So, Darr, the first time the world sat up and went “Hey! That Shahrukh guy can ACT! And is also cute.” But what does it have to do with Dilwale? Well, for one thing, it is one of Shahrukh’s few Christmas releases (the anniversary falling today). Which is actually kind of important, Christmas (in Indian film practice) is a time for slightly darker films.
For countries that celebrate it widely, Christmas is a time for big family blockbusters, like Star Wars or Harry Potter. Films you can go to with your whole family during that awkward time post-presents when you run out of things to say. I used to work at a movie theater, and I worked Christmas a lot, and it was actually usually pretty busy.
But in countries where it is less celebrated, Christmas is a day off work/school with nothing particular to do. There’s no family in from out of town to entertain, and no big event to structure the day around. So it’s a good time for slightly more unusual, slightly more thoughtful, films to come out. Deewali, that’s when you want to release your Full Family Entertainers. Like Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Or Eid as a back-up, especially if your film has some kind of anti-communalism message. Like Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
(Salman really did bring the “Prem” this year)
For the past 20-some years, it’s been understood that Shahrukh will take Deewali, with the big family friendly crowd pleasing entertainers that play well both at home and in the diaspora abroad. Aamir will take Christmas, with the more thought provoking films that play well not just with the diaspora, but with general Western audiences. And Salman will take Eid, in his position as most-recognizably-Muslim Khan.
And now Shahrukh is taking Christmas again, for the first time in years. He did it for Don 2 also, another dark film, but that turned out to be more of a one off, balanced by Ra.One releasing just a few weeks earlier, still on Deewali. And the next few years, he was back on the Deewali schedule. He’s also been known to take Valentine’s Day on occasion, the most aggressively secular of release dates, fitting with his identity as the most Westernized Khan. But Christmas, very rare.
Looking at his upcoming films, it is possible that this Christmas release is just an opening salvo in an attempt to redirect his career, to take it back to Darr and go from there.
Back when Darr came out, he was the “hatke” star, the one who wasn’t afraid to take a negative role and go all out with it. He wanted to be a star, sure, but he also wanted to be an actor. Interestingly, Aamir was offered the role in Darr and turned it down, and yet today he is the one who is “hatke”.
Darr got Shahrukh DDLJ (his biggest Deewali release), and that set him on the path to being the loveable, crowd-pleasing, megastar he is today. Sure, there’ve been the occasional oddities along the way, the Don films, My Name is Khan, Chak De, India, but generally he’s stayed pretty much in his lane since then.
But this year he’s going to start swerving into the lanes that belong to others and you can see it just by looking at his release dates. He let Salman take Deewali and do the family friendly fare this year, while he took Christmas from Aamir, and provided the slightly darker, slightly more adult option.
Then in April, he’s taking the spring post-IPL pre-monsoon release spot, what has been in recent years the location of low-expectation sleeper hits. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Tanu Weds Many Returns, were both released around then. Traditionally, it is too small of a date for any major star to bother with, so it is a good place to release a film you believe in, that might build on word of mouth if it has enough time in the theaters. Which tells you what kind of film Shahrukh’s Fan might turn out to be. As Raja Sen suggested in response to the first teaser trailer, this could be the return of Shahrukh the actor after years of exile.
And finally, he is taking Eid from Salman and giving him Deewali again in 2016. Raees, his first high profile role as a Muslim since My Name is Khan in 2010, releasing on Eid. And this time, he isn’t the noble innocent Muslim making a bid for peace, he is the angry one working against an unfair system. Maybe, after 22 years, Shahrukh is going to be legitimately scary again.
(that is one unapologetically powerful Muslim who also looks really hot in sunglasses)