How many actors can comprehensively reinvent themselves at the age of 57?
How many actors can single-handedly bring back single movie screens and have all of Bollywood thank him for saving the industry?
And, how can an actor send an unmistakable message with dimples and an air of nonchalance wearing his status as the emperor of Bollywood lightly?
Yes, of course, all of you know I am talking about Shah Rukh Khan whose latest film “Jawan” has set the Indian box office on fire with the highest ever collection of the first-day figure of ₹75 crore across India. “Jawan” released on Sep. 7 and has by this weekend broken the day record by netting ₹85 crore on Sunday.
Incidentally, the new bar for Shahrukh Khan is only Khan himself as “Jawan” broke the box office records of his earlier “Pathan,” which saw Khan return after a five-year hiatus.
Often in India, we see that our idols, especially actors, have feet of clay. They all seem to bend before the power that be. The actors are vulnerable — huge public figures who have no state power to protect them.
Shah Rukh Khan is different. As confirmed by director Sanjay Gupta on X, formerly known as Twitter, who posted, “back in the 90s when the underworld bullying of the film stars was at its peak, Khan was the only star who never gave in. ‘Goli maar doh par tumahrey liye kaam nahi karoonga, mei Pathan hoon’ (Shoot me, but I will never work with you. I am a Pathan).”
Shah Rukh Khan has the same attitude towards politicians trying to throw their weight around. I don’t need to labour the point as most readers are aware that Khan has squarely addressed political corruption and the problems that plague India because of it.
Even when his son Aryan was put in jail for a month during the pandemic in a fake drugs case, an agonised Khan didn’t bend.
Instead of seeking help from leaders oozing self-importance, Khan and his crack legal team followed the law. Khan is widely disliked by the followers of a particular ideology simply because of this — his total refusal to genuflect before power.
King of romance
From the fake drugs case foisted on Aryan Khan to calls for his films to be boycotted and a personal midlife crisis, Khan has faced them all. A period when all his films were box office flops, and he was in the news for comments on intolerance. A period when he was called a “terrorist” by an important leader of a political party.
As a senior director told me, “the biggest stars can’t make peace with ageing. The same camera that loved their face is now cruelty personified. They seek filters, Botox, acting with younger and younger co-stars, and special effects. Nothing works.”
Some magic has worked for Khan as he has reinvented himself as the emperor of the box office, which is the only metric that matters in Bollywood.
Originally part of the Khan trinity that ruled the box office for decades, Khan alongside Aamir and Salman Khan ruled as the king of romance. But, as the other two struggle with the reality of ageing and flops, Khan has reinvented himself as an action hero with a conscience.
A second act that is barely allowed in a youth-obsessed Bollywood and which we have only seen before in the case of superstar Amitabh Bachchan who returned as a game show host.
SRK's second act?
Khan is very different from Bachchan who has always played footsie with political power. After being part of the Congress party as an elected MP from Allahabad, Bachchan claimed he had quit politics because he didn’t want to divide his fans.
However, that didn’t stop him in tandem with the late Amar Singh from fronting for a particular political dispensation. Bachchan subliminally has always supported the dispensation in power despite his angry young man image of an earlier era. Khan in his new angry avatar is convincing because he hasn’t compromised with any political party in power.
Khan’s wit and erudition make him singular in a navel-gazing Bollywood. His one-liners are savage, and so is his commitment to a secular India where he can celebrate both Eid and Diwali with his wife Gauri and his three children.
Daughter Suhana Khan will make her acting debut later this year. So what will Khan give us as his second act? A stint in politics? We saw the script in “Jawan.” Will we soon see Khan in a political role? Never say never.