and I’ve been around for a while.
Deewana (1992) is the box office success that launched Khan’s career and nabbed him a Filmfare award for the year’s best male debut. I’m told I was still learning to hold my head up when the movie launched that June. The 25 years since 1992 have naturally brought changes. While his appetite for emotion- and action-intense films appears to be intact, Khan isn’t quite as boisterous as his nineties’ self anymore – neither on screen nor off it. The man that starred in seven films in 1995 – nearly one film every two months of the year – had only one release in 2015. Meanwhile, I hold my head up just fine nowadays.
Khan’s 25 years in the industry have seen him achieve notable success on the global film landscape and demigod status in India. He was among Newsweek’s December 2008 list of the 50 most powerful people in the world, despite his blink-and-miss performances as actor (Krazzy 4 and Bhootnath) and narrator (Shaurya and Kismet Konnection) during the year. However, 2008 was also the year of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, an acclaimed production that reiterated Khan’s timelessness in an industry where the line between fame and failure is – to put it mildly – intensely soluble.
Khan’s temerity as the lovestruck Romeo that’ll charm the socks off the film’s female lead – and her family and siblings and neighbors and friends – stems from a self-awareness of his ability to project a romantic grandiose that is hard to replicate in reality.
Shah Rukh – the man and the brand – has avoided this chasm for more than two decades, and almost effortlessly so. Despite claims of his lateness, oversized ego, and tendency to overact, Khan commands a level of respect in the industry that makes some of his contemporaries and juniors look ridiculously incapable of managing their careers. Notably, Khan takes ownership of his work, cinematic or otherwise – when he fractured his arm in 2009, he strapped a gold-colored sling on it and energetically danced for the promotional video of his cricket franchise instead of outsourcing the jig to someone else (be warned, that’s one catchy song). On some days, he’s even publicly vulnerable and philosophical about what he does.
Some of the alliterations that have been ascribed to him over the years – especially King Khan and Badshah of Bollywood – seem overused, but his list of awards – honorary and competitive – appears to justify the tags. Shah Rukh Khan is a species of orchid in Singapore; a wax statute at Madame Tussauds’ museums in London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and New York; one of the two Indian actors that can claim to have rung NASDAQ’s opening bell for the first time; and, believe it or not, even an ambassador for an Interpol anti-crime campaign – and that’s just the honorary awards.
Perhaps the most telling feature of Khan’s largesse within his country, though, is his collection of 15 Filmfare Awards – eight of which are under the ‘Best Actor’ category. I vaguely remember deferring dinner until Khan had been awarded a trophy at the awards’ 1996 ceremony – broadcast live back then – which he eventually did well past my bedtime for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ; 1995). I celebrated with pasta that night.