The situation of the 57-year-old superstar Shah Rukh Khan seems out of place for a major comeback, according to many in the Indian film industry. There is still the question of whether or not he will release his latest album with Pathaan, which comes after a long hiatus of four years. In addition to the wild controversies surrounding Pathaan’s songs and trailer, there has been a huge amount of anticipation and no stone has been left unturned in international marketing. A very close recreation of Shah Rukh’s lines from the teaser, “Mausam bigadne wala hai” (The weather is about to get worse).
The film appears to be causing a stir among ministers, saints, and even the Indian Censor Board, as evidenced by his eight-pack abs and Deepika Padukone’s saffron bikini. But everything points to a straightforward fact: “King Khan” continues to garner more attention than anyone else in Bollywood. Pathaan is a primetime headline in every way. Experience has taught me that controversy can help a movie’s trailer and songs get millions of views, but it can also go either way at the box office. A controversy can help a movie become successful, like Padmaavat by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, or it can completely ruin a movie, like Laal Singh Chaddha by Aamir Khan.
Advertisement A great deal is riding on Pathaan, with fans praising SRK’s “reinvention” as an action hero while critics find him to be “trying too hard.” The idea brings me back to a night a few years ago, when I conducted an interview with the superstar prior to the release of his film Raees. I inquired whether he intended to “reinvent” himself after nearly two decades of playing the “King of Romance.” He replied with a smile that he does not subscribe to concepts like “image change” or “reinvention.” “If you go back (to my career), I have always tried big ideas,” he stated. Some of them were incredibly innovative for their time. Some worked, while others didn’t. The ones that were successful are always remembered. However, you move on to larger narratives.
In this self-examination, was Shah Rukh being honest with himself?
Shah Rukh became a household name with Baazigar (1993), a role that many people before him had turned down due to the antagonist’s murderous nature. In Darr, he furthered the negative image by portraying himself as an obsessive lover. Then, in 1995’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, he flipped these outlandish roles on their heads to play the neat-looking guy next door. With a string of blockbusters to his name, he established himself as the nation’s ultimate romantic intergenerational fantasy. Asoka (2001), a visually stunning period drama two decades before audiences raved about Baahubali, the memorable performance as an NRI pining for his homeland in Swades (2004), and Ra, a superhero with home-grown VFX meeting international standards, were all mainstream films that he attempted even at his peak. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000) was about media rivalry; Paheli (2005) was about feminist choices; and Ra, a superhero with home-grown VFX meeting international One, in My Name is Khan (2010) and Chak De India (2007), he tackled Islamophobia. However, only a small number of these were truly successful on the scale that had come to be expected of the superstar through romantic films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), and Om Shanti Om (2007). These films were all released in 1998 and 1997, respectively.
Advertisement Shah Rukh’s last major hit, Chennai Express (2013), starred him in his usual role as Rahul. Even his usual romantic roles appear to have been rejected by audiences since then. Dilwale by Rohit Shetty (2015) failed. After that, in the film Fan (2016), which was about an aging superstar having a confrontation with an obsessive fan, Shah Rukh took on uncharted territory. However, his actual fans abandoned SRK’s courageous performance in Fan (2016). Raees (2017) was forgettable, but Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017) was the real surprise. Despite the superstar’s signature romantic role and fantastic soundtrack, it failed badly. The slide continued unabated. His next film was the ambitious Zero (2018), in which SRK played a dwarf who was larger than life. It was a huge failure. Perhaps Shah Rukh was so shaken by the scale of this “big idea’s” failure that he took a four-year long sabbatical.
It’s possible that the rejection as a whole is just history repeating itself. If we look back, stars from the past like Dilip Kumar (Sagina, Dastaan, Bairaag phase) and Amitabh Bachchan (Laal Baadshah, Mrityudata phase) experienced similar tumultuous periods in their careers when audiences rejected them as “trying to be young” heroes because their age had caught up with them. Nothing was working for them, and even some good performances were completely discarded during these times. In the end, they had to “reinvent” themselves in order to play the middle-aged protagonists in their next innings.
However, Shah Rukh’s most recent decisions indicate a completely different trajectory. Pathaan and Jawan, two of his upcoming films for this year, are straight-up action thrillers, while Rajkumar Hirani’s Dunki is about illegal immigration. His protagonists are neither “middle-aged” nor “middle-aged.”
Pathaan, on the other hand, has a glossy appearance for a comeback vehicle. Siddharth Anand, the biggest star, the biggest label (YRF), and the director whose most recent film, War, was a huge box office hit in 2019. Shah Rukh Khan has undergone a physical transformation over the course of four years to develop eight-pack abs and appears absolutely blazing.
Shah Rukh has been referred to as “Indian Tom Cruise” numerous times. He really seems to be going Tom Cruise’s way with Pathaan and the upcoming Jawan. The Hollywood superstar’s two most recent action films, Mission: Fallout: New Vegas (2018) and Top Gun: Maverick (2022) became one of Cruise’s most successful films. It’s possible that Pathaan is hoping to do the same for Shah Rukh Khan. Even though it may appear difficult now, it is not impossible.