This came up because of a comment in our JHMS discussion yesterday. About how it felt like in some ways the happy ending for “Harry” resolved a lot of unhappy endings for similarly noble Shahrukh lover characters. Which got me thinking about what might be the same and different in how SRK romances play out. So, let’s look at an assortment of romances. 7 at a go, because I want to discuss them in depth and then discuss them cumulatively.
Let’s start with the first Shahrukh romance. Shahrukh is introduced in the second half. Our first half hero, Rishi Kapoor, was a wealthy landed prince who fell in love with an innocent school girl. After a big romantic romance, involving a lot of singing songs at her and so on, he whisked her away to his palace and his mother and her life become entirely involved in him. But then Rishi died, and his mother and his widow (Divya Bharti) had to flee to the city and start life anew.
This is the point at which Shahrukh enters. The antithesis of the first half hero. He is young and modern and urban. He rides a motorcycle, not a horse. And instead of being devoted to his elderly mother and his beautiful land, he is angry at his bitter father and hates his modern mansion. One thing is still true, he falls in love with Divya at first sight, just like Rishi did. However, while Rishi wooed her through love songs and gifts, Shahrukh woos her violently. Their first meeting is when his motorcycle hits her mother-in-law. Their second is when he breaks into her house on Holi to force color onto her face (as a widow, naturally she is all in white).
But here’s the difference. Shahrukh is wooing her not so she will be part of his life, but so he will be allowed to be a part of hers. He doesn’t even want her to love him back necessarily, he just wants to marry her and therefore make her life (as a married woman) better than it is now (as a widow). He does marry her and moves into her life and her standards, rejecting his own. And, slowly, wins her over to loving him post-marriage. In the end, when Rishi returns, the audience can support the scriptwriters decision to have Divya stay with Shahrukh. Rishi is an old-fashioned kind of love story, about the man wooing the woman and romance and flowers and nothing real. Shahrukh is something different, two people who come together with eyes open.
Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman
This is a loose remake of a classic, Shree 420. As in the original, Shahrukh is a young man who comes to the city and is torn between a pure ambition and success in life (as represented by one woman) and greed and evilness (as represented by another). And as in the original, our “good” heroine is not exactly an innocent shrinking violet, but someone who is out there in the world along with her hero.
What changes slightly in this version is that both hero and heroine are so so young. This is the early 90s, when romances were all about extreme youth (in reaction to Amitabh’s aging presence in action films). And so Juhi’s heroine is somewhat unsure in her goodness, and her priorities. She lets Shahrukh’s hero go farther in all ways (sexy song, making money immorally) than Nargis did. But in the end, as in the original film, it is her rejection of his new values that serves to wake him up and return him to his better self.
Not the traditional romance in any sense. But what is fascinating is the contrast between Shahrukh’s young hero and Sunny’s older one. Young and old both in terms of their characters’ literal ages, and in terms of their personas. Shahrukh is weak, almost feminine. And also passionate, obsessed, nothing exists in his life but the woman he loves. In contrast, Sunny is overly strong and masculine, never willing to admit fear or even caution. And he constantly puts other considerations over that of his love for Juhi, his career, his pride, what he wants to do that day.
It is Shahrukh who teaches him how to be better. To accept an elopement just so they can be together, to listen to Juhi’s fears, to find a way to make her happy not just him happy.
Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
A truly unusual SRK romance. One in which he does not get the heroine. Never even comes close to getting her. Really, it’s a romance he shouldn’t even be in, he is the odd man out. There is our handsome responsible bright future hero. And the sweet happy heroine. And their shy love story as they slowly find each other. And then there is Shahrukh.
Awkward, not successful, lying and cheating and cowardly. Not evil, just weak. Not a guy the heroine deserves, or who deserves her. Except that his heart is so big. Yes it leads him down the wrong paths, but it also leads him down the right ones, to want to help his friends whenever he can, to want to be part of their happiness in the end.
And it ends with his reward, a better heroine, Juhi Chawla, waiting for him. Someone who immediately indicates that she might care for him as well, she might love him back.
I know not many people like this film, but I love it. Partly for the cynical attitude towards film romances of the 90s, but partly for the real romance we get. Our hero and heroine go from cordially disliking each other, to realizing they share a common goal (ending the gang war between their fathers/helping cop Anupam Kher) and working together, to suddenly realizing they are in love.
The realization truly is sudden, which is part of why I love it. There is no slow build as they discover things they have in common and so on, their working together is separate from falling in love, meaning they would have chosen to keep working together towards this goal even if they never really got over their dislike. Both of them are more than just a person in love. Until they look at each other while a wedding song plays, and POW! In love forever!
The other thing I like about this romance is that there are no misunderstandings. Our heroine is blackmailed into marrying someone else, our hero sneaks in to see her, and rather than her saying “I don’t love you any more!”, she says “I do love you and always will, but I have to marry this other guy and here’s why”. Which lets him solve that problem so she doesn’t have to marry the other guy after all. I lot more reasonable than the angsty “for your own good I cannot tell you why!” stuff in other movies.
A very odd romance. More a social statement than a romance. But if we focus on just the romance part of it, it does fit with what has come before. Shahrukh is introduced as the “hero”, but a weaker hero, a sick hero. And a hero with no judgement of the heroine, who he knows is a prostitute. They partner up immediately, he saves her and she saves him, equals. And they are equal in defeating the evil plot as well.
A combination of the Darr and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa stories, with a twist. This time, once again, Shahrukh is the extra part of the triangle. But also the one who loves more purely, who teaches the guy what it means to love. But the twist is that the heroine loves him too, in her own way. She can’t help but care for him, relate to this emotionally open person who will do anything for her.
And he takes advantage of that, allows himself to be fooled into thinking it is real love, not pity. Until he suddenly sees through it. And also sees the only way to escape it, to give her the happy ending she needs, which is to make her hate him. He doesn’t just sacrifice his love, he sacrifices it in just the perfect way to make her fully able to move on, to have the happy life she deserves.
So, that’s the first 7. What can we see so far? Well, Shahrukh is already in his earliest films a little more of a companion, a support, to his heroines. It’s not a totally original perspective, Shree 420 had a weak hero who needed the heroine. Rajesh Khanna perfected that fresh boyish innocent type in contrast to the mature experienced man.
But where Shahrukh shone, right from the beginning, was in taking that persona of the man who needs the hero, the little boy who hasn’t quite grown up yet, and using it to make the heroine the center of the film, not himself. He was an amazing support.
That’s how he got his start, supporting the heroine. Dil Aashna Hai, the first film he signed, he barely had a plot or a storyline. He was just there to be the sounding board and moral support for the heroine.
And then there’s Deewana, where he is the third lead, behind Rishi and Divya. Rishi gets the big emotional mother-son scenes and the action scenes. Divya gets to be the protagonist who leads us through the whole film. And then there’s Shahrukh, the one who changes the course of Divya’s life, and brings on Rishi’s big emotional moments. He is just there to support them. And he sticks with that, takes the smaller part and doesn’t try to outshine them. But it is that very support which makes him stand out. A hero who doesn’t need the money, the fight scenes, even the heroine falling in love with him at first sight.
Shahrukh was also part of the new era of heroes and heroines, the 90s version, who laugh and joke and then fall in love. Back in the 60s-70s, there were those light-hearted romances with heroes and heroines who played tricks and had adventures. And in the golden era of the 1950s, there were the deep love stories like Awara, Kaagaz Ke Phool. But in the 90s we found a combination of the two. The carefree joking attitude, that would suddenly turn into deep emotion.
And Shahrukh was a master of that, the trickster who becomes serious when hit by the arrow of love.