New Year eve, 2000. A nervous looking Shah Rukh Khan is hugged and received by Amitabh Bachchan into a ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ episode. Shah Rukh tries hard to break the patriarchal Bachchan rhythm. In vain.
He tries a few jokes that get lost in icy silence. The audience claps when Bachchan claps. Bachchan laughs and the audience giggles. Shah Rukh finds it hard to untie the Gordian Knot. He bids his minutes. Big B proceeds to welcome SRK’s companion for the show, Karan Johar.
“Karan aur main go back a long time…” Bachchan says; the voice modulation is Shakespearian. “Karan ko main ne tab se dekha hai jab se woh itne chchote se the…” he lowers his lambe haath to the bottom buckle of the hot seat to convey the height… Shah Rukh pounces at the opportunity and fires a salvo: “Sir, aap ke height se sab itne hi dikhte hain”. The hall erupts. Bachchan laughs… And the famous Khan dimples emerge from hiding.
Feat One: He vetoes Bachchan’s authority with his cheekiness.
Feat Two: He gets over the height factor, by addressing it openly.
Feat Three: He makes Bachchan laugh naturally, for once!
Shah Rukh Khan has always survived by following the golden managerial commandment: “Loha garam hai…! Mar do hathoda!” There is not even a single moment in his career where the dude has failed in choosing the right words for the right occasion. He even seems to have the right words for the wrong occasion. Astonishing is the talent to make us feel that even his wrong words “were actually right”.
Here is a star, who is not reluctant to call himself a brand, and to be his own ambassador. If anger was the hallmark of the Bachchan persona, irreverence has been Shah Rukh Khan’s signature attitude. A typical Shah Rukh Khan fan loves his idol because, “SRK is irreverent, arrogant and narcissistic”. Irreverence was once held against Shatrughan Sinha. Arrogance and narcissism had led to Rajesh Khanna’s downfall. Yet, when these three supposedly negative traits unify in one man, it becomes gold. Why or how does Shah Rukh make this happen?
Unlike Amitabh Bachchan, his predecessor in superstardom, Shah Rukh Khan has carefully planned his career. Most of his popular manoeuvres were off screen rather than on screen. Amitabh’s career has always been a roller coaster ride; one that took him to the pinnacle of mortal fame, to the abyss of despair, and back. Shah Rukh’s heights pale in comparison, but his consistency with fame is phenomenal. His ability to project his ideas and impart a halo to each one of them is greater still.
Even when Amitabh consciously decides to break ice with his viewer, there is a certain aloofness that hangs around the man, like clouds. Shah Rukh, on the contrary, has surprises flitting around him like butterflies. Amitabh’s enigma was the result of his measured behaviour. Shah Rukh’s charisma results from aggressive auto-suggestion. A right parallel, here, would be the boxing great, Mohammed Ali.
Before almost every bout, Ali would thump his chest and scream aloud: “I am the best! I am the champion!” And he kept the world guessing as to what prompted him to say it. Was it fear? Was it insecurity? Was it confidence? Was it arrogance?
While the world pondered over his brag, Ali drugged his opponents with some terrific sucker punches. His admirers never got to know the real man. They never quite understood his ploy. But they didn’t care. They knew only one thing—they could never take their eyes and ears off him. The stardom, the legend and the myth of Mohammed Ali was born in one litter.
Shah Rukh Khan is not an easy target for the psychoanalyst. He is one of the cleverest public figures of our time. In a way, he reflects the aspirations of post-liberalisation India better than any other icon. He promotes selfishness as a virtue. Ambition, to him, is a talent in itself. Irreverence is projected as a need. Humour, to him, is the right to jab his opponents after the bell. His gab is Generation X’s equivalent to Sermon on the Mount. He is the role model of the lower middle class youngster, who has two bikes and yearns for a car. Last but not the least, Shah Rukh Khan loves to joke on himself, but then, that is it! No one else is allowed the privilege.
Nothing in this world is holy for Shah Rukh Khan.
He will chase even Amitabh Bachchan. He will redo even KBC. He will remake even Don. He would smoke in banned areas. He will censure the health minister for criticising him. He will take bhare-bazaar digs at the Amar Singhs of the world. He will buy cricket teams. He will sell tickets to promote his team. He will make the media eat from his hands, and give them the opposite impression. He will host award nights and venture into “forbidden humour”. He loves to instill fear on the audience. They MUST laugh or else he would assassinate them, with his verbal volleys.
Shah Rukh Khan is the trickiest phenom to have ever happened to Indian cinema.