Happy birthday Shah Rukh Khan: When he told gangster Abu Salem ‘I don’t tell you who to shoot so don’t tell me which film to do’
Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan conjures images of a man full of passion, energy and boundless enthusiasm. He also epitomises the notion of romance for Indian audience. Far from being conventionally handsome, Shah Rukh has, over the years, emerged as the face of romance in the Hindi films. For more than 25 years, the man has stayed in the hearts and minds of millions of Indians. It is a reflection of the strength of his personality and an enduring bond between a performer and his admirers. On his 55th birthday, here’s a look at what makes this man tick and why his biggest romance, that with his fans, shows no signs of ebbing.
When Shah Rukh burst on the Indian television set with the ‘90s show, Fauji, people took notice of lanky lad playing a young cadet - athletic, energetic and will oodles of boyish charm. In no time, the show was a mega hit. A star had been noticed.
What followed, thereafter, were a series of smaller successes on Indian TV. We would see Shah Rukh in serials such as Lekh Tandon’s Dil Dariya (this was suppose to be his debut), Aziz Mirza’ Circus, Mani Kaul’s mini series (Idiot) and a small but significant role in Wagle Ki Duniya. In all these performances, his forceful personality - in parts, boyish (those dimples) and in parts, young adult - Shah Rukh was here to stay. Significantly, this was the stage that would be the building blocks of his mega success.
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With films like Deewana, Dil Aashna Hai, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and Yes Boss, he would become the darling of the masses. He aced roles of a passionate lover, a bumbling fool who wore his heart on his sleeves or displaying the Shah Rukh brand of humour and wit. Then came successes like Darr and Baagizar, and suddenly the audience was in for a surprise. The Hindi film’s anti-hero had made an official entry. Suddenly, ‘bad’ was not so ‘bad’ and good could be bit of a yawn.
Slowly, Shah Rukh had emerged to be a great entertainer. Damn correctness, this boy from Delhi’s middle class Rajendra Nagar area had the audacity to dream. He appealed to the young India - he loved, he failed, he got up and tried again. Sometimes, he won; at other times, he lost and got vengeful. But we forgave as all of us an ugly side to us.
Shah Rukh’s image was going to alter dramatically in the years to come. With Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Dil Toh Paagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Shah Rukh was diametrically different from older romantic heroes like Rajesh Khanna and Dev Anand. With stories centred around love, friendship, family and humour, Shah Rukh would metamorphose into a romantic hero like none other. Shah Rukh brought into his characters virtues of sacrifice, love, longing, loyalty and honesty.
However, a downside of the films was that he was being typecasted. As if tired of the sugar-coated romances, the actor did what any good actor would - explore other facets of his personality. That quest led him to opt for realistic roles in films like Swades, Chak De India and My Name Is Khan. It was also a gentle snub to all those who had questioned his acting credentials.
Fans of the star were not done yet - few heroes in Hindi films can pull off a romantic image with that of a comic one. Yet Shah Rukh was an ace at that too. Nearly all his romantic films have had a comic strain in them and Shah Rukh deserves credit for bringing wit into his performances and not stick to the slapstick. Aside from his acting chops, Shah Rukh had displayed an amazing skill at hosting award shows. A random YouTube search will throw up a host of links showcasing this aspect of his personality.
By the 2000s, Shah Rukh was up for another challenge - he turned a producer. His early productions - Asoka and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani - weren’t successful, but slowly and steadily, Shah Rukh and his wife Gauri managed to erect one of the most profitable production houses in India. Films produced by him include Chennai Express, Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om, Happy New Year, Dear Zindagi, Raees and Badla.
For the uninitiated, Shah Rukh was an active sportsman in his school and college days and, at one time, wanted to pursue sports as a career option. A shoulder injury, suffered early in life, meant he could not pursue his dream. But when has that stopped a dreamer? Cricket in the subcontinent has always been a craze. But when in 2008, a professional league in the Twenty20 format was announced, much on the lines of European football leagues, Shah Rukh was ready to jump in. He picked a major stake in the club, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and has mentored it for the last 12 years and making it among the top 5 fancied teams in the Indian Premier League. Much has been spoken about his professional life.
Frankly, his personal life as a star hasn’t been any less challenging. The pressure of the underworld on the Hindi film industry has always been very strong and real. Early in his career, Shah Rukh had to deal with threatening calls from gangsters Abu Salem and Chota Shakeel, among others. In Anupama Chopra’s book The King of Bollywood, she details how Shah Rukh had once reportedly told Salem, who wanted the actor to work in a film by a producer, close to the gangster, “I don’t tell you who to shoot so don’t tell me which film to do.”
SRK started receiving the calls when he was shooting for Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai. The first call that the actor received from Salem, he asked, “Who’s this?” The question prompted a spate of choice Hindi curses. Shah Rukh chose to keep it polite while conversing in English, situating himself and his caller in separate worlds. The gangster wanted him to work in a film being made by a friend, which the actor refused to do but while explaining himself. He was given security by the Mumbai Police. In the book, the actor described this time in his life as ‘de[pressing and scary’.
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