Well, this is fun! It’s partly a list of every Shahrukh Khan film, but more than that, it is a case study for how a career progressed in the 90s in Bombay. Lots of work, not a lot of hits. And then the 2000s came in, and it was less work and less hits (notice I was able to cover twice as many years in this post as in the last one)
Non-Usual Disclaimer: This list is from Wikipedia, so if it is wrong, blame them not me!
(if you click on the title, it will take you to any post I may have already written on the film)
English Babu Desi Mem (1996): ’96 started on a lackluster note. English Babu Desi Mem isn’t an ambitious movie, and it isn’t a very good movie either. It is notable for being the first time SRK co-starred with Sonali Bendre. Mostly it’s interesting for showing the lag in release dates and filming schedules versus the speed of career shifts. Shahrukh had a starring role in this film, but it wasn’t a big big film or a super good film. And yet it still trickled out post-DDLJ, trying to sidle along without anyone noticing it.
Chaahat (1996): Another one of those smaller lower budget films sneaking out after DDLJ but filmed before release. Or at least, committed to before release. Here is another thing to think about, SRK probably could have dodged some of these commitments. But he was savvy enough to understand that what goes around comes around and it would be wiser to keep all his commitments. Look at Chaahat, a so-so film, but his first collaboration with the Bhatt family. On set, he met the 2 year old baby sister of his co-star Pooja Bhatt, and 20 years later he was co-starring with her. Plus, another chance to act with Anupum and Naseeruddin Shah, and his only co-starring role with Ramya Krishnan, who is now one of the hottest actresses around post-Bahubali.
Army (1996): The first of 3 “special appearance” parts in a role. And the only one I am including, because it is the only one where he really had a substantial part. But this string of “special appearances” tells us a lot about his career! First, that he is now big enough to warrant being a special appearance. And second, that this was the slack time when the industry finally caught up with DDLJ. All his dangling releases had come out and he was preparing to burst forth as the major star of the industry in the next year. But in the meantime, he was doing tiny little roles to stay public and keep his hand in.
Koyla (1997): Here we are, 1997! A year almost as important to his career as ’95. Now is the time to prove himself, he has a series of legitimate films, with good scripts and top co-stars and the best directors. Will he be able to carry them off? Well, Koyla was a good start. It wasn’t a major success, but it wasn’t a failure. And it’s failure was clearly not due to Shahrukh’s efforts, his songs were hits and his performance got generally good reviews. It wasn’t a matter of someone being promoted above his abilities.
Yes Boss (1997): A reunion with Aziz Mirza, one of his earliest directors, and Juhi Chawla, now one of his best friends. In a role costum made for Shahrukh’s abilities. But now with a bigger budget and bigger release and bigger everything than their earlier films. While other directors this year brought out something new in Shahrukh, Aziz had the advantage of knowing him since way back when, being able to bring out the very best of the old.
Pardes (1997): Shahrukh’s only collaboration with Subhash Ghai and one of the most successful movies for both of them. It’s a good film, but partly because they are rubbing against each other so strangely. Ghai is all about the pretty pictures and the unrealistic big melodrama. But if you put him with an intense emotional actor, you can get this odd mixture, like in this, Ghai’s script is about a garage attendant/orphan boy/servant/pop star, who records and rehearses his videos in his garage attached to the house of his foster father. But then Shahrukh plays it as this go-getter natural person, and you buy the whole thing.
Dil To Pagal Hai (1997): Shahrukh’s second film for Yash Chopra, 3rd film for Yash Raj. And they went big. Back when they were making Darr, Yash Raj was a struggling studio and Shahrukh was a promising young actor. They could take a risk. But success breeds fear. Now, they wanted a sure thing. So Shahrukh plays a lover, and Yash Chopra makes a big budget musical extravaganza.
Duplicate (1998): This is the year he gets to cash in the success of the last year. Even before the 1997 films came out, he would have known from signing them, and from the offers that were still coming in, that his career was secure. Once those guaranteed hits were in the bank, he could afford to do some random sidewise type of films. Like Duplicate, which is terrible, but kind of inspiring in it’s terribleness, you need real ambition to make a film this odd. Plus, Mahesh Bhatt! And Juhi Chawla. Sonali Bendre isn’t anything to be sneezed at either, her husband is a producer and more importantly real tight with the Bachchans. Not that I think Shahrukh sat down and worked all this out. But Shahrukh, like most successful people, knows that being generally friendly and nice and building connections is just plain smart. Maybe you don’t see the advantages short term, or in every relationship, but some day a film like Duplicate can cement your bond with its producer, Yash Johar, and his son, Karan Johar.
Dil Se…(1998): Can you believe this came out the same year as Duplicate? But both of them were kind of equally risky, and equally something that wouldn’t have been an option until this year. They were odd challenging roles that gave him the opportunity to work with great directors (Duplicate was terrible, but that doesn’t take away Mahesh Bhatt’s genius). He was only offered them because he was a major star, Duplicate needed someone the audience would put up with in a double role and Dil Se needed a big name to sell it to the Hindi audience. And from the flip side of things, films this high profile and this challenging could scuttle a career less secure than Shahrukh’s at this moment.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998): It’s hard to remember, from the distance of almost 20 years later, but KKHH was a huge risk too. A silly campus romance that should be beneath a star of his stature, with a baby-faced first time director/writer. It didn’t even offer the advantage of new connections, he’d already worked with the production house on Duplicate that same year, Kajol, Anupam, Farida Jalal, the only cast member who was new to him was Reema Lagoo. Of course, it paid off big time. So big, that 1998 became as important as 1995 in his filmography. Dil Se should he could act and succeed in an art film, and was still willing to take a risk. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai showed that he was the King of the mainstream box office, and Emperor of overseas sales. And Duplicate showed that he was a really good sport.
Baadshah (1999): Yes, Baadshah has a super catchy title song (“baadshah o baadshah baadshah o baadshah baadshah o baadshah BAAAAADSHAH!”). But it doesn’t have much beyond that. The plot is a bit of a disaster, the heroine is terrible (as she herself will be the first to tell you, which is one of the many reasons I love Twinkle), the comedy bits go on and on, and the serious action scenes end to soon. But it’s nice to see proof that Shahrukh was still staying in touch with the people who helped in, Abbas-Mastan who gave him Baazigar. He was maintaining his goodwill in the industry and with the audience, even if it isn’t a very good film or a very interesting part.
Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (2000): and then he promptly blew all that goodwill away. Every step until now was Shahrukh grabbing at the opportunities that came his way, but suddenly he was on top, no one was offering him opportunities any more, there was nowhere else to climb to, he had to break his own path. And he failed MISERABLY! I like Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, but even I can see it is a mess. A really clever indictment of media, a scarily real rape scene, Paresh Rawal in one of his rare dramatic turns, and a light-hearted romance between Juhi Chawla and Shahrukh (who also co-produced, bonding on the sets of terrible Ram-Jaane paying off 5 years later). Oh, and Jonny Lever as a comic Don. These things don’t mix! It’s not chocolate and peanut butter, it’s more like sardines and ice cream and mustard and peaches. All good on their own, and some good together, but terrible all thrown into one bowl.
Josh (2000): Well, this is another terrible movie! But it really shouldn’t be. I don’t think this is one of those films like Duplicate that Shahrukh signed knowing it would be bad but intrigued by the idea and the collaboration. But this film had the same director as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, at the time Shahrukh signed it was supposed to be him opposite Aamir Khan, and it featured the hottest (“hot” meaning popular, not attractive, although she was that too) actress of the day, Aishwarya Rai. And then Aamir dropped out, the younger hero role was fluffed up beyond what it could handle, Shahrukh’s character kind of got lost in the shuffle, and the script had about 3 twists too many. Another flop.
Mohabbatein (2000): It’s funny, if you look back at the early 2000s, it seems like Shahrukh’s golden era. Glossy hit after glossy hit. But in fact, he was a bit at sea. This film helped ground him and bring him into a new era as a slightly more mature romantic lead, no longer the carefree young boy. Funny to see it coming right after Josh, where he played the immature bad boy gang leader. But makes sense when you think about how this film was a hit and Josh was a flop. This is the new Shahrukh, for the 2000s era.
One 2 Ka 4 (2001): If Shahrukh’s early career was all about experimenting and building new connections, the second half was about enjoying those connections. Which sometimes isn’t the greatest idea. Juhi and Shahrukh are a great couple here, and Jackie and Shahrukh have a natural chemistry. But perhaps his time would have been better spent experimenting with some up and coming actors/directors instead of falling back on the old familiars and a not-so-great film. What’s interesting is that the director here is a risk, mostly an art director whose last film was about a rape victim. But again, success breeds cowardice. This big name cast and big budget and big music led to a lack of imagination. Although Shahrukh is playing a cop, that’s something new.
(Also features one of the lessor Rahman soundtracks)
Asoka (2001): Shahrukh’s second production attempt, even stupider than the first! Personally, I don’t much like Asoka as a film. But even if I did, I would have to acknowledge that it is a terrible business idea. Period costume dramas almost never work, Shahrukh in particular always did best as the super-modern soft man, not as this ancient warrior type. Kareena Kapoor seemed very young opposite him, plus he had already signed opposite her for his next film playing her guardian which gave an odd vibe to this whole romance. Also, the budget was both too large (very hard to make back a profit without sinking even more into promotions and distribution), and too small (the battle scenes and crowd scenes just seem slightly not epic enough). And besides all of this, it is never a good idea to gamble your whole company on one big score. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani was a better idea, manageable budget and if it didn’t work, they could rebound. Which is what they did. But after Asoka, there was no rebounding.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001): And here is the rebound. This was the lowest point of Shahrukh’s career so far. When he was starting out, there was always the possibility of doing better. But if you are a success who falls, there is no getting back up again. He was teetering over the precipice, no hit for the past 3 years except for Mohabbatein which was looking more and more like a fluke. And his company (Dreamz Unlimited) was gone. He has his hits and flops now too. But except for Fan, his recent hits and flops have been “hits” and “flops”. That is, the profit margin has been almost identical for them all, it’s just a matter of managing expectations. This was not the case with the films from 98-2001. Those flops were real honest to goodness I’ve-lost-all-my-money-and-fame flops. Not, “flops in the theater but I’ll make it back on satellite rights” or “who cares if the film flos, my fans will always love me”, but actual flops that killed his business and could have been the end of his career. And here comes K3G! Which rocketed him to a whole new level.