Post Zero, a meme saw Shah Rukh Khan on the terrace of his sea-facing bungalow, Mannat, waving at his fans. The caption read: *Expletive* Theatre Mein Bhi Aaya Karo (Throng the theatres too). Internet memes can be quite precise zeitgeist-catchers. After the Aanand L. Rai helmer failed to make a mark on the box office or impress the critics, there were many reports of the 'wounded superstar' going on a sabbatical as an actor. Everyone has an opinion about what he should do next. SRK may be an actor but King Khan is a construct. Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub once aptly told SRK, 'Aap ek muhaavra sa ban chuke ho'.
He is a mosaic of people's perceptions and projections. "The time is right for SRK to start a whole new innings given the interesting phase that Indian cinema and content is in. I would love to see him in films that challenge the mainstream norms," says Svetlana Naudiyal, cinema programmer. Manasi Deshpande, an entrepreneur from Satara would like to see him in the role of a father. "It's difficult to be unmoved by SRK's eloquence especially when he talks about his kids. A father-daughter/son film would be right up his alley," she says. Rony D'Costa, creative professional, says, "When I see international stars of his age and stature doing things, I keep earmarking them as projects SRK should pick up. For instance, John Wick."
Fans tend to create a personalized template of 'Merawala Shah Rukh'. There's the amiable Rahul, Raj & Sunil stencil; the obsessive, rancorous Baazigar and Darr model and then there's the linen shirt and stubble donning Chak De, Dear Zindagi and to some extent the Swades prototype. The last one is the most restrained version of the star, essentially stripping him of his stardom. Even a casual survey in most circles is likely to reveal that it is this version that most discerning audiences would want him to revive. Ironically his recent films that raked in the moolah are not the ones typically associated with him – Happy New Year and Chennai Express. Stardom and subtlety work as opposing, whipsawing constructs for SRK. He is at once the Badshah of Bollywood and entirely subservient to it. The man himself said in one of his interviews, "In my stardom I think I lost my ordinariness." If there is any truth to the speculation of him signing an Anubhav Sinha film, we may just see SRK in an avatar closest to Mohan Bhargav in Swades, given the director's proclivity for depiction of social realities.
Fan and Zero saw him stepping out of his comfort zone but it's the skin of the entertainer that Khan is reluctant to shed. Zero had him play the quintessential SRK only in a pint-sized avatar. According to his own admission if he were Iron Man in India, 'Lungi Dance' would be binding. As King Khan, his freedom is ringed with limits. SRK can experiment in earnest if he and his audience forget everything that he has done before. Be it any role, Khan is too preoccupied with sweeping the audience off their feet. It's time for him to trade 'charm' for a range of emotions. The audience also wants to be jolted, repulsed, challenged, surprised and manipulated.
Fans tend to create a personalized template of 'Merawala Shah Rukh'. There's the amiable Rahul, Raj & Sunil stencil; the obsessive, rancorous Baazigar and Darr model and then there's the linen shirt and stubble donning Chak De, Dear Zindagi and to some extent the Swades prototype
In his recent interview with Rajeev Masand in Melbourne, he mentioned that he isn't looking to reinvent his image, "I am going to make the same mistakes I have made… If I got perspective… it will get so boring. It will be like a trope, nonsense." As we make illusory decisions for the star, we may have to contend with the fact that there may not be an SRK 5.0. But there's something to be said about his interest in the action genre. In 2017 he spoke about how he is not being offered a 'Bond kind of film' and in 2019 he makes an unabashed request to screenwriters for an action script. This finally culminated into Pathaan, Shah Rukh's next movie with Deepika Padukone and John Abraham, which is all set to release on January 25, 2023.
I'd be wary of vaulting them in the same cannon but Tom Cruise's trajectory from young heartthrob to the most bankable action star bears some resemblance to SRK's despite the differences in their public personas. In 2006, Cruise was written off by a studio that he called home for over a decade and his star power took a hit with bad press about his scientology involvement. He took a break from action films and it was Tropic Thunder that brought him back in the game. He played a cameo in the 2008 comedy that starred Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr but the audience lapped up the idea of Cruise as foul-mouthed and repulsive Grossman, a Hollywood mogul replete with prosthetics. Poking fun at himself he even danced in a fat suit. There were rumours about a Grossman spinoff. Sometimes scrambling the audience's expectations is the best way home. Following this unexpected turn, the Burj Khalifa-powered Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a box office win. It would be refreshing to see SRK do something out of character and channel his signature off-screen irreverence to his reel life.
I am not particularly an action enthusiast but that's precisely why Cruise's brand of action works for me. It's like poetry in motion with its exceptional physical performances, the meticulous choreography of set pieces and stunts in real locations with few special effects. SRK may have dipped his toes in action with Ra. One and Don but if he attempts Cruise's derring-do method of old-school action, as a fan of both, I'd say, take my money!
Brad Pitt, too, successfully transitioned into a 'serious actor' from his dreamboat status. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio and Pitt contemplating their obsolescence had me thinking of how SRK would be apt for a Bollywood version. The HBO series, Barry about a hitman-turned-actor also presents possibilities to sate SRK's yearning for action. The Bill Hader starrer dark comedy turns on its head the tropes of a crime thriller.
SRK may have dipped his toes in action with Ra. One and Don but if he attempts Cruise's derring-do method of old-school action, as a fan of both, I'd say, take my money!
He seems to have hit the pause button as an actor at the right time. 2018 was not a good year for the Khans. While Salman Khan returns to his redundant money-spinning blueprint with Dabangg 3 and Kick 2, Aamir Khan takes up the so-called safe remake route with Lal Singh Chaddha. SRK on the other hand is not obsessed with neatly curating his legacy based on a formula. He is still bracingly like a dabbler as he wings it and works with new directors and approaches projects with a childlike curiosity. In his interview to Anushree Majumdar of The Indian Express, SRK once said, "I'm the most effeminate hero, I'm nearly androgynous and I'm proud of it." This writer would love to see SRK work with more women directors. While he charts a new course, I wish him the courage to colour outside the lines and change the mould of the leading man.