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Is King Khan's reign nearing its end?

india Updated: Sep 06, 2006 11:14 IST
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Keep an eye on the imminent release of superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s second film of the year, Farhan Akhtar’s Don. More than anything else, it will probably deliver the answer to a question that has been dogging the more discerning among Mumbai movie industry observers for a while now: is King Khan’s reign nearing its end?

Shah Rukh fans might feel that this question is a tad premature because the star is still a saleable proposition. Indeed, That has always been Shahrukh’s strength. More a performer than an actor, he draws crowds to the movie theatres with his innate ability to provide unalloyed entertainment within a limited, predictable bandwidth.  

Therein lies his greatest drawback. Shah Rukh has never showed evidence of an inclination to break free from his established screen persona and get into the skin of a character. He has never been required to go beyond set patterns because his fans seem to be happy enough with the way he is. So whether he is a lover boy, an army man or a royal figure from the pages of history, Shah Rukh will always play Shah Rukh.

But it’s getting terribly tiresome. If his laboured performance in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is any indication, fatigue seems to be catching up with him. Well, it makes perfect sense for a superstar to keep repeating himself as long as the tried and tested set of mannerisms appeals to the masses, but it is time for reinvention when it stops working.

Shah Rukh Khan as Don in Farhan Akhtar's version of the classic film

Will

Don

, a reworking of a monster hit of the 1970s, provide that much-needed injection of novelty into Shah Rukh’s career?

If it doesn’t and if Shah Rukh comes up short in the inevitable comparison with the original Amitabh Bachchan star turn, it could spell the beginning of the end of the Shah Rukh Khan era.

Surrounded by a new breed of male stars that have learnt how to downplay their established screen personas in order to flesh out clearly defined characters, Shah Rukh does not have much room for complacency. For the likes of Aamir Khan, Hrithik Roshan (now preparing to play Akbar in Ashutosh Gowariker’s next film), Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, substance has taken precedence over mere show in a series of recent films.

Shah Rukh has increasingly begun to look like a bit of an anachronism, a throwback to a past when it was enough for a star to play himself, no matter what the role.

Many superstars before Shah Rukh – Dev Anand, Rajendra Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna, to name the most prominent – have suffered much the same fate. Amitabh ruled Bollywood for close to two decades on the strength of his angry young man image, but by the late 1980s, that career-defining persona had outlived its utility. Therefore, when the biggest star Bollywood has ever seen sought to extend his run at the top with an ill-advised dependence on the image of the past, he came a cropper.

If the redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan is still a force to reckon with, it is because he has successfully made the transition from an all-conquering superstar peddling a saleable image to an actor of many parts taking on creative challenges.

Actors trapped in an image (notably Rajesh Khanna) are known to fade out completely once their fan support base erodes. Remember the last few films of Khanna’s career as a superstar? A slave to mannerisms, he let his persona overwhelm the actor in him. Audiences lost patience with his jaded style, and the one-time box office king lost ground quickly.

Shah Rukh Khan is pretty close to a situation where he seems to be acting merely from memory, not from any creative stimuli stemming from the assignment at hand. In KANK, his pronounced mannerisms kill any possibility of the character he plays, a failed footballer turned coach, acquiring a life of its own.

Shah Rukh the superstar is in desperate need of resuscitation. Don, therefore, will be one of the most important films of his career. It will tell us whether he is good enough for a new lease of life at the top.     

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