As is often the case with great stars, what makes Shah Rukh Khan fascinating – and by extension any evaluation of his work – is that he’s always been more than just an actor. Persona gets mixed up with characters, and nostalgia with admiration when we sit down to ‘analyse’ SRK’s filmography. We decided we’ll be truer to ourselves if we said we are picking moments – songs, scenes, expressions – that define Shah Rukh Khan for us, rather than going for the ‘best’. There is no Swades in this list (SRK at his most understated), neither is there DDLJ (SRK at his most SRK); no Dear Zindagi either (breeziest SRK in the last decade) – only SRK that means the most to us.
Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
The climax of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa holds a special place in my heart. It’s a church wedding, Sunil (SRK) has come of age – he has been accepted by his friends and family for who he is – and the viewer expects the ultimate happy ending: Sunil and Anna getting married. All the guests are waiting for him; he’s late again. Once he reaches, though, it’s revealed that this is Anna and Chris’ wedding. The sight of Sunil standing as one of the best men, being his usual peppy self and pretending to be pleased for his friends, is so poignant that it’s disarming. He looks at his sister, the only one who can read his sadness. And then the couple drop the ring. (For years, as a child, I thought that if Sunil had found the ring, he would have been allowed to marry Anna right away). Everyone searches for the ring, Sunil can see it, a radiant Anna asks him if he’s found it, but he doesn’t say a word. He stares at her, wondering what could have been. The look on Sunil’s face here has deeper context for 1990s SRK nerds like myself – it’s more or less the same semi-deluded look he flashes at Kiran in Darr (which released two months before this film), and the way Anna calls out to him acquires the same tone as Juhi Chawla’s Kiran does in the Darr climax, when she cries out to her husband (whose name is Sunil) on the boat to kill Shah Rukh’s psychopathic Rahul. His heart breaks on that boat when he hears her hatred for him, and his heart breaks in the church when he hears her platonic love for him. It’s a double bill I’ll never forget – and remains my favourite meta SRK phase in his three-decade-long Bollywood career. Rahul Desai
Chak De! India
I consider Chak De! India Shah Rukh’s finest hour in films. One of my favourite moments comes at the climax, when the underdog Indian women’s hockey team lifts the World Cup in Australia. Their beleaguered coach Kabir Khan doesn’t jump or cheer. Instead he staggers back, almost like he’s been struck. He bends over and leans on his knees as though he can’t trust himself to stand. His eyes brim over and he looks at the Indian flag flying high. For much of the film, Kabir has carried the scars of being branded a traitor like a shield. And now finally, he finds redemption. Shah Rukh’s expressions nailed that precise mix of joy and anguish. It’s guaranteed to make you cry. Anupama Chopra
It’s one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments during the song, “Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaaoon” in Yes Boss, but once you notice it, it inevitably makes you smile.
Shah Rukh as Rahul has two personalities in this song – the entertainer who’s trying to make his boss’ girlfriend, Seema’s (Juhi Chawla), day better with his antics, and the man head-over-heels in love with a woman who is in a relationship with someone else.
As Abhijeet croons, “Ya main karoon tumse bayaan”, Rahul sheds his Chaplinesque personality for a split-second, longingly looking at her as she looks into a mirror. In that moment, he becomes a man awestruck by the love of his life, silently contemplating but regretting his inability to confess his feelings. As soon as she turns around to face him again, the same line is repeated, but Rahul’s mask is on again as he instantly buries his feelings to switch on the funny guy Seema is friends with.
It’s not easy to convey so much without a single dialogue, but Shah Rukh expresses it with absolute ease – dropping the knowledge of Rahul’s state of mind (and heart) to the audience in a fleeting but heartwarming moment of unraveling. Debdatta Sengupta
The conventional way a story like Darr would perhaps be told is with a long flashback in the second half to get us to sympathise with its highly problematic lead. This is how we get on Ajay’s side in Baazigar despite what he does to seemingly innocent people. But in Darr, all we get in terms of his past is a doctor explaining the reason for Rahul’s obsessive personality. It’s unlikely that we feel anything for a person based on this bit of clunky exposition. But why do we still feel so bad for Rahul even though the film ends with good prevailing over evil?
In what’s a film that shows Rahul do or say one creepy thing after another, the only real humanising scene he gets before the climax is the phone call with his deceased mother. It’s part Norman Bates, part sanskari mama’s boy and a whole lot of Shah Rukh Khan. There’s vulnerability, there’s innocence and complete conviction that Kiran belongs to him. He describes Kiran as his mother’s blessing from heaven and the fact the we start listening to the phone call mid conversation gives it the feeling that these calls happen all the time. But instead of looking at him as a creep by maintaining safe distance, this is the scene that reveals the boy beneath the monster. And when traces of this hurt little boy makes a return at the end, the line between good and bad start to blur again. We still don’t where to draw that line when it comes to SRK. Vishal Menon
Now I know that Duplicate isn’t SRK’s finest work but I love it to bits and here’s why. One of my most favourite things about SRK was his total lack of vanity. He was happy being silly and unattractive and would stop at nothing to extract a laugh out of viewers. In Duplicate there are two SRKs – the ‘bhola’ Babloo Chaudhary and his lookalike, the gangster Manu. In the song “Ladna Jhagadna” both Babloo and Manu have swapped lives and are literally dancing around trees with each other’s girlfriends. It’s five minutes of a skinny, floppy-haired SRK monkeying around, running, somersaulting, and making funny faces. By the end of it Babloo is down to his boxers, hamming away to glory. But coming back to why I think this is still special, and maybe even more now. I can’t think of too many heroes today who would find joy in making a fool of themselves. They’re all so caught up in crafting chiseled bodies and saving the country from an attack or social evil. A Babloo Chaudhary now and then would be nice. Mohini Chaudhuri
“Chaiyya Chaiyya” is a great song on its own, but you take SRK out of it and it’s just not the same. He is a force of nature, grooving with banjarans atop a train snaking its way through green hills and dark passageways – he has just fallen in love with a woman that will ultimately lead to his destruction. What he does is hard to imitate, and harder to explain: one moment he is a raving fakir, the next he is turning on the charm, mixing bhangra with standard Bollywood steps, completely in control, yet going wild. It had felt like a thunderbolt as a 10 year old watching the promo on our small Philips TV and the memory of “Chaiyya Chaiyya” has forever become an audio-visual one. SRK’s song performances in the 90s frequently flirted with danger; they were quasi-stunts that made dancing look like child’s play. The roof of a moving train is typically the stage for a thrilling action scene. In “Chaiyya Chaiyya”, with him at its centre, it had to turn into a mad, Sufi celebration of romantic love. Sankhayan Ghosh