The Fauji turned King Khan

The Fauji turned King Khan

Last evening was the music release of Red Chillies’ Happy New Year. As I watched a very witty Shah Rukh Khan chatting up the media at Yash Raj Studio, my mind went back to the time when he was just an actor from Delhi…

Last evening was the music release of Red Chillies’ Happy New Year. As I watched a very witty Shah Rukh Khan chatting up the media at Yash Raj Studio, my mind went back to the time when he was just an actor from Delhi…

More than 25 years ago, when Hema Malini was planning ‘Dil Aashna Hai’ she was ready with the entire cast but searching desperately for a hero. Then one day, as she was surfing TV she spotted Shah Rukh in the tele-serial ‘Fauji’ and was curious about the actor. On investigation she learnt that he was a stage actor from Delhi and asked her assistant to call him to Bombay. When Hema’s niece Prabha made a call to him, Shah Rukh thought that one of his friends was playing a prank on him, so Prabha gave Shah Rukh her number and asked him to check out for himself.

He did and discovered that it was indeed Hema Malini’s residence and they wanted him to fly down the next morning for an audition in Bombay. Hema Malini recalls that Shah Rukh was extremely nervous and replied every question out of breath. He was immediately taken for an audition but the result was not satisfactory. Reason, his mop of hair continuously covered his face and Hema Malini was unable to gaze at any expression in his eyes.

Hema suggested a gelled hair look and a plain shirt instead of the denim jacket. This time Hema Malini was satisfied with the audition and urged Dharmendra to come over and take a look at the young actor. Dharmendra approved of Hema’s choice and Shah Rukh was confirmed as the hero opposite Divya Bharati in ‘Deewana’.

Soon Shah Rukh became the new face on the block and some years passed by. Come, 1993 and Shah Rukh delivered two super hits, ‘Baazigar’ and ‘Darr’. I was at that time editing a glossy magazine and had an appointment with him during the lunch break. He was not on the sets, nor in his makeup room. A studio hand suggested I follow the cigarette buds on the studio floor and find him and that is the way I’m told he is trailed even today.

Our first meeting was a disaster. He blew smoke rings in the air and said, “My two films are super hits and I charge two lakhs for an interview”. I was disgusted by his arrogance and returned without doing his interview. Looking back, I feel I over reacted. As a senior journalist I should have been able to handle his pompous behaviour. I didn’t. On his part Shah Rukh admitted to me years later that he should not have been so restrained. The fact was that Shah Rukh was on the rise as a star and there was nobody to reprimand him.

Some more years passed by as he moved from the anti-hero of ‘Darr’ and ‘Anjaam’ to play an obsessed lover in ‘Maya Memsaab’. In 1995 Aditya Chopra’s ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ turned him in to a youth icon followed by a series of super hits like ‘Dil toh Pagal Hai’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. He was the superstar in the making and had by now moved out of his tiny apartment in Bandra into a sprawling bungalow Mannat in Bandstand.

We bumped in to each other from time to time, at the screening of ‘Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani’, on the sets of ‘Dil Se’… and laughed over our first encounter. Shah Rukh still spoke breathlessly and confided that old habits were hard to break. He still drank gallons of tea and Pepsi and only ate chicken, his favourite meal. Some habits I noticed had altered considerably. He was no more pompous, infact courteous and thoughtful towards all. He was always sensitive but now he was even more mature, more responsible.

He is amongst the few actors I know who can take failures in his stride. When ‘Dil Se’ bombed he said, “It was a good film but may be people are not in a mood for terrorism.” Similarly he was untouched by the shower of praises coming for ‘Devdas’. “People like losers and Devdas is a loser. KLSaigal and Dilip Kumar have played him but I interpreted him the way I understood him.” He accepted ‘Hum Tumhare Hai Sanam’ was a compromise, “We all make them sometimes for different reasons.” For his home productions however, there was no compromising. He proved a good producer in ‘Asoka’, ‘Chalte Chalte’ and Paheli even though none of these films were a rage at the box-office he was a rage with his team.

Came ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’, ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ followed by ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’, and Khan was the undisputed king. Distributors swore by his success but his critics were hard to please. They complained that Shah Rukh only worked in feel good films and that got him defensive because he lend himself to all kinds of cinemas be it ‘Swades’, ‘Veer Zara’, ‘Main Hoon Na’ or ‘Om Shanti Om’.

There came a phase when he became over sensitive about awards. At one time, he had three releases: ‘Swades’, ‘Main Hoon Na’ and ‘Veer Zaara’ in the same year (2000) and was awarded for them by all but at every function he acknowledged all the three films and thanked all the three directors. Many years later, Deepika Padukone followed in his footsteps and acknowledged all her films on all the platforms.

Some more years passed by and now Shah Rukh had built a multistoried office, launched television production and endorsed a few more brands. He had moved on from being just an actor to a filmmaker and many more things. We were still not friends but we were not enemies either. When I learnt about his serious backache I went to meet him on his sets and was amazed at his endurance. He said to me that time a bit sadly, “The only way to forget this physical pain is to not focus on it”. Whenever I read or saw something concerning him I sent him a text message and he responded spontaneously. It could be anything as inane from his pony tail to his show ‘Paanchvi Paas’ or an insightful interview or performance.

When I watched ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi’ I told him I liked the simpler Shah Rukh/ Suriji to the flamboyant Raj (he plays double role) to which he responded, “So do I maybe because I’m boring myself.” Those who have interacted with him will tell you that Shah Rukh is far from boring. We have never been short of conversation be it outside Bobby Chawla’s room at the hospital, an award ceremony, a wedding or a funeral of a film fraternity. I surprised myself when I found him entertaining in the thoroughly illogical ‘Chennai Express’ and laughing at his witty comments at the music release of ‘Happy New Year’.

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