Happy Tuesday! Once again, I am going through Shahrukh’s filmography film by film in chronological order. Because it is an interesting case study for how a career progresses, and how the industry has changed, over the past 25 years. (part 1 here, part 2 here)
Non-Usual Disclaimer: This list is from Wikipedia, so blame them if there is anything wrong, not me!
(if I have written about any of these films, you can just click on the title to link back to the previous post)
Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam (2002): I left off last time with K3G. After a period of box office flops, plus the rise of Hrithik, Shahrukh was firmly back on top. And his “follow-up” film wasn’t a follow up at all, it was an old film that had been made off and on for years. This poor film got caught a bit in the changes of the industry. When it started, all the big names worked 3-4 films at once as a matter of routine. Bringing together an amazing all star cast of Salman, Shahrukh, and Madhuri (plus an Aish cameo) was possible because schedules could adjust to it. But then after filming started, the industry shifted. Suddenly the big names were doing one huge film at a time instead of multiple small ones. They could no longer afford to give a week here and a week there to a smaller film like this. And so it was delayed and delayed and delayed, and finally released years later, and years after this kind of small overly dramatic masala type film was in style.
Devdas (2002): Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam was the last of the old version of film, and Devdas was one of the biggest of the new version. Huge budget, huge star cast, and filming that went on and on and on and on. And a huge story, not a silly little masala romance, but a big EPIC love story. The kind of star cast and huge budget and epic story that would come to be associated with Indian films internationally. But not the kind that actually makes the most money internationally, Devdas was an exception. And Shahrukh knew that, which is why he generally has avoided films like this since then. Modern day NRI romances, that’s all.
Shakti: The Power (2002): This is one of two “friendly appearances” Shahrukh made in 2002. Just like his spat of friendly appearances back in the 90s, it is both a sign that his star power was back and people wanted him, and that he was underbooked. That is, he was focusing so much on Devdas, and before that on K3G, that he didn’t have time for another full role, but could easily and happily do a cameo for an old friend. Of course, it is also a sign of how responsible he is to his old friends in the industry, willingly doing these roles.
Saathiya (2002): The other cameo. I’m not sure why Shahrukh agreed to be in Shakti, there must be a connection I am not seeing. But I know why he was in Saathiya, it was a favor to Mani Ratnam and Yash Raj films.
Chalte Chalte (2003): This was a re-positioning year. He had the success of K3G and Devdas at his back, he had broken out in the global scene, and the industry itself had taken huge leaps forward in the past few years, artistically (Dil Chahta Hai), critically (Lagaan) and in terms of box office (K3G). Shahrukh was not yet at the forefront of those changes. First he had to clean up unfinished business, his company Dreamz Unlimited was in debt, he needed one more guaranteed hit before he could close up and start fresh with a new business for this new era. Chalte Chalte was that hit. A reliable rom-com plot, with a reliable heroine (Rani Mukherjee), and surrounded by a reliable supporting cast (Jonny Lever, Satish Shah, etc.). Aziz Mirza (the 3rd partner in Dreamz Unlimited) was directing, Farah was doing the songs, the budget was small, the story was simple, no way it wouldn’t hit. But they still had to play it safe, thus the last minute switch of heroines from Aish to Rani, after Aish’s personal life (Salman making a scene) spilled out onto the sets. Rani wasn’t quite as famous yet, but was a reliable and professional actress that Shahrukh could trust. And he lucked out, Saathiya came out between the time she was signed and the movie released and her career took a leap forward.
Kal Ho Na Ho (2003): This film seems experimental, but it really wasn’t. His 3rd collaboration with Karan, he knew it would be a hit, and while the style was modern, the plot was straight out of every classic film ever. A good movie, a solid hit, but still more about setting up the changes in 2004 than anything new from 2003.
Yeh Lamhe Judaai Ke (2004): An interesting lesson in how the industry works! Or fails to work. This is a terrible movie that Shahrukh and Raveena Tandon and Mohnish Behl and regular 90s actors all started back in the 90s. And then the money ran out and they walked away, and refused to come back. Which sounds very selfish, and also very odd, because actors are always working for no money just because they made a promise! I think it’s not so much that the money ran out, as that they felt like the producer cheated them, and so they left. And it seems like the producer would be the type to cheat them, considering that he tried to release the film without their permission, promoting it as a “Shahrukh Khan” picture although Shahrukh refused to even come back and complete the dubbing for it.
Main Hoon Na (2004): And here’s the pay off for that repositioning! 3 major releases in one year, 3 major hits, each perfectly calibrated to take advantage of this new industry reality. Main Hoon Na, the first one, used the new global popularity of Shahrukh and his star power to resuscitate his producing dreams. A new company, Red Chillies. With a new kind of business plan. Not simply a small banner focused on making inventive films, but a diversified business. The VFX wing (which would go on to be one of the most reliable profit makers for the company) was launched with the action scenes here, and Farah Khan was launched as well, a new director with a new vision. But the plot underlying the film was simple and reliable, a Ram-Lakshman story.
Veer-Zaara (2004): This is a very very old-fashioned film with a very very modern release strategy. Massive global release and publicity surge. Riding on the back of both K3G, and Lagaan. Re-introduced Shahrukh, and Indian film, to a global audience. It wasn’t a record breaking hit on the level of K3G, but it also proved that you don’t have to be a record-breaking hit. You just have to be heavily promoted and released, and you will make a profit overseas.
Swades (2004): This is not an old-fashioned film, this is very new-fashioned. Unusual plot, unusual songs, very unusual acting. It’s such a restrained performance, without the bells and whistles we usually associate with “great acting”, that it is hard to see how unusual this is. It turned out to be a smart career decision, Swades did well in box office and critically. But it was also a throwback to those earlier films Shahrukh took just to stretch his acting. Well, and also as a favor to an old friend, he and Ashutosh used to be roommates when they were both young television actors on the way up.
Paheli (2005): This was a failed attempt to combine all the successes of the previous year in one film. An unusual artistic type of plot, a global release strategy, and plenty of VFX. Only, it just wasn’t as good of a story. There were too many things which weren’t fully explored (Juhi and Sunil’s love story, the relationship of Ghost-SRK to everyone else in the family), and others which were too simple (the love triangle never really seemed to have any twists and turns). But, from the career perspective, this wasn’t a “failure” the way the earlier films had been failures. Red Chillies was financially protected, the rights sales were enough to cover the cost. And Shahrukh was protected in his career, films were being signed earlier and earlier now, he had another 3 already lined up and the failure or success of Paheli had no effect on them.
Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006): Another Karan movie! Only, a “different” Karan movie. Shahrukh may not have known it when he signed the film, and the audience didn’t know it when they went to see it, but this was not the “Karan Johar” film they were expecting. Instead of happy family love, it was about lying to our loved ones, living lives of compromise, and generally being miserable and unpleasant people. This was not a good commercial or critical decision for his career, poor commercially because the audience didn’t like the darkness. And poor critically because the critics couldn’t handle this confusing mixture of tones.
Don: The Chase Begins (2006): Another film that should have been easy to understand and know what to expect, and just wasn’t. It wasn’t the same as the original Don, and it wasn’t the same as Farhan’s last few films either. And it wasn’t the same kind of villain role that Shahrukh had played before. It just didn’t fit with anything! Really, 2006 is the year of things that don’t fit. I guess, now that the global box office tricks had been cracked, there was no need to try to make things fit. You could just do your odd film and know that people would see it because it had a wide release, and Shahrukh Khan was in it.
Chak De India (2007): That guarantee of box office in 2006 led to odd films that didn’t quite fit in or fulfill their promise. But in 2007, it lead to incredibly imaginative films that spread off in directions never before imagined and created massive hits. Chak De, India first, who would have thought that a Shahrukh Khan film with no romance and hardly any songs would be a hit? Especially a sports story. Especially a sports story about a female team. And yet, it was. Because Shahrukh’s name guaranteed it got the kind of release and promotion that would allow everyone to find and appreciate it.
Om Shanti Om (2007): Another Red Chillies success! A massive massive record breaking success. And a very odd film. Now, we have all become so used to it, “oh yes, Om Shanti Om“, but if you pretend you had never seen it before, it would be very odd! A reincarnation-revenge-romance, that’s fine, that’s normal, that’s Karz. But the whole meta backstage in jokes type of thing, that is very unusual. The only other film I can think of that goes to such an extent is Guddi, and that was more of a small scale comedy, not this big budget mega-movie, betting on people being able to understand and enjoy the “joke”. In terms of Shahrukh’s career, notice that it is once again using the Red Chillies VFX wing in a way that not only fully utilizes them, but also serves as a bit of an advertisement for what they can do. And it also rings in a new era in Shahrukh performances, when he has become so big that he can no longer ignore his own existence, if that makes sense. This is one of a string of films in which Shahrukh will play a variation of himself, or deconstruct a variation of his own public identity.
Bhoothnath (2008): Another one of those “favor” roles. I was going to say that these kinds of parts are how you tell the 90s actors from later ones, but then I remembered all those times our “new” kids had similarly played these sort of roles. I guess this is one thing that hasn’t changed in the industry, you do favors for people who did favors for you, and the world keeps turning.
Kismat Konnection (2008): Speaking of favors, this is a slight little rom-com, but it was directed by Aziz Mirza, and so Shahrukh agreed to do the narration. His first narration job.
Rab Ne Bana di Jodi (2008): Remember how I talked about Shahrukh playing meta-roles, playing and deconstructing his own identity? That is what is happening here big time! Shahrukh, the real person, literally has conversations with Shahrukh, the filmi-fantasy. It was also a modest hit, but by this point that was old news. A movie had to be a record breaking hit, or a massive flop, before it had any effect. Since 2002, Shahrukh had just been accepted as a guaranteed hit maker everywhere in the world any time a film came out.