Thursday, 4 July 2013

Rahul/ Raj turns 40

I have never been an admirer of Shah Rukh Khan. If anything, I have always been one of his most ardent detractors. I never imagined that the first article I would ever write about himwould be a tribute, but that's precisely what I'm doing today. Its because SRK finally turns 40 on screen. It may mean little for today's generation, but its significant for people like this writer, who grew up in the 90s/ turn of the century.

The Poster of Chennai Express
I wonder how many people today remember the fact that Shah Rukh Khan charted his path to stardom playing negative roles. In Darr (1993), he played an obsessive stalker (to date one of his finest performances) who murders three men in pursuit of his beloved. Just a few weeks later came Baazigar (1994), in which he played a character who murders two innocent young ladies. It is ironic indeed, that the man who came to be known for candyfloss romantic roles shot to stardom playing murderous characters. 

It really was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge/ DDLJ that established the romantic image. To be sure, he had essayed such characters before, but DDLJ was a watershed. SRK was almost always the loverboy thereafter, who featured in movies that were high on feel good factor. That energy and charm (admittedly lost on me) endeared him to countless Indians in the decade and a half that followed, so much so, that he delivered at least one hit every year between 1992 and 2008 (except 1996 and 2005), including 18 blockbusters- not even the great Amitabh Bachchan had such a sustained run at the box office.


As he delivered hits nineteen to the dozen, SRK became embedded in our collective conscious as Rahul/ Raj the romantic hero who made you feel good about life, a far cry from the angry young heroes who were in perpetual struggle against the system or against society itself in the movies that were going around in the 90s/ turn of the century. It was like light to dark.

Unfortunately for the man, he no longer fitted the popular image by the late 2000s. The sparkle suddenly started fading. The movements, once effortless and spontaneous, started appearing laboured. Even as far back as 2006, one could see unmistakable signs of aging, especially in the close up shots in  Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. The combination of a deteriorating back, an insanely hectic life and the countless cigarettes started taking their toll on the man. Besides, a new generation had emerged by now and Rahul/ Raj started looking too old and careworn.

SRK Today

The sight of a visibly aged Shah Rukh Khan playing a 25 year old in Jab Tak Hai Jaan was almost as painful as seeing Sachin Tendulkar struggling against bowlers he would have taken to the cleaners in his prime. The man I was seeing on screen was an aged impostor of the actor who never failed to make me feel better about life in his heyday. But then we, the generation that saw Shah Rukh Khan's beginnings as schoolkids, were ourselves in our 30s by then. Perhaps his aging was a reminder of our own mortality.

It is fitting that SRK is playing the role of a 40 year old Rahul in Chennai Express. If, as I suspect, this is going to be his last movie in a romantic role, its the perfect closure. Rahul/ Raj belonged to an era that has long since passed. Its time to bid adieu to that era and move on.

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