Happy Thursday! Welcome back to our journey through SRK’s filmography. Not to see which films are good and which are bad and so on, but as a case study for how a career can grow. (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here)
Non-Usual Disclaimer: This list is from Wikipedia, if something is wrong, blame them, not me!
(If I have written about a film, you can click on the title to link back to the previous post)
Billu (2009): When you have become so much a personage, an international icon, the question becomes, how do you make a film showing a world in which you yourself do not exist? The answer is, you can’t! And so in this film, just like he had in Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Shahrukh plays a variation on his own stardom. And, like Om Shanti Om, he produced it himself. Showing a certain awareness of his own position, and its powers and flaws and ludicrousness.
Dulha Mil Gaya (2010): Not a good movie! Although, as I said in my review, it could have been a good movie. Decent script idea, great casting, but no budget and horrible directing. But Shahrukh is in their pitching! To some degree playing himself again. But also playing his director’s vision, and paying back his dues, taking this role (which I am sure he was not paid for) as a favor to a producer who helped him when he was starting out.
My Name is Khan (2010): What can I say? The riskiest part he ever took. Could have gotten him killed, almost succeeded in killing his career. The question all along at this point, post the record breaking Om Shanti Om release and a solid 10 years at the top of the industry, is where do I go next? What is it all for? That is the question Billu posted, the emptiness of stardom if there is nothing at the heart of it. And these two very different films provide answers, Dulha Mil Gaya shows that loyalty and friendship are above all. And My Name is Khan shows a desire to take that stardom and do something real with it.
Shahrukh Bole “Khoobsurat Hai Tu” (2010): My white whale! The only Shahrukh film I have not seen. Because it is impossible to get! Anyway, from what I have read about it, it is another film that both poses the question of “where do I go from here?” and provides a potential answer. The question comes when Shahrukh, playing himself, speaks to a flower seller at a traffic light, telling her she is beautiful, and then drives off, having upset the fragile ecosystem of the traffic light economy. Is this Shahrukh’s role? To drive by through life? Or is it to interact? By, for instance, agreeing to do this small appearance in an off-beat art film?
Always Kabhi Kabhi (2011): I am including this because Shahrukh’s “performance” (an appearance in a song) isn’t very important for itself. But it is important for what it meant for his career as a whole. This was the first film Red Chillies produced in which Shahrukh did not star. It was a flop, and he gave in and did a cameo in a promotional song at the last minute. It was an early attempt to step out of center stage, to give up the spotlight and move on to a new kind of role in life. It failed, but it is still interesting that he made the attempt at this point.
Love Breakups Zindagi (2011): this is just a really nice movie. And it was produced by co-stars and best friends Dia Mirza and Zayed Khan. And Shahrukh, because he is friends with them both and a nice guy, did a cameo as himself. But, again, it was an attempt to both pose the question of his stardom, and answer it. He is himself, a big famous movie star, and he is reminding the main characters to cherish their human connections with each other.
Ra.One (2011): And then all that introspection and asking what stardom is went out the window in one huge burst. Or did it? The idea of Ra.One wasn’t just to make Shahrukh Khan a superhero, it was to launch Red Chillies VFX on the worldstage, and bring in a new kind of film promotion and rights sales. And it succeeded hugely there. Maybe “Brand SRK”, Shahrukh’s personal brand, suffered. But his actual real corporate brand, Red Chillies, did phenomenally. Toys, comic books, video game, McDonald’s tie in, not to mention massive satellite right sale in advance of release, Red Chillies probably made more money, and more business advances, in this one film than in any of their others.
Don 2 (2011): Well, this is just self-indulgent! A fun movie, but it doesn’t do anything new artistically or really challenge Shahrukh’s acting abilities. It was signed and completed before Ra.One even came out, it could have been just a fun film to make, thinking that his real hit would take the industry forward in ways that wouldn’t be expected and this would be a footnote. But, no. Ra.One failed, and this ended up being considered the “hit” of 2011. Although Ra.One made much more money, but it was the victim of heightened expectations. Something Shahrukh would have to struggle with from now on.
Jab Tak Hain Jaan (2012): Another victim of heightened expectations. Yash Chopra’s last film, the return of Shahrukh to Yash Raj, a Diwale release, it was expected to dominate the box office. And it did, but just not quite as much as it could have. And it certainly didn’t add much to Shahrukh’s career. It detracted, really, making him break his rule and kiss onscreen for the first time, a transparent attempt to court controversy and woo back the young audience, instead of playing his own age.
Chennai Express (2013): Now, this attempt to woo the young audience worked! Maybe because Shahrukh had a lot more input in it. With Yash Chopra, he just showed up and did whatever he was asked. But with Rohit Shetty, it was months of meetings, picking the script together, debating the characters, perfectly tailoring it to what he wanted. And the end result was a fun action comedy of the kind Shahrukh hadn’t done in years, with some tongue in cheek acknowledgement of the history of his career, and FINALLY an acknowledgement that he was really too old to be playing these roles. Well, not “finally”, it had been hinted at for a while, in Rab Ne and Chak De, there was an acknowledgement that it was odd to see him with these young girls. Even in Jab Tak, it was mentioned in the second half. But Chennai takes it to a second level, and makes it comic. This is also, by the way, the first film post Ra.One where he really had creative input, possibly showing his acknowledgement of all those “midlife crisis” jokes.
Happy New Year (2014): And then Happy New Year ruined all that Chennai Express goodwill. From acknowledging and laughing at his age, he went right back to playing decades younger. It kept the same happy light tone as Chennai Express, but without the satiric bite. The same almost surreal comedy of Main Hoon Na, but without the heart at the center of it. Chennai Express looked like he might have stumbled back on the right path, acknowledging his flaws, working in newer genres and with new directors. But no, it was just another flailing around, that clarity of vision wasn’t there. At least, not in his script choices. Instead, it was all in service of Red Chillies and the corporation as a whole. Happy New Year had a brilliant marketing plan, made enormous profits for the company, and let him expand into owning a theme park, exploding the VFX wing even more, and beginning to co-produce films outside of those he starred in.
Dilwale (2015): And then there’s Dilwale. Like Happy New Year, a terrible terrible unambitious film. Rohit Shetty for the second time, without the novelty of that first collaboration. A great role for Kajol, and a great concept for their romance, enough to drag her out of retirement. But not nearly enough time to edit it or film it correctly, no real effort put into perfecting the script, everything just sort of thrown together. No interest, if that makes sense. You can feel that Shahrukh’s attention is elsewhere. If the films after Om Shanti Om where about questioning “where do I go next?”, the films after that were about actively trying on different aspects for where to go, and then these two films were about sleepwalking through a performance while your mind was elsewhere, debating what to do.
Fan (2016): And this is what you do! Age 50, with enough money in the bank for the rest of your life, and a corporation that can keep making profits for you without your daily attention, you start taking the biggest creative risks you have taken in years. Start making movies for your artistic satisfaction, no other considerations. Fan was a terrible commercial decision. It ended up being an even bigger failure than expected (although still did not lose money, a Shahrukh film hasn’t actually lost money since Asoka, it’s all about pre-selling the rights and doing a big push for the opening day box office). But it is so ambitious! The concept, the effects, the central performance! Just unbelievable.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016): Not much of a part here, just one scene. But I want to highlight it because, again, it is an acting challenge. It’s not like Dulha Mil Gaye, where he just showed up and mugged some faces, there was complicated dialogue, and really really complicated history that all had to be conveyed in just a few minutes.
Dear Zindagi (2016): Almost to the end! There are two interesting things about this film. First, he is playing a supporting character, not the lead, for the first time in ages. And second, Red Chillies is producing and Dharma is co-producing. Way back when Kaal came out, Dharma was the main producer, and Red Chillies was invited in as a courtesy because Shahrukh was Karan’s friend, and he did that opening credits song. Now it is the reverse. Red Chillies is so well-established, that Dharma becomes the second producer on this film.
Raees (2017): Now, this is an odd combination of brave and cowardly. The content of the film is unbelievably brave, a violent low class Muslim character, played by the most famous Muslim in India, with a Pakistani actress. It’s a miracle this thing got made! And that’s not even talking about the Yatra scene. But, on the other hand, it’s also cowardly. A love story was kind of roughly inserted, the demonization of the police was a bit punches-pulled, and in the end, as always, crime couldn’t pay. But, to me, this doesn’t feel cowardly because he is worried about the box office, I don’t think Shahrukh will ever really worry about the box office in the same way again. Sure, something like Fan will be a disappointment, and he will want to make sure there is a profit and not a loss on his films. But that kind of devastating heartbreak, or the cold calculation with the goal of breaking another record, I don’t think he is there any more. Now it is about making sure there is enough of a profit to make sure he can make his next film and his partners come out ahead. No, I think the bigger concern is making sure the viewers see and appreciate the art. That was the heartbreak of Fan, that it was this amazing brilliant film, and no one saw it. I think if/when it turns into a cult hit, even if it is only through free pirated versions that never make a profit for Red Chillies, that will satisfy Shahrukh. That’s where he is now.
And, by extension, I think that’s where all the Khans are. They just want to do work that matters. Because when you are over 50, and have conquered the world, you realize what is really important.