I met Shah Rukh Khan for the first time on the sets of Darr (1993). The song, Jadoo Teri Nazar, that had started in Switzerland, was being wrapped up at a studio in Mumbai. “Come over,” he said on the phone, then asked a colleague, “What’s Roshmila like?” He was told I had dimles too and that forged an instant connect.
He was sitting under a tree, his shirt a splash of colour, and we were soon talking nineteen to the dozen, as we waited for Juhi Chawla to finish her makeup. We were still chatting when she appeared, rolling her eyes and wondering if they’d get any work done. “Yashji (Chopra), doesn’t allow any visitors or Shah Rukh will keep talking till midnight,” she joked, to which he retorted, “I’ve been ready for hours, tell me when you are.”
Following on the heels of Baazigar (1993), Darr branded Shah Rukh Bollywood’s newest ‘bad’ man. But, for him, the two characters were poles apart.
No reward for a killer
“Ajay/Vicky of Baazigar is a psychopath who could be sitting next to you on the bus, planning to blow it up and you wouldn’t have a clue. He frightened me, but I pitied Darr’s Rahul. He is a loser who takes his loss personally and I could sympathise with him, even empathise with him,” he underlined. Not everyone agreed. His Raakhee ‘maa’ was livid when he was nominated for an award, pointing out that he shouldn’t be rewarded for killing Annu Kapoor, deaf to his explanation that he had only used Vicky’s death in Darr to throw people off the track.
Four years later, Yashji gave him another Rahul whose dil (heart) was also pagal (mad). But love didn’t turn this Rahul insane, only made him angry and mean. It hurt him to know that his Maya had been promised to another and he hurts her in turn. “There was nothing of me in Rahul, but there was a bit of the intense and loving Yashji and a little of Adi (Aditya Chopra) in the way he stood with his legs wide apart,” Shah Rukh admitted.
Cutting across borders
Cut to 2004 and another love story; Veer-Zaara (2004) cut across man-made borders. For many it was an improbable dream, but for Shah Rukh and Yashji nothing was impossible in love. “No Indian hates a Pakistani or vice versa. We were one country a little over half a century ago. Love conquers all and Yashji’s film is about the goodness of love,” he reasoned.
Eight years later, the duo was back to infuse jaan (life) into Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Shah Rukh breaking a 32-year promise to his father never to visit Kashmir with anyone other than him. But then, Yashji was like his father too. And at the chautha (prayer meet), Shah Rukh, who will turn 47 on Friday, recalled their last day of shooting.
‘That was my last shot!’
Shah Rukh recalled Yashji calling him a badmash (rascal), telling him how he could sleep late while the rest of them continued to toil and the laughter turning into tears as unit members strolled away leaving them together.
“You’ll make more films but I won’t make another,” Yashji said to him. Shah Rukh reminded him that they still had a song to shoot in Switzerland and Yashji said firmly, “No, that was my last shot!”
Prophetic? Who knows.
Last Sunday, Yashji died peacefully, if somewhat abruptly, in his sleep, just like his phone calls snapping the connection. “I’ll miss his phone calls,” admitted Shah Rukh at the chautha, remembering the many times he’d been left listening to the dial tone because having said what he wanted to, Yashji had rung off.
I’m going to miss him too.
For four days I refused to believe he was gone. For an hour on Thursday I waited for him to step out of the frame, but he remained a silent photograph. But memories shared by Shah Rukh, Amitabh Bachchan, Karan Johar and Anupam Kher infused life into the still life. As Karan says, “death is not the end of a journey but the beginning of a memory path”. I will remember you always Yashji, kabhi alvida naa kehna! (never say goodbye).