Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. It's only Shahrukh Khan who, in the true sense of the word, has come close enough to be included in this hallowed pack of stars. There's hardly any doubt about the membership credentials of Aamir and Salman Khans but theirs wasn't ever as meteoric a rise like Shahrukh Khan. And unlike the two Shahrukh was the outsider who broke through but in spite of it all, the burden of being the outsider weighs Shahrukh down.
Try to look as hard and far possible but you'd never find a world packed tighter than the one that operates Hindi cinema. This is a place where everything can be justified in the name of familial familiarity. Not a single moment would be wasted to defend someone who publically might be a happily married man but behind closed doors is a wife beater or someone who doesn't think twice before forcing a filmmaker to cast his son's sweetheart in a romantic role opposite him, who by the way happens to be the estranged wife of his one time close friend as long as they are part of the tribe. They will not stop at anything to preserve their own and they will go to any lengths to stop the outsiders from getting too close. Somewhere Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, and Amitabh Bachchan, the so called outsiders who like Shahrukh Khan were the biggest stars of their times, transformed into the insiders but Shahrukh still finds himself to be the outsider he started out as. Unlike those before him Shahrukh feted the outsider tag and used it whenever possible to show that he was different. He made it his calling card and on every possible occasion suggested that the lack of baggage and tradition that accompanied an insider made him better than everyone else. He sparked off a million dreams and his stories of walking along Marine Drive promising to be the king of the city one day became folklore. King he became, and yet the kingdom was never his to call.
Rumors of the old guard joining arms to keep immigrants like Bachchan and even Dharmendra from 'entering' Malabar Hill don't just make for interesting party tales. So, at what point of their journey did Bachchan, Khanna and Dharmendra become insiders? Raj Kapoor barely looked beyond his own family when it came to films- Rishi Kapoor argued his father into sticking with Uncle Shashi Kapoor for Satyam, Shivam Sundaram (1978) over Rajesh Khanna; Manmohan Desai couldn't imagine anyone but Bachchan in his films but Shahrukh hasn't enjoyed this. Even Chopras whom he considers 'family' are happily bending backwards to woo Aamir and Salman with dream deals while Shahrukh is suddenly dispensable. Till his films were bigger than everyone else's, till he his successes were greater than his peers everything that Shahrukh did was tolerated, even acceptable. More importantly it's not like he was unaware about the temporary nature of 'all access card' but as long he had the freedom along with the wherewithal to do what his heart desired he lived with the small pay off.
Why is Shahrukh Khan still an outsider isn't the real question as much as why was he never considered one of the pack. He lived by the rules that he had made and one by one his 'fights' with the insiders like the Bachchans, and Salman Khan has alienated him. It's not like everything's over for one of the biggest success stories of Hindi cinema but the signs are ominous. The loneliness of being SRK is finally catching up and the cracks are beginning to show. His recent brawls with Shirish Kunder and the Maharashtra Cricket Association might have been the actions of someone pushed into a corner but it was suggested that Shahrukh was inebriated on both occasions. These incidents aren't as unique as they would have been in someone else's case. With or without a cause SRK has always been the rebel and old habits diehard but the loss of his trademark dignity in defiance is what makes these incidents pedestrian. Whoever said it was lonely at the top didn't know SRK; ironically that was the only time he wasn't alone.
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
From HT Brunch, March 18
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