Time Magazine has called him as probably the most recognizable actor in the world. The Guardian Newspaper has described him as the world’s biggest film star on the assumption that Bollywood has a global audience of 3.6 billion as compared to 2.5 billion for Hollywood. National Geographic featured him on their cover in 2005 for their feature Inside Bollywood. March 2007 onwards, his wax figure stands along with Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai at Madame Tussauds Wax Musuem in London. Shah Rukh Khan is without doubt the toast of Bollywood today, arguably its most saleable actor and perhaps its most powerful personality. And all this without any connections with the Indian Film Industry known for its nepotism.
Shah Rukh was born on November 2, 1965 and raised in New Delhi though his roots are from Peshawar, now in Pakistan. He attended St. Columba’s school where he was awarded the prestigious Sword of Honour for his all-round accomplishments in academics, sports and drama. Having graduated from Hansraj College in Delhi with honours in Economics, he followed up with a stint at Barry John’s theatre group TAG and joined Jamia Millia Islamia University for a Masters Degree in Mass Communications. However he didn’t complete the course. Meanwhile, he first got notice as an actor in 1988 with the TV serials Dil Darya and in particular Fauji where he played the role of Commando Abhimanyu Rai followed by a small role in the movie In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones. The death of both his parents prompted Shah Rukh to shift base to Mumbai.
In Mumbai he began with a two-episode part in the serial Umeed and followed it up with another, Circus. Based on his work in these serials, he was given the lead opposite Juhi Chawla in Aziz Mirza’s Raju Ban Gaya Gentlemen (1992), an updating of the Raj Kapoor Classic Shree 420 (1955). However his first release was Raj Kanwar’s Deewana (1992). Though playing the second lead and entering the film only in the second half, he still managed to walk off with the film which fortunately for him was a huge success at the box office as well. Audiences responded to this fresh actor who though not conventionally good looking had that extra energetic something in him. Raju too did reasonably well at the box-office opening the doors in the film industry for him.
Shah Rukh however became a star the following year with the super success of both Abbas-Mastan’s Baazigar and Yash Chopra’s Darr. In both films he played the anti-hero to perfection, exploring a territory that was regarded taboo for leading men in Hindi films at the time. The former, based on the Hollywood film A Kiss Before Dying saw him paired with Kajol for the first time, his best heroine perhaps. His cold-blooded murder of the elder sister, Shilpa Shetty shocked audiences even as his intense performance saw him get his first Best Actor Award from Filmfare. Darr saw him effectively playing the psychotic who talks to his dead mother and stalks the heroine, Juhi Chawla and effortlessly stealing the film from her and Sunny Deol, the ‘positive’ hero of the film. But without doubt his most winning performance of the year came as the loveable rogue in Kundan Shah’s comedy Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. As the middle class loser, doing his best to sabotage the love affair of the girl he loves since she loves another, Shah Rukh was at his endearing best, his sense of comic timing spot on. The film, perhaps the only noteworthy follow up film that Kundan has made following Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) too did reasonably well at the box office and got Shah Rukh much critical appreciation as well.
However, the real tuning point in Shah Rukh’s career came in 1995 and ironically from a film he didn’t initially want to do – his friend Aditya Chopra’s debut film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge orDDLJ as it is better known. Watching the film now, it is unimaginable without Shah Rukh and Kajol. As the cocky brat flirting with Kajol shamelessly who then falls in love with her revealing a surprising strength, maturity and depth within himself, he is absolutely brilliant. The film, a huge trendsetter, ran for 1000 weeks in Mumbai and took Shah Rukh to superstar status.
Post DDLJ, Shah Rukh entered his golden phase, doing films with all of India’s biggest directors – Yash Chopra (Dil to Paagal Hai (1997), Veer Zaara (2004)), Subhash Ghai (Pardes (1997)), Mani Ratnam (Dil se (1998)), Aziz Mirza (Yes Boss (1997), Chalte Chalte (2003)), Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Devdas (2002)), Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006)), Ashutosh Gowarikar (Swades (2004)) and Farhan Akhtar (Don (2006)). He also turned Producer forming a company Dreamz Unlimited with friends Aziz Mirza and Juhi Chawla, producing Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000), Asoka (2001)and Chalte Chalte (2003)) and subsequently his own Production House Red Chillies which has produced Main Hoon Na (2004). While most of these films have done well at the box office earning him laurels, there have been the odd misfires like Dil Se, unfortunately the weakest film of Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan’s Asoka, Amol Palekar’s Paheli (2005) or the extremely disappointing Don where he came nowhere close to matching Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic performance. Then, there are the critics and cinegoers who have always found Shah Rukh’s high energy acting style and manic laugh to be hamming of the highest order but even the most discerning of them speak in glowing terms of perhaps his career’s greatest performance inSwades.
Swades sees a most effective reined in performance from Shah Rukh as the NASA scientist whose eyes are opened by the state of rural India in perhaps the most socially relevant film of his career. It is tempting to believe that he was simply underplaying and cutting out being Shah Rukh Khan as he has been in his copious body of work, but this is not true. It is Shah Rukh showing what he is capable of given the right role and right director as he delivers a subtle, nuanced, multi-layered heartfelt performance. One can only hope he chooses more such roles as against his standard popcorn, bubble gum Karan Johar – Farah Khan entertainers and experiments instead with fresh themes and more innovative cinema. But it has to be said that these entertainers have given him his biggest box office successes such as Om Shanti Om (2007), which broke records everywhere.
In fact, one such role that Shah Rukh has tackled extremely well is Chak De! India (2007). The film looks at how a disgraced former Indian hockey player finds redemption 7 years later in coaching the Indian Women’s Hockey Team to victory in the World Cup. Shah Rukh is spot-on as the humiliated ex-player who redeems himself in the eyes of the country. His hurt, angst and frustration, sternness and final redemption are brought out perfectly. It is perhaps Shah Rukh’s best performance after Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Swades.In recent times, SRK also garnered extremely positive reviews for his act in Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan (2010), even if the film ran into controversy with the Shiv Sena in Mumbai.
Shah Rukh’s films since – Ra One (2011), Don 2 (2011), Jab Tak Hain Jaan (2012), Chennai Express (2013), Happy New Year (2014) – have largely been a mixed bag but thanks to his incredible star presence, he has turned them into huge blockbusters nevertheless. Today, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and he vie with each other for breaking box-office records with each subsequent release of theirs though currently Aamir leads with the top two slots being occupied by Dhoom 3 (2013) and PK (2014).
Today apart from films, Shah Rukh also found much appreciation as the host of Kaun Banega Krorepati, taking over from Amitabh Bachchan. Though not as successful as when the big B was hosting it, Shah Rukh nevertheless gathered positive reviews with viewers liking his down to earth, personalized and humorous approach with the show’s participants. Encouraged by its success, he hosted another show Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain? but this was not as successful.
Shah Rukh has also been the subject of a two part documentary by Naseer Munni Kabir, The Inner and Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan. Besides various acting awards, he has also been awarded the Padmashri for his contribution to Indian Cinema.