Happy 30 Days to Shahrukh’s Birthday! Top 30 Best Films

This is considerably longer than it was last year, but we are going to have a string of light posts over the next few days, so I thought I should try to give you something a little more substantive today.  And you can all argue with me in the comments about what I left out and what is in the wrong order and so on and so on.

I’m going in reverse order from least to greatest.  And I’m not doing “my favorites” (that list would include Dil Aashna Hai), I am doing straight up best films he has been a part of.  Not even greatest Shahrukh movies, as in greatest movies that play with the Shahrukh Khan identity (that list would include Dilwale), but straight up best all around movies in which Shahrukh Khan was involved.

30. Raees

Not a great film.  There are flaws there, which is why it is number 30 on this list.  But it’s on this list at all because it’s got a great different kind of performance at the center of it. And it’s a very different kind of film from what Shahrukh usually does.  And there are a few scenes that are just stunningly brilliant.

29. Zamaana Deewana

Shahrukh’s one collaboration with the man who made Sholay, that alone would be enough to get it on this list.  But on top of that, it is a brilliant deconstruction of the 90s romance film.  With a 10 minute drag sequence for no reason.  And an incredibly sexy song, also for no reason.

(I went with the spoof instead of the sexy song)

28. Dil To Pagal Hai

I know there are some people who might argue this should be higher, but for me it is just a little too long and a little too slow.  On another actor’s list, it might be in the top ten, but Shahrukh has done better.  However, it still definitely deserves to be on this list for the clever construction (slow but clever), and the amazing performances, especially from Karisma.

27. Yes Boss

Yes, I am putting Yes Boss ahead of Dil To Pagal Hai.  It’s just a little more clever, a little more interesting.  And with a little better of a message, not just “true love is true love”, but something about how money is used to control those below, about love flourishing in strange places, about Aditya Pancholi being disgusting.

26. Pardes

By far the better of the two Subhash Ghai/Shahrukh collaborations.  Great songs, great heroine, great plot.  As I discovered on my most recent rewatch, it’s really a lot deeper film than I remembered.  The first half is light, but boy does it pay off in the second half!

25. Paheli

Pretty movie, nice story, very very unusual film.  Great songs.  The ending doesn’t really make sense, but the rest of it is so good that I am still putting it on my list.

24.  Baazigar

Are you shocked to see it this high?  That’s just because you haven’t seen it recently!  Such a brilliant plot, beyond Shahrukh’s performance.  Plus good songs, great performances around Shahrukh, and the first SRKajol film.  Most of all, though, Shahrukh’s central performance which is just shockingly good.

23.  Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham

The movie that brought him to the world stage.  But not that good of a film on its own.  There just isn’t much there-there.  It’s all about loving your parents, but it’s not really about anything else.  Just spectacle and glamor and songs.

22. Chalte Chalte

A really solid romance.  And a different kind of a romance, showing that all the problems aren’t solved after marriage.  And the after marriage problems are a different kind of problem, not just “do you love me?” but “where do we go from here?”

21. Main Hoon Na 

Such a fun film!  Unusual, clever, fun film.  But not a deep film, not really.  And not original in content even if it is in style.  And doesn’t give Shahrukh that much to do in terms of acting.  And so it is only 22, not higher.

20. Ra.One

Slightly edges out Main Hoon Na just because of the songs and the special effects.  The story of Main Hoon Na is better, but when you are talking about a small fun film, the songs and special effects are pretty important.

19.  Saathiya

On most lists, this would be near the top.  But Shahrukh has been in some really good films.  This one is good, very good, one of the great Hindi film romances of the 2000s.  And Shahrukh shows up at just the right time, providing the gravitas and comfort required at that moment in the film.

18.  My Name is Khan

This film is such an odd mix.  Moments of such amazing brilliance, with moments of complete failure.  If it was just brilliant, I would probably put it at number one on this list.  And if it was just the failures, it wouldn’t even be on the list.  But taken all together, I think it goes nicely somewhere in the middle.

17. Billu

We are now entering a string of movies in which Shahrukh plays Shahrukh in one way or another.  Because coming up with the right way to do that, and really exploring what it all means, that makes for a brilliant film.  This one in particular, a good movie start to finish, but Shahrukh’s speech at the very end, that makes the whole thing.

16.  Jab Harry Met Sejal

Yep, I’m putting it this high!  It’s a really really good movie.  Not the best movie, but a very very good one.  Almost every moment onscreen is perfection.

15. Luck By Chance

Only a cameo role in this, but a pivotal one.  And this film as a whole is soooooooooooo good.  So good that I had to annotate it.  And another one that explores exactly what “Shahrukh Khan” means to the film industry and the world.

14. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Just a wonderful film.  A small story with a great performance.  A small story that makes us care about the small lives of these people and want them to be happy.  And, unlike Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, it doesn’t feel quite so empty at the heart of it.

13. Bombay Talkies

Bombay Talkies: Shahrukh is barely in Bombay Talkies, just one of many stars making an appearance at the end of the film.  But he is technically still part of the movie, so I am including it.  And this movie is just so, so brilliant!  It’s a collection of 4 short films, and 3 of them are amazing.  Karan Johar proves he can really direct, and that his joking demeanor hides all kinds of pain.  Zoya Akhtar gives us the most loveable little boy in the world and then breaks our heart.  And then there’s the collaboration between Dibakar Banarjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and freaking SATYAJIT RAY!!!  Do I need to say anything more?  Oh, and there’s also the fourth story, by Anurag Kashyap.  Eh.

(Karan Johar, man!  Mindblowing, right?)

12. Om Shanti Om

This is the ultimate mise-en-scene movie.  Everything you see on screen is cohesive and thought out and supports the over all feel of the film.  It’s like the greatest Farah Khan song sequence, expanded to be 3 hours long.  Same as Main Hoon Na, but with a bigger budget.  And, I think, a deeper message.  Or at least a message that fits better within a film than Main Hoon Na‘s.  Main Hoon Na was all about peace and forgiveness, both between nations and between families.  But Om Shanti Om was about the spiritual strength one can gain from art, specifically film art.  Yes, it’s a silly reincarnation revenge story.  But underlying that is the idea that love and bravery and all the good things about humanity can be brought out in film, that film can strengthen them and give hope at the lowest point, that film is important and magical and meaningful.  If you read between the lines in Farah’s interviews about where the idea for this film came from, and why the 70s era speaks so strongly to her, it’s because those films were her escape and her hope and the beauty in her life during a really pretty sucky childhood (parents’ marriage fell apart, family lost everything, they had to bounce between relative’s houses for years, watching movies on the TV was the only way she could get out of herself)

(Now, watch this song picturing chubby little Farah turning up the TV and covering baby Sajid’s ears while their parents fought in the other room)

11.  Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

I can’t BELIEVE I forgot to put this on my list last year!  Such a well-made movie.  It wouldn’t work without Shahrukh and Kajol in the leads, it is perfect for them, but then on the other hand, I don’t know if they will ever be able to find roles that perfectly written again, and a narrative that perfectly designed to frame them.  So the film stands on its own quality too.

10. Kal Ho Na Ho

This may seem like a film that doesn’t belong on this list.  It’s just a light frothy melodramatic romance, right?  And yes, if that’s all it was, I wouldn’t include it.  The story and the performances and the songs are all really really good, it’s a solid top 20 Shahrukh movie, but not top ten.

But what brings it to a whole new level is the editing and way it was put together!  Seriously, watch it again for all the 4th wall breaking moments, the references to other films, the magical realism.  I don’t think there has been a movie before or since that reached quite that level of brilliance and complexity in how it was put together.  Maybe Rang De Basanti, with the switching between timelines.  But Kal Ho Na Ho did all that, wrapped around a simple and sincere story, and somehow made them feel like they fit together.

(It’s a lovely song, it fits perfectly into the film, you don’t even consciously notice what’s happening with it.  But check out how Shahrukh is there-but-not-there in all the scenes, the care with which eye-line matches are avoided, the return to the same locations (beauty shop, street scene) over and over again but from slightly different angles.  It’s brilliant!)

9. Don

Okay, there’s the ending.  That alone, and all the little hints built in going up to the ending, would be enough to put this on a top 20 list.  But what moves it over the top is the style!  The color tones, the camera angles, the costumes, all of it perfectly creating a certain nihilistic mood.  While still calling back to the 70s classics which inspired the script, not letting go of the Indian film heritage.

And then there’s Shahrukh’s performance.  Like I said, this isn’t a post about “best Shahrukh Khan films”, it’s about the overall greatest films Shahrukh has been a part of.  But Don IS Shahrukh Khan!  It rises and falls on his shoulders, and Farhan Akhtar managed to tease out of him some sort of completely new persona, something the world had never seen before.

(Yep, he is Don)

8. Chak De, India

What is it that makes Chak De, India great?  Is it because it is the first great Indian sports movie of the modern era?  Is it because it is uniquely grounded and realistic in mise-en-scene?  Is it because Shahrukh gives a sensitive and powerful performance, not to mention playing a Muslim onscreen for first time as a leading man (I don’t count Hey Ram)?  Is it the “Sattar Minute” speech?  Or the McDonald’s fight scene?  Or the awesome title anthem?

Or is it that all these things are there to support a story about women achieving against the odds, even if no one cares or respects them, because they know in their hearts they are worthy?  Yeah, pretty sure that’s it.  The only reason this film isn’t higher on the list is because of the moments when it loses sight of this goal, the artificial conflicts between the girls, the almost too evil actions by their enemies, etc.  But when it is just about the power of a brief moment on the sports field when nothing matters but your teammates and your own skill, a moment outside of the constant restrictions of society, that’s beautiful!

7. Fan

I really debated putting this film higher on the list.  I think it is probably the most ambitious movie Shahrukh has ever been a part of, maybe the most ambitious film ever made in India.  Not just the technical part of it, but the big ideas about stardom and identity and globalization and family and even gender issues!

But it was kind of too big, you know?  In the end, it just couldn’t quite hold itself together, too many ideas shoved into a space too small too hold them.  The same problem as My Name is Khan (and the reason My Name is Khan isn’t on this list at all, although don’t worry, it will show up on a list at some point in the next 11 days).

6. Gaja Gamini

Man this movie is weird!  And a triumph of Indian film, an acknowledgement as something truly made for and by artists.  MF Hussain, India’s greatest living artist at the time (and then he died, if he was still alive he would still be the greatest living artist.  Was that not clear?), was so inspired by Indian films that he wanted to make a movie.  And the leading artists of the film world so respected his vision that the volunteered to work with him.  Shahrukh shows up for barely 5 minutes, playing himself.  The whole movie is built around Madhuri Dixit, Hussain’s muse (at that time, towards the end of his life it switched to Amrita Rao), playing all the figures of Indian dramatic narrative at once.

And it’s just lovely, truly.  Like nothing I have ever seen in any other film.  Hussain’s art has this fantastic sense of movement and flow, and somehow that managed to translate to his film work.  It’s not just a series of beautiful still images (although it’s that too), it is about how all those images come together and create a beautiful sequence.

Image result for mf hussain paintings

(Doesn’t this somehow feel like a movie?  Like it has movement buried in it?)

5. Darr

Top 5!  Woot-woot!  I put off watching Darr for so long (because it broke my “no movies where Shahrukh dies” rule), and then I finally did, and it is so much more than just a movie where Shahrukh dies!  Or a cheap ripoff of Baazigar, or a stupid Sunny Deol action movie, or anything else that I feared.

Darr interrogates the whole concept of filmic romance as we have learned it from Indian films: gender roles, “heroines” versus “heros”, even Holi songs get questioned!  And it does all this with so much pretty gloss and songs and costumes, that you don’t even notice what is happening, until you reach the end and realize you are rooting for the “villain”, because you have fallen victim to the brainwashing that makes you see him as the hero.

(Why do we always accept these stalker love songs as romantic, instead of acknowledging that they are terrifying?)

4. Swades

As a film, just the directing part of it, I would put this behind Darr.  And Don.  Even Kal Ho Na Ho was slightly more inventive!  But the message is so powerful, a simple presentation almost makes it stronger.  Even with bad American actors, and a miss-conception that NASA is based in DC, and a score that gets a little too twinkly-tinkly at times.

The lesson that India can do better, and should do better, and its best and brightest should stay and fight for that instead of just giving up and leaving, that has resonance!  Not just for the NRI community, but for everyone who has ever wondered if they should stay and fight to make their home better, or just give up and move somewhere else (by the way, for US residents, don’t forget to vote! Election day is just 6 days after Shahrukh’s birthday, that should be easy to remember!).

Just to deal with it in a microcosm, I’m from a long time Chicago family.  Chicago is ringed by very wealthy and healthy suburban communities (there’s a whole thing about property taxes and school funding and the state constitution that is related to this).  I work in Evanston, the largest of these suburbs, which is also where Northwestern University is located.  It has a lovely public library, clean streets, nice cafes and coffee houses, reliable public transit, everything good.  And yet, I still live in Chicago, dirty crime-ridden terrible schools over-crowded and over-burdened Chicago.  Because it is better to stay there and fight to make it better, than to give up and move to the suburbs.

I’m just talking about a move of half a mile, but it is the same moral question that this film deals with in moves of hundreds (millions? I’m bad at geography) of miles.  And that’s why this film is number 5, because despite it’s flaws, it perfectly expresses a unique moral message, one that we don’t hear enough in the world today.

3. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa

This is not a movie with a deep message.  It’s not a movie about big earth shattering events.  It’s not a movie about larger than life people, and fantastical locations, and amazing achievements.  And that, in itself, is it’s achievement.

Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is about the beauty of the over-looked everyday events.  A boy who fails school and fails at love and fails at everything, but keeps trying and growing and learning.  He’s a hero because he tries, not because he succeeds.  His biggest “heroic” moment is when he confesses to his family that his report card was forged, and he actually failed.  And his triumph is when they decide to forgive and love him anyway, because he tried.

2. Dil Se

What can I say about Dil Se?  It is what it is, you know?  A Mani Ratnam movie, so it’s brilliant by default.  More than that, it’s a movie which tries to get at the heart of what drives people to terrorism, not just the superficial story of a misguided youth or bad role models, but an unflinching idea of just what kind of trauma would do that to a person.

And it doesn’t give an easy solution either.  There is no solution for that kind of trauma, “love” won’t cure it, and any sort of patriotic pablum won’t convince you away from it.  Intensive therapy, sure, that might help.  But will that do anything to help with the knowledge that hundreds of people everyday are going through the same trauma as you, and you are doing nothing to stop it?

(“Chaiyya Chaiyya” is the big show stopper, but over the years I have come to appreciate the title song more and more.  It’s about purposeful blindness, ignoring the world burning around them and insisting on love and joy and life.  And in the end, love triumphs! At least for a moment.)

Dil Se was sold to the world as being about the 7 stages of love.  And it is a love story, but not that kind of love story.  It’s not about Shahrukh falling in mad love with Manisha, it’s about the way that kind of love has the power, for even a brief moment, to distract her and save her from her destiny.  To find the hope inside of her black grief. Ultimately this love can’t “save” her, but what matters is that he tried, that he saw her and cared for her, that he gave her back her humanity at the very end.  That’s all the oppressed people around the world are asking for, to be seen as human again.

1.1. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayange

Well, if you really want to know what I think about this, you can check out my full index of coverage here.

But for the big picture idea of why it is at the top of this list, DDLJ encapsulates the entirety of Indian culture in the current era.  I don’t just mean the current film era, I mean all of Indian culture.  The rise of the Indian woman, the NRI identity, the patriarchy trying to assert itself, the battle waged over female bodies and Punjabi fields, it’s all there!  And it ends with wish-fulfillment, that the patriarchy will let go of its grasp on young people (especially female young people) and allow them to life their lives.

Image result for ja simran ja

Until that happens in actual fact, until young India is allowed to make its own choices and go its own way, DDLJ is just going to keep running in Marathi Mandir, and I am going to keep putting it at the top of this list.

 

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25 thoughts on “Happy 30 Days to Shahrukh’s Birthday! Top 30 Best Films

  1. Great list! Sad that Chennai Express isn’t here–Deepika (as an actress, and her character) is so much better as a foil for him in CE than in OSO, even though I love OSO too. I love Pardes–I see so much Michael J Fox inspiration in his first half performance–that little mover and shaker staging the country house, the bride to be, and her family, for his spoiled American charge, manipulating that spoiled American at the same time. And I love the friendship (and chemistry) between Shah Rukh and Mahima Chaudry. I wish they’d done something else together.

    And Shah Rukh’s speech at the end about how rich powerful men think that what they do is right, just because they are doing it. Great stuff!

    Like

  2. Margaret, you did put MyNameIsKhan on the list 🙂

    I think I would very much like deeper analysis about some films you put on the list…films you did not yet wrote about extensively.
    It’s an interesting list. What do you think about PhirBhiDilHaiHindustani? And Asoka?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Both of them just barely missed the cut. Asoka was very ambitious, and I admire that. But I feel like it didn’t commit enough, there was no reason for the Johnny Lever comedy scenes to be put in there, and the ending felt like it was rushed because they weren’t sure what they wanted to do with it. Shahrukh’s character/performance was perfect, and certain other parts of it were as well, but then it was all surrounded by just messiness.

      Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani I very much enjoy! But it’s another one that I feel like didn’t quite commit enough. Part of it is a throwback to those Ketan Mehta type films, Maya Memsaab and Oh Darling Yeh Hai India, kind of surreal social commentary. But then again you have Johnny Lever wacky comedy for no reason, and a romance, and just a mixture of things that conflict with each other.

      On Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 8:58 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is so hard to argue with this list, because you know so much more about film in general than I do, and I am blinded by my attention to performances and plot, and not much beyond that. Moreover, my mind keeps slipping away from “best movies” to “my favorite movies”. The one film I wish were on the list is “Oh Darling Yeh Hai India”, which I would love even if Shah Rukh Khan were not in it. It is so theatrical, in the sense of being like a stage performance, and so much like an Indian Dr. Strangelove in its surreal nature; I don’t often buy movies, but I bought this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was wondering if someone would mention that film. Because it is one that really didn’t work for me, but at the same time is such an odd film that I can see how some other people could really love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. How could you have left out Veer Zaara completely????? And included Om Shanti Om and that Zeemana one instead? I love OSO but it’s fluff~great, over the top, entertaining fluff with the greatest shot of SRKs nearly bare butt EVER, yes~ but fluff nonetheless! But thank you for not including Mohabbatein, which in my opinion is the worst, most overrated SRK movie ever~except for Karun Arjun!

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    • I knew people would have deep opinions on this! I just don’t like Veer-Zaara. It feels dated to me, like it doesn’t have anything new to say or contribute. Whereas Om Shanti Om is something completely different from anything else.

      And Zamaana I just whole-heartedly love. The cynicism, the black comedy, and the super sexy song.

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  5. My own personal list would have Paheli, Swades, Billu, Dear Zindagi, Luck by Chance, Dil Se, Fan, DDLJ and, just to be a Rahul Bose fan girl again, Shaurya at the top. Special mention: Koyla for best mullets on the whole cast.

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    • SHOOT! I missed Dear Zindagi!!!! did I? I don’t even remember any more, 30 is a lot.

      On Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 6:27 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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      • Yeah…maybe…but it’s not really a great movie. And that’s what you said you were rating~best movies SRK was in. He is truly phenomenal in it (he has become so restrained and yet so incredibly powerful as an actor) and Alia’s performance is wonderful but without taking his & her performances into account it’s not really all that special.

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  6. I’ve been thinking about whether to offer this opinion for a few days. It’s worth mentioning, on hindsight.

    Mr. S. R. Khan had a bit part in the Ms. A Roy scripted (she of the Booker Prize winning fame; she won the national award for best screenplay for this film before she won the Booker) English film titled In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, probably the cultiest of cult films made in India (English-medium, with most of the dialogue in slang that was used by a very limited set of primarily English speaking urban and urbane, highly educated Indians of a certain generation that weren’t around for The Beatles and stopped obsessing about popular music right around the time that Michael Jackson became famous as a solo artist).

    As a point of comparison, for the people that like it, their emotional reaction is similar to those that obsess about G. Dutt’s Pyaasa. If I was coerced into ranking top thirty films where Mr. S.R. Khan had a role, Annie… would be somewhere in the upper echelons on that list.

    Here’s a link to that film, with decent viewing quality:

    Here’s another link with less-than-acceptable quality, but it has English subtitles:

    Regards.

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  7. I thought that as an American you would be pissed at how your country was depicted in Pardes. I mean “all westerners have loose morals and have no culture” vs the “pure virginal Indian girl”. I found the whole movie very cringe worthy.

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    • You know, it’s interesting, on my recent watch I found that the message was much more class based than west versus east. Even in America, the working class was good. And even in India, the wealthy class was terrible.

      On Sat, Oct 14, 2017 at 10:37 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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  8. Pingback: Monday Morning Questions Post: Let’s All Rank SRK! | dontcallitbollywood

  9. Pingback: Happy Birthday to Shahrukh!!!!! 31 Times Over | dontcallitbollywood

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