The familiar was achingly lonely. Bollywood was wilting, boycott trends were emboldened and truth had become stranger than fiction. Then, one man rose, higher — he has always been standing tall — and made it his beautiful truth.
Within days movie halls were whistling, ‘full house’ boards had been dusted and the audience had found its way back home. The success of the Bollywood film Pathaan says much more than anything that has been uttered in the recent past, the infectious energy around it tinged with nostalgia for what we once had and have nearly lost.
Shah Rukh Khan’s success is not his alone, there is something in it for us. By choosing to stay with him a society on edge has pushed back informing those who preach hatred that they do not speak for all. Pathaan and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra have one thing in common, they united people under an umbrella of love.
Almost a lifetime ago, the Khans rolled on to our screens in quick succession as though the most iconic of Bollywood villains Gabbar Singh was on their trail. But it was SRK who took us along on his ride by promising even an outsider a dream.
He taught us how to love
He showed us romance, Switzerland and was the Punjabi boy next door who had more money than ambition. He also gave a twist to the proverbial dream man by sitting on the ground feeding pigeons instead of slaying love on a horse.
But beyond the fluff, SRK’s career has consistently been a learning graph, for others. He has taught us that dignity never fails, that no matter what is thrown at you — and it doesn’t get lower than seeing your child in jail on trumped up charges — silence speaks a thousand words.
There was a phase when no music played in the background, no one moved in slow motion. The actor’s words after Pathaan’s release are telling, “I have forgotten the last four years in these last four days.”
Shah Rukh didn’t promote Pathaan, there was much ugly noise leading up to the movie’s release, posters of the film were vandalised by supporters of the right- wing Bajrang Dal and a state minister Narottam Mishra thought it was his starring role to encourage a frenzy of boycott trends. There is not a squeak now.
Loud message to one and all
Nothing speaks like success and, SRK has spoken. Pathaan’s sweep is a thumbs down to those who appropriated themselves as the gatekeepers of our culture insisting that orange was the new taboo. It is also a loud message to filmmakers and actors whose only joy is in polarising by circumventing real events.
In one of the more memorable scenes from the movie, the actor is shown popping pills and being self-deprecating about his age. The nuances are not lost, at 57 he still wears the crown.
For 28 long years his other big hit Dilwale Dulhaniya Leh Jayenge has been playing in a Mumbai cinema hall. After Pathaan that love has got a second wind but it was the changing course of the wind itself that signalled an almost farcical transformation.
Politicians to prime time news anchors who had rejoiced in his son Aryan’s incarceration fell like a house of cards, overnight finding a conscience and a voice. It is an unfortunate reflection of our discourse though that movies are also being promoted and watched keeping in mind ideological leanings.
In a country’s collective rediscovery of SRK is there a self- realisation that amends need to be made to a man hunted by politics that finds his faith convenient? In some roundabout way is Pathaan our coming of age film?
A love letter to India
The actor has always owned himself by remaining unapologetic about his identity while wearing the love for his country on his sleeve, on and off the screen. If that is no longer enough he is done with convincing, Khan outright refused suggestions to change the name of the movie.
His reference to ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ and inclusion through the cast of Deepika Padukone, John Abraham and himself shortly after Pathaan’s release was not a script.
For those watching Pathaan for movie’s sake there is plenty of masala for the masses although it’s over the top special effects make Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible seem almost realistic. Nor is the theme of nationalism new but for once the good guy is not infallible, much like scenes from the actor’s real life.
Bollywood has been dazzled by stars, from Dilip Kumar to Amitabh Bachchan the galaxy has kept its shine but it is Shah Rukh Khan who has transcended for he is now an emotion that triumphs bullies and hate.
This is my kingdom come, he says and there is a little bit of Simran in all of us as we run to catch that train. For those who feed on targeting him, they need only wonder, why him.
Pathaan called us back to the movies with pure love. Years ago Lara’s theme from Dr Zhivago captured our imagination, ‘Somewhere my love there will be songs to sing.’ And there are. The intermission is over, showing now is a man named Khan.