It's about loving your family: Shah Rukh Khan’s WhatsApp chats will make you call your father

ByNirmalya Dutta
May 20, 2023 12:26 PM IST

Whether one is Shah Rukh Khan or an everyman: “It’s all about loving your family.” Or living with anguish when you think you can't help them.

When I was a lonely adolescent in boarding school, I would often look forward to my father’s letters. They were a sign of normalcy, a gallimaufry of words that would immediately transport me from the hurly-burly of school – a live re-enactment of The Lord of the Flies – to home. And he would write to my adolescent self about everything from Einstein’s 1905 annus mirabilis papers and how they changed the way we perceive the universe to non-seeded Goran Ivanisevic’s thrilling victory over Patrick Rafter at Wimbledon.

Shah Rukh Khan in Kal Ho Naa Ho
Shah Rukh Khan in Kal Ho Naa Ho

Those letters served as a literary equivalent of Dr Who’s telephone booth. Not all of it made sense, but during the moments when I read that letter and the times that I would re-read them, I almost felt like I was transported to the safe cocoons of my home where I wouldn’t be assaulted by bad mess food, endless running across the field or the strong smell of sweat that always seems to linger in a dormitory. I remember him once writing: “Having children is simultaneously the most wonderful and awful thing in the world. It’s like watching little pieces of your heart running around.” I can’t remember now if he was quoting an author, or he thought of it himself (Google isn’t helping much) but the WhatsApp chats of Shah Rukh Khan and Sameer Wankhede suddenly reminded me of that tinge of paternal-filial bond that’s impossible to replace.

We’ve seen Shah Rukh Khan in a lot of avatars. We’ve seen him as a lover who steals the bride. We’ve seen him as a transphobic coach who wants to reform women’s hockey. We’ve seen him as a deranged psychopath and a loving therapist. A lovelorn alcoholic, a homebound NRI and a journalist before his time. And sadly, whatever we saw in Pathaan.

But we’ve never seen SRK as a beleaguered pater begging for his son’s well-being. The first line in the purported chat reads: “Sameer sahib may I speak with you for a minute please. Regards shah rukh khan. I know this is officially inappropriate and maybe outright wrong but once as a father if I can speak with you. please. Love srk.”

Shah Rukh’s pleas, promising to reform his son, begging Sameer Wankhede to not let him “down as a father” or requesting him to help “without losing his integrity as an officer of law” was more haunting than any of his recent big-screen performances.

This was Shah Rukh Khan, the biggest superstar on the planet, a denizen of Time 100’s Most Influential People and someone whose picture adorns the Burj Khalifa every other day. Here was the man who had launched a thousand beating hearts with a smile and a dimple, who taught a generation of men and women the nitty-gritty of romance, making a series of pleas which bordered on grovelling, as he begged for his son’s freedom. This was the man who made many outsiders in Bollywood believe that if they worked hard enough, they could triumph over nepotism. A man whose house in Bandra is practically a shrine for people who come to Maximum City. The same Shah Rukh Khan who refused to buckle under Shiv Sena’s threats when the release of My Name is Khan was threatened in Mumbai. But I guess, little pieces of your heart running around matter a lot more than one's own wellbeing.

It was Finding Nemo meets Life is Beautiful in a WhatsApp chat. Most younger readers will be familiar with Marlin’s Odyssean journey to find his son Nemo. Fewer will perhaps be familiar with Life is Beautiful (1997), an Italian film about a Jewish-Italian father, who hides the horrors of life in a concentration camp in fascist Italy by disguising it as an elaborate set of games where anyone who “cries for their mummy will lose”. He takes advantage of the German officers' lack of knowledge of Italitan to serve as a translator who makes up gibberish to keep his son happy. It’s the most haunting tale I’ve witnessed on a screen on father-son relationships and the first time I watched it with my pater, we both bawled like a couple of “phonies” as Holden Caulfield would describe people who cry at movies.

Reading the purported WhatsApp chats in a crowded newsroom made me realise there's nothing quite like the impotent rage one feels when one’s own flesh and blood is in harm’s way and there’s little one can do to save them. WhatsApp chats might be inadmissible in a court of law but in a court of public opinion, the chats will surely remind everyone of their own relationship with their fathers. As I read his pleas, I was led to wonder how my father would react to a situation like this as well as a million others would when they read the chats.

Before the success of Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan, the word pathaan was synonymous with a sweet Tagore short story titled Kabuliwalli about a father’s yearning to meet his daughter. Even by Tagore’s meteoric standard, Kabuliwalla stands out as one of his most universally beloved works, thanks to a simple message: a father’s love for his kid transcends the barriers of space, time, geography, or linguistics.

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Pathaan might not have any underlying message beyond the fact that true secularism is hiding one’s own religious identity, but Shah Rukh Khan’s WhatsApp pleas had the same haunting pathos as Tagore’s Kabulliwalla. I will not pretend to know why the chats were released to the public or how any side gains from it, but one thing’s clear. Whether one is Shah Rukh Khan or an everyman: “It’s all about loving your family.” Or living with anguish when you think you don’t have the means to take care of them.

The views expressed are the author's own.

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