If we scour our memories of Bollywood, we can always find Shah Rukh Khan being incredibly charming and charismatic. Even while doing the most ordinary things, he manages to turn it into something that only he can perform that way – something that can’t be replicated by anyone else. Being part of an industry that has always used a person’s magnetism for its benefit – and leveraged this quality to get the maximum possible returns, he has pursued image-driven creative projects for most of his career. His mainstream success due to this, gave him a reputation as a commercial star – negating his viability to work on a concept-driven or even a niche-serving indie film. Perhaps he was not approached for such projects by creators thinking that his larger-than-life personality wouldn’t fit in the mould of what such small films could offer.
But none of the industry indicators can describe the wide acting range that this beloved actor has. While a majority of his films revolve around his persona, he also has a share of meatier roles that go beyond an image-serving hunger of the money-minters. In Luck by Chance, we come across him playing himself – where, within a few dialogues, he explores the star-side of him in a raw manner. In films like Swades and Chak De! India, he delivers highly nuanced performances while playing characters that do not stand out in the crowd like his usual ones. And in the case of Dear Zindagi, he becomes a companion, a supporting character – and acts impeccably well in this role of mental health professional with his understated act. A common element among these roles is how they deviated from the norms that surrounded the casting decisions taken for him.
Unlike the other highlights from the actor’s career, these scripts were not specifically designed to suit his image. This ‘image’ has many facets. He has largely been the part of a cycle that demands a sweet, positive ending. So his characters had often been the winners from the story – those who would be guaranteed to be the center of attention – and those who would often triumph in the matters of love. For someone who has often been considered as a King of Romance all over the world, his films have largely shown him as that guy who gets the girl that he seeks. Even in the sadder films from his oeuvre like Kal Ho Naa Ho, My Name is Khan or Veer Zara, his love story had been at the crux of the narrative – and his success at the romance, their driving force.
It is important to note how his roles become an integral part of contemporary pop culture and how these reel-life characters represent, oftentimes become, and show the hopes and dreams of several across the country. So when, instead of winning over a girl, the protagonist from Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa failed at most of his battles, he performed for a part of the audience that was not represented on the big screen. For those who have lived on a staple of Bollywood romances where the resolution has depended on the ‘milan’ aspect of heteronormative culture, the belief is strong in the success of such stories. Many grow up believing the only way to be is to follow the obsession of love due to the lack of an alternate outlook.
What this 1994 film did was show a new possibility of handling the concept of love and also the ones we love. The protagonist here is a failure, with respect to his academics and romance. The narrative that primarily conveys his journey of self-discovery also seems like a continuing dream-sequence in Sunil’s mind. where he looks at every aspect of his life through the lens of self-pity – reflecting teenage angst – and the pathos of a generation of thinking the entire world is conspiring against them. The film utilises these elements in a manner that feels like an ode to the melodrama-driven Bollywood films and at the same time an argument against it with its departure in the handling of the subject.
With the same approach, the film represented us – the viewers, in the way how we often imagine ourselves playing SRK’s larger-than-life characters – trying the grand gestures to woo someone and miserably failing at it. Unlike the tradition of an obsession leading to obtainment, the film makes it a case with its albela protagonist by making him learn – grow from his adolescent mistakes – and understand the value of love instead of focusing on all the qayanaat to bring what he loves to him. Just like the 500 Days Of Summer, Autumn arrives for our Goan Sunil too. It is only when he is able to let go, that he grows up. And due to this core message, this coming-of-age romance stays firm as my favourite SRK film till date.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.