Two Decades of Pure Feeling

But the fact is also that Khan took a breather following a string of unsuccessful roles. As much as I admire what he stands for by merely being famous, the shine of his four-and-a-half-year absence is bound to wear off at some point in 2023. As it must. Pathaan is reportedly the first of three releases this year. At some stage, perhaps the external noise will fade away, and all that might be left is an embattled actor embarking on his fourth decade in a fragile film industry. All that remains is a movie soldier emerging from self-imposed exile. Dramatic but true. As it turns out, his career can be neatly divided into three disparate phases – or three distinct Shah Rukh Khans, as it were.

How did he get here? How did we get here? It’s a journey worth tracing, and it’s a time machine worth activating. On the day of Pathaan’s release, then, here’s a decade-wise breakdown of the SRK story so far:

The Nerveless Nineties (1991-2000)

To paraphrase Mary Hopkin: Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end, he’d sing and dance forever and a day. Khan’s meteoric rise in the Nineties – from the fearless ‘Fauji boy’ to the King of Romance – makes for a rousing coming-of-age film of its own. Despite the concurrent rise of a versatile Aamir and a cheeky Salman, it was Shah Rukh who embedded himself into the conscience of a country waking up to post-globalization Bollywood. Like cricket counterpart Sachin Tendulkar, SRK became a genre-fluid brand in an age of aspiration. What distinguished him the most was that he wasn’t averse to risk. He was introduced as a shaggy-haired striver before he broke out as an anti-hero, until he ultimately sealed his legacy as the lover-boy next door. The beauty of this phase is that Khan was, for a large part, unaffected by the frills of stardom. He was still feeling his way around, throwing characters onto the wall to see what sticks. For every Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), there was a Chaahat (1996). For every Baazigar (1993), there was an English Babu Desi Mem (1995). For every Mani Ratnam and Kamal Haasan, there was a Subhash Ghai. Not everything worked, and it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) that you started to see a few trademarks and patterns; that’s when Khan, like a rockstar in sold-out stadiums, started to notice the jumbotron and serenade an audience. 

Best performance: Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

Still the finest role of his entire career, Khan’s exam-failing and girl-losing Sunil upended the norms of Bollywood masculinity. It has aged like fine (port)wine, too, not least because the Goan dramedy oozes a toothy innocence that’s all but extinct in this era of curated small-town-ness and overcooked underdogs.

Worst performance: Ram Jaane
1995 was a year of dizzying highs (DDLJ, Karan Arjun) and ghastly lows (Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India!, Guddu, Zamaana Deewana, Trimurti). But the absolute nadir was Khan’s tapori-gangster act (and that red bandana) in Ram Jaane, which came a mere three months after Aamir Khan’s Rangeela. This was the first of many instances where Khan’s desire to eclipse his competition – rather than forge his own path – would become his undoing. 

Guilty pleasure: Josh
Baadshah? Sure. Duplicate? Probably. Koyla? Maybe. But Khan’s catholic motorcycle-goon in Josh felt like cool closure for those Ram-Jaane-sized misfires.

#Decades #Pure #Feeling

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