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After much struggle, Samar Khan, whose claim to fame is that he is a filmmaker, journalist and a close pal of Shah Rukh Khan’s, finally managed to publish a book on SRK which was recently launched by the star himself. Titled ‘25 Years of a Life’, the book looks at King Khan through the eyes of the behind-the-scene geniuses who made him who he is – his directors. For the book Samar interviewed a number of SRK’s directors (the actor calls them “father-figures and mentors”) including Abbas-Mustan, Kundan Shah and the prized catch, the invisible Aditya Chopra. The only living director the author could not talk to was Shashilal Nair but one quick look at their collaboration ‘One 2 Ka 4’ and you realise it wouldn’t have been worth it anyway.
In his more than 25-year long career, the lad from Delhi was lucky enough to have been tutored by a long line of accomplished filmmakers. A director’s actor, SRK who often says that he still feels like a newcomer (indeed, his restless energy can put much younger stars to shame) made for a successful team with directors he got comfortable with. His earliest association was perhaps with Aziz Mirza. Their friendship dates back to their TV days. Unlike Aamir Khan who notoriously never works with a director again (exception: Raju Hirani) SRK displayed a tendency to befriend his directors easily and trusted them enough to forge a bond beyond work.
It is telling that Khan didn’t let ‘Chaahat’ and ‘Duplicate’, two flamboyant flops of his career, affect his friendship with director Mahesh Bhatt. With some filmmakers, he became closer than family. Think Yash and Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar. In fact, Adi and Karan were considered his best friends at one time and were so close-knit that it was a given that if any of them announces a picture, Khan would be in it. If the late Yash Chopra was directing, Khan apparently said ‘Yes’ without knowing what the script was all about. Collectively, the Chopras and Johar were instrumental in creating his Lover Boy image and made him a global brand. But their million dollar blockbusters also played a part in killing Shah Rukh Khan, the actor.
From the idealistic, Tramp-like non-heroism of the cinema of Aziz Mirza the actor segued into the Swiss Alps of the Chopra and Johar imagination. The soulful romanticism and simplicity of his earlier films gave way to the post-Liberalisation excesses and NRI gloss. From Raju to Raj, mainstream Hindi cinema finally got its most energetic and competitive superstar since Rajesh Khanna but at the same time, SRK’s move away from the middle-of-the-road cinema also meant a major blow and subsequent collapse of that mini-industry.
Of all the Khans, SRK attracted the finest of filmmakers, both from commercial and art cinema. His suave and articulate personality coupled with an easygoing charm made him any director’s top choice. In fact, he is art cinema’s gift to Bollywood if you take into account his early beginnings as an actor. He came to mainstream Bollywood via the alternative routes of Mani Kaul, Ketan Mehta and the Mirza brothers (Aziz and Saeed). Just imagine if Khan’s neighbour and contemporary, Salman Khan, had got a chance to work with only a fraction of these talents he would have been a completely different actor today.
To recall, SRK may be the only commercial star that environmentalist Pradip Krishen ever directed! Later, Kundan Shah tried to transmit his Chaplinesque idealism and the Tramp’s tragicomic persona on him, with ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa.’ Aziz and Kundan used him as if he was their very own Raj Kapoor. It is difficult to imagine today but directors heavily inspired by the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky found in SRK a perfect muse for their literary fantasies. Mani Kaul even cast him in a version of the Russian author’s ‘The Idiot’ in 1992. Kundan was another Dostoevsky fan. It would have been interesting to see if the ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ director had made a film with Khan styled after one of Dostoevsky’s doomed heroes. Unfortunately, Khan and he never worked together again and nobody knows why.
It is possible that the star may reveal some hitherto unknown details about his friendships and enmities in his much-awaited memoir, a project that has been in the works for years now. That would be the ultimate SRK tell-all. As far as Samar Khan’s ’25 Years of a Life’ goes, it is yet another addition to the SRK-related material that floats on the Net like dark matter in the universe. It’s also an alternate way to deconstruct Shah Rukh Khan as we see him today. The book attempts to examine Khan the ‘Actor’ and not Khan the ‘Star’. It’s unfortunate that Khan’s talent is overlooked because of his strong association with commercial cinema, his rabid materialism and superstardom. Many agree that he’s a great star. But he’s nobody’s idea of a great actor, which is a shame.
Some of that opinion may change once his new clutch of films are out, in which he has joined hands with smart and edgy filmmakers like Gauri Shinde (‘Dear Zindagi’), Rahul Dholakia (‘Raees’) and Imtiaz Ali (‘The Ring’). These directors, whose films have been commercial and critical successes look determined to take the starry sheen off SRK and hopefully give him a character that’s not Raj or Rahul. What a welcome change it would be to see Khan in films that are both meaningful and enjoyable at the same time, unravelling his real worth as an actor. As the reclusive Aditya Chopra puts it, perhaps presciently, in Samar’s book, “He is the best actor in the whole world and that we’ve seen only 10 percent of his talent. That 90 percent is still to come and blow us away.”
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai.)