I did top 11 movies a couple days ago, I’m going to go slightly different today, and do top nine performances. Even if the movie as a whole doesn’t hold together, or even if it is so brilliant all around you never noticed what Shahrukh was doing, here are his greatest performances as an actor.
9. Saathiya: Shahrukh is barely in this movie, it’s really just a glorified Friendly Appearance. Which is kind of what makes it so tough. He has to show up in the last 15 minutes and immediately build a character and a relationship with the other characters, and have the audience 100% behind him. And he does it! He makes us believe that he is a high-ranking police officer, and loves his wife Tabu, and we should trust his judgement and decisions.
8. Chak De, India: Okay, I know I might be getting some pushback on putting this one so low. And it is an amazing performance. But part of it being amazing is that he has to step back and stomp down on himself a little so his character doesn’t over-shadow the girls who are the real stars. And so the audience is left in as much mystery as the characters onscreen as to what his true intentions and motivations are. So, yes, in the opening we see some crazy anger. And at the end, there is some amazing small muscle movements and posture that tells us how much he has been waiting for this happy ending. And along the way, there are the periodic speeches and reaction shots and so on during the games. But mostly he stands back and lets the story and the other characters shine.
7. Swades: this is another one I can see people disagreeing with. Heck, another day I might disagree with myself! But right now, looking at the rest of the list, eh. It’s certainly a very different performance from his usual one. All of the standard “Shahrukh Khan” tricks are gone. But, one the other hand, I don’t know if he really replaces it with that much else. It works for the film, and the character, because he is supposed to be so internal. But ultimately, it isn’t a performance that, on it’s own, really moves me.
6. Koyla: Now this is a performance! Completely different from what he usually plays, with all kinds of emotions thrown in too. Anger and revenge and innocence and love and so on and so on and so on. Plus, no words! Shahrukh is so incredibly verbal, both offscreen with his interviews, but also onscreen, with his stage training in how to deliver a monologue. And he does this whole thing with no words! Not saying it is the best movie, or the best character, but the performance is super impressive!
5. Duplicate: Yes, I am putting Duplicate above Swades. Stupid stupid Duplicate. Because what Shahrukh does is AMAZING! It’s not acting, that’s where people get confused, it’s a spot-on 3 hour celebrity impersonation. He is doing Jerry Lewis in The Big Mouth, a movie with an almost completely different plot but the same hook. If you watch it like that, it’s genius!
4. Baazigar: Oh my gosh, so brilliant! The performances, and the script, not the rest of the movie necessarily. Really, the script and the performance are all intertwined. I’m not saying it’s the deepest film in the world, but it is one of the cleverest and most surprising. And it only works because of how Shahrukh plays his well-nigh impossible role. Going from innocent to evil to tortured to furious and dragging the audience along with him. But, and this is the important part, all of his various characters still feel related to each other! It’s not like the innocent lover disappears when he turns evil, or the evil is completely hidden within the innocent lover.
3. Don: Which brings me to this film! I’ve written before about how the first time I watched it, I remember getting all mad at Shahrukh for how he lost focus and let these little bits of the Don character sneak in even when he was playing Vijay. And then of course, twist! It was all on purpose! And it was PERFECT! Just enough to make you think it was an actor slipping, because it was an “actor” slipping, only it was the character acting the role, not the actor acting the role.
2. Fan: I almost flipped a coin to decide between this and next one. In most ways, this really is the greatest performance of his career. A double role, in which he disappears so much into it that someone I went with honestly thought there were two different actors. And both characters are so complicated! It’s not like Duplicate, where they are two different spot on impersonations, but these are two fully realized layered people. Really, either of them alone, the movie star with the madness inside and the charm on the surface, or the lowly fan whose humility hides insanity, would have gotten the film on this list easily. But to do both! That’s just unbelievable. Honestly, I don’t know if there is another actor living today, anywhere in the world, who could have pulled it off.
1.1. My Name is Khan: So, why is this one #1 and not the last one? It’s not because of anything we see onscreen, although his performance is amazing there, but because of the choices that went into this performance before the cameras started rolling. Dealing with the actual performance first, this is another one like Swades where all of the standard “Shahrukh Khan” stuff is just totally stripped away. But unlike Swades, it is replaced by a whole new array of mannerisms and personality and everything else. And then those mannerisms are put through the emotional wringer as he has to act out the deepest possible emotions, from sudden love to impossible grief to anger to resolution to really just about everything.
So, that’s why it’s in the top 2. But why is it at the very top of the list? Because, before he researched the character and dug deep into his training for every line and every expression and gave up months of his life for filming this one project, he must have read the script and decided he was going to risk his entire career on this very very dangerous project with a very very important message.