It was a bus full of irrepressible teenagers, exhausted by the demands of high school, overfed on much-shared Mills & Boons, tired of the tedium of a small town — one of those “chhote, chhote sheher”, with their “khaali, bore dopeher” that Gulzar would describe years later. That morning though, simple eloquence such as this would have been lost on us. Rushing to our school bus stops, tumbling onto the bus, crowding at the back, chattering incessantly, squealing at intervals, unmindful of a formidable teacher occupying the front row, we were still swooning from a very, very unsubtle bit of cheesy charm we had witnessed the previous evening.
On our TV sets with their patchy reception, three episodes into his television appearance as an Army Commando-in-making, in the very earnestly made Fauji, Shah Rukh Khan had just swept a generation of girls off their feet. All he had done was do a countdown hoping that the woman he was wooing would saunter in before he hit 10. She stepped in when he was at “paune das (9.45)”. Never before, and never since, has 1 to 10 been packed with so much promise or such longing.
As we grew up, SRK grew with us. In that period of the heady early 1990s, when on our TVs, in our cars, in our houses, and in our pockets, we thought we would live like the rest of the “developed” world did, SRK spoke to us in ways that no one had before. He was not the angry young man like Bachchan, or a pointedly earnest one like Aamir, nor the lover boy who grew muscles and temper like Salman, or the whatever-works star Akshay Kumar. He was the flawed, reachable hero, who spent film after film trying to accomplish largely the same things — mostly women. He often didn’t get them, he made small compromises to get what he wanted, he didn’t seem particularly bothered about it, he constantly laughed at himself, and his women were mostly their own person.
He was what most of us were in our own lives, without the charm, the dimples, the hair that kissed the forehead — strugglers, trying to find our own paths, navigating love, discovering the map change every day as technology kept increasing its footprint, and learning to live with compromises.
SRK endeared us even more when he married his college sweetheart, moved from Delhi to Mumbai, had two kids, and now was a family, like we were. The fact that he still soared, and soared — the Badshaah of the country, then its snooty extension of NRIs — thrilled our hearts, held a promise. He did many, many silly films, but we knew he knew that. And he did some great films, wading into the troubled history of the Northeast (if only for love) in that under-appreciated Dil Se…, turned up in a greying stubble in Chak De!, tried to improve the world in Swades, wore his faith on his sleeve in Raees, and let his hair down in that silly little delight called Chennai Express. He still laughed at himself and could make others do so, he remained incredulous about his success, he could express himself as sharply as ever, and he could in his 40s do a cartwheel on the cricket ground, where he was once a sportsperson with promise and which he now owned as part of that ultimate show, IPL.
In recent years though, we had been left in despair. As we aged, as the world that we thought had changed and that we would change more, slid speedily back, SRK seemed caught in a time warp. How long could he keep playing that same old, same young guy. There were new stories to be told, new ones being told, and SRK did not feature in them. Even Bachchan seemed to have left SRK — the man with his finger on the zeitgeist — behind.
It’s at this juncture that SRK has crossed paths with ours again with the arrest of his son Aryan on drug charges. The star who has always spoken of his children as his world is just a parent right now. And, as parents ourselves, trying to steer a new generation in a world that is again changing, we know as well as SRK that there are no easy answers, no fingers to point, no stones to be cast. We are all as fallible as the next person in a system rigged to trip you, to hit you at your lowest, to catch you at your littlest. Any one of ours can be the next Aryan, without the searing spotlight.
And, if it is any consolation, SRK, you are that again — one of ours.
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the ‘She Said’ column