India: the parallel between two popular lenses
Just ask any average Indian with big dreams as to what fascinates him or her most about India? The reply you will get, one answered with pride and passion, would not be about the country’s culture or history. Sure, there are takers for that. But eight out of ten responses will point either toward cricket or if not that, movies.
Indian movies, also referred to as “Hindi films,” have held our popular imagination for over 50 years. And the craze for our cinema and its icons is not going to fade away any time soon.
Cricket and cinema, the two popular “enlarged-sized” lenses through which we view our nation and reflect our “Indian-ness,” have defined our socio-cultural identity. Don’t get me wrong. The idea about Indian-ness isn’t a flawed take on one’s intellect. It is a popular reflection of our passion, love, and choices that define us and our lives.
Cricket isn’t enough
There is a popular book on cricket that goes by the name of If Cricket is Religion, Then Sachin is God. The book talks about arguably the greatest cricketer one could say has ever played the game, Sachin Tendulkar. He’s our grand icon of our most loved sport, worshiped for his achievements in the game.
Enter Shah Rukh Khan
While Sachin has surely got what he deserves, the time may be right for someone to come out with another book on one of our most beloved movie stars of all time, Shah Rukh Khan, the 49-year-old known to his legions of fans as “King Khan.”
In a country that lives and breathes movies, Shah Rukh Khan’s popularity has lasted for several decades. His movies embrace love, laughter, and tears, and guide fans to cinema halls to explore the language of cinema.
Shah Rukh Khan’s sterling legacy
One of the most popular and recognizable faces of Indian cinema alongside his contemporaries, two of them also being Khan (Aamir and Salman), Shah Rukh was born in Delhi in 1966. Come November 2 he will turn 50. In his five decades, the King has pretty much stood for everything a commoner dreams to attain: money, success, and ultimately the realization of dreams.
Once a common Delhi boy born to a middle class Pathan Muslim family, Shah Rukh has come a long way since he first broke on the celluloid screen in the Bombay of the 80s.
A theater actor who nurtured his craft under popular actor Barry John, Shah Rukh is hailed as the most successful romantic lead star of Indian movies. His wax replica now even stands inside Madame Tussaud’s.
What makes Shah Rukh special?
Shah Rukh has carved a niche for himself in the romantic genre of Indian movies, which hold a special place amongst the movie-going public.
It isn’t uncommon to see a boy asking a girl out using a popular Hindi movie phrase. Even the use of mushy romantic lines in our letters and messages connote a deep attachment to our romantic movies. And it is in this charming vein of cinema that Shah Rukh is known to have established his cred.
While his early critics lauded him for his success, they questioned his ability to deliver hits in other genres. Never a man to back down from challenges, in his long career that has spanned the romantic nineties and the adventurous and experimental 2000s, Shah Rukh has enlarged his creative portfolio.
Using his wit and a wry sense of humor and those ever charming looks, he has aced his adversaries and swiftly moved ahead where his competitors have languished, giving fans some evergreen hits.
Five of his finest works to date:
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ( The One With the True Heart Will Win Her)
Easily the most popular movie of his career, the 1995 Yash Raj production saw Khan as the romantic lead playing Raj, a happy-go-lucky student in London pairing up against Simran, played by Kajol, a one-named star and one of our most favorite actresses.
Shot around the beautiful locales of Europe and India, the movie tracks Raj as he tries to woo the beautiful, but conservative Simran.
The film was so popular that it ran continuously for 20 years at one of Mumbai’s oldest theaters. Even today, both young and old can relate to DDLJ and watch it over and over again.
Asoka (based on the life of a popular Indian emperor)
In rebuke to those who thought Shah Rukh was only a romantic lead, audiences saw the King don the mighty suit of one of India’s greatest warrior emperors.
Asoka’s life, love, tragedies, and final realization that paves way to enlightenment was portrayed beautifully by the actor who used reticence and maturity to counter his nay-sayers.
Pardes (The West)
A cult film of its time, known for the appealing East and West divide, Shah Rukh owned the screen. A blockbuster hit of 1997, the film shows Khan as Arjun, an adopted son and charming confidante to a deeply cultural Indian family, who are in the midst of marrying their conservative Indian daughter to a rich American family.
Dil To Pagal Hai (The Mad, Passionate Heart)
Surely the biggest hit of the 1990s since his earlier DDLJ, Shah Rukh danced his way as Rahul to box office glory in what was one of the finest musical hits of our time. Wearing body hugging T-shirts, in a hitherto conservative society still opening to the liberal world of fashion, Shah Rukh romanced not one but two demi-goddesses of the silver screen.
With Madhuri Dixit (inarguably the most lovely leading lady of all time) and Karishma Kapoor (a popular actress of nineties and early 2000s) Khan’s Rahul led a dance troupe to some of its greatest musical triumphs whilst deciding matters of his heart.
Shah Rukh’s hippie nomadic existence as the passionate dancer did much to raise box office mojo.
Swades (We, the People)
Nine out of 10 will say it is his greatest performance to date. Sadly, the touching sensitive tale of a successful NASA scientist who returns to his Indian village failed at the box office. While not a smash success, the story and its message combined with some majestic music — including the lead track Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera (This Country is Yours) — resulted in screen magic.
Another article in our Indian cinema series:
Are there other Indian movies you love? Contributor Dev Tyagi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org