Happy Amitabh’s birthday again! And, because it is his birthday, I thought I would do a Shahrukh birthday post that could kind of work for Amitji too. So, co-stars!!!! Not in order in any way, just 22 that are interesting to think about.
22. Anupam Kher
One of his first co-stars! All the way back in Darr, which was only his second year in the industry but his 9th film. And back then Anupam was playing the heroine’s brother, not father, a contemporary of Shahrukh. Their next two films, Anupam was even more of a contemporary, a slightly older buddy type. Especially in Zamaana-Deewana, my secret fave. A crazy kooky police officer who the superiors looked down on and Shahrukh didn’t respect. Until suddenly he did. And it was that buddy feeling that they were able to bring forward into their father-son relationship in DDLJ. And Chaahat. And allllllllll the other father-son films they have made since then. Even in Happy New Year, when they were never on screen together, we could see and believe that Anupam was his father and it was a massive grief when he died. There is something special between them onscreen, a kind of happy spark.
21. Johnny Lever
Yes, Johnny Lever! Who I have been told multiple times is hilarious if you speak Hindi. But I do not speak Hindi, so he is not hilarious to me. But he is hilarious to Shahrukh, which is why I like them together. Shahrukh kind of stands back while he is onscreen and lets him go, in a way he doesn’t usually do with his co-stars. And, of course, honorable mention for their exchanges in Chalte Chalte which turned into the heart of the film.
20. Anushka Sharma
Of course, I still have a Jab Harry Met Sejal hangover, but I do think there is something special there. Even going back to their first film. Anushka has a natural strength on screen, which lets Shahrukh be the weak one for once. Whether it is “Taani” driving the scooter and taking the lead in chasing down their enemies in RNBD, or “Sejal” embracing and comforting him in JHMS. Strangely, Shahrukh also comes off the strongest in their films together. Because he is strong enough to be weak, to know when he needs someone. And even stronger, to know when she needs him, when he has to be strong for her.
19. Alia Bhatt
Oh Alia! One of the few co-stars on this list that he only worked with once. But their chemistry was so immediate, and so unique, that I have to acknowledge it. He had literally known Alia since she was a baby visiting the Chaahat sets. I don’t think he knew her well, which makes their collaboration stronger. He was able to see her as much younger than him, definitely younger than him because he knew her as a child. But also as a person in her own right, not just her sister’s younger sister, or her father’s daughter. And that’s what came through in their film together. He saw her as a younger person he cared about, but always the “younger” was paramount, the sense of responsibility and love of an adult for a child. Which is what made it so unusual, because of course Alia in real life, and in the film, was not a child. She was an adult woman with adult woman feelings, meaning, being in love with Shahrukh Khan. So from his side came mature caring concerned love for someone less than him. And from her side came adult woman butterfly feelings for him. But it also felt familiar somehow, because that is his dynamic with his much younger female co-stars at all times. That is, when they aren’t onscreen. These young women talk about heart stopping crushes they had on him, combined with respect and care he showed them.
18. Shahrukh Khan himself
Three! Three films where he co-starred with himself! Paheli and Duplicate and Fan. Duplicate first, there wasn’t much Khan-on-Khan action in that one. Really only one scene I think? Way at the end? But we did get to see them interact sort of through how their respective loved ones interacted with them. “Sweet” SRK, tormented and confused by Sonali (coming up next entry) and “bad” SRK confused by sweet Juhi Chawla who didn’t want to do anything bad. Paheli is where it starts to get interesting. The double role, of course, but also the way when they meet at the end, our “ghost” SRK seems to have such a lack of interest in or respect for the “real” SRK. That’s unusual, the kind of disgust that SRK opposite SRK seems to inspire. And then in Fan of course it went to extremes. You can’t hate anyone else as much as you hate yourself. And so Shahrukh’s Gaurav hates his Aryan with a kind of intimacy we don’t see from any other actor opposite him. And Shahrukh’s Aryan looks at Gaurav with a kind of disdain mixed with caring mixed with fear that we don’t see from him when looking at “other” actors.
17. Sonali Bendre
An interesting one. Only co-starred twice, both times in a hypersexualized situation. Which is a different side to Shahrukh than we usually see. In Duplicate, she was the “gangster’s moll” who only wanted one thing from him. In English Babu Desi Mem, she was the bar dancer who he first noticed for her sexy dancing, not anything else. It makes for not the best Shahrukh romances, as I discussed in my romances post, but it does make for interesting ones. Something about Sonali brings out a kind of silly selfish petty sexy side of him.
16. Madhuri Dixit
Oh Madhuri! So amazingly wonderful. Which is part of the reason that she isn’t the best co-star for him. She tends to overshadow rather than let him shine. Or, not exactly overshadow, but compete. When they are working together in a love scene, it is magical. But when they are working separately in their own scenes of the film, it is distracting. Who should we relate to more? Who should we care about more? It worked the best, in some ways, in the one film where they were antagonists rather than love interests, Anjaam. In that case, Madhuri was the hero and Shahrukh was the villain. No conflict or focus, it was all just like usual. But in Devdas, where Shahrukh is supposed to be the hero whose story we are following (he is in the title after all), Madhuri ends up distracting us. In Hum Tumhaare Hain Sanam, we can never quite buy them as a husband and wife with normal problems, because it feels like we should be taking sides, like one of them clearly must be better than the other, such strong personalities can’t both be wrong. Koyla was I think their best, because in that case they were both separated and united. Working towards common goals, but not challenging each other for screen time. And when they did come together, that spark was part of what worked. They felt like they belonged together because they were the only two in the room with a certain kind of flavor to them.
15. Boman Irani
Boman Irani started his career late, and Shahrukh was his first co-star. In Main Hoon Na, it was their comedy scenes together that made Boman first start to shine. Boman was the older actor, and playing the older character, but Shahrukh was the more experienced actor, the one who knew how to play off of him and what to do and how to deliver a line and so on. That odd dynamic remained between them, Boman playing the older character and Shahrukh playing the more experienced actor. In Don, Boman is supposedly in charge, but Shahrukh is really running the game. The same in Don 2. And finally in Happy New Year, their power dynamic is made official. It’s Shahrukh’s plan, Boman is just one of his team.
14. Abhishek Bachchan
Only two films together, but very interesting to consider the differences between their dynamics in the two. In the first, they are equals. Abhishek and Shahrukh are both mature successful men with wives. They are different, Abhishek is more outgoing and less serious, Shahrukh is overly serious and internal. But they are equals, they can sit down together and talk over their differences. And as actors they are equals, both of them playing serious dramatic roles. Yes, Shahrukh is the protagonist with more screen time, but Abhishek has his own backstory and depth and emotional outbursts. And the film didn’t work. And their chemistry is not terribly memorable. And then there’s Happy New Year. Which took the difference between them that was already there and expands it. Abhishek is even more outgoing. And it’s not just that his personality is naturally less serious, his whole character is less serious. Less backstory, less relationship building. Just comic relief. Shahrukh’s character is less serious than in Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna (there are only a few movies where you could say his character is MORE serious than in KANK). But his character has a weight to it, a depth, a tragedy. And an intelligence and power. He is clearly the “Adult” to Abhishek’s child. And it works a lot better! This is a memorable and unusual dynamic between them, much more so than just another “lead actor and slightly less lead actor” kind of situation.
13. Preity Zinta
4 movies together. One of his more common heroines. And yet it doesn’t feel like it, because they were such different movies, and such different character interactions. In their first, Preity was a new discovery, just launched. And playing the kind of role you would see with a new discovery. Not the lead heroine, but a character who has to grab the audience’s interest in just a few scenes, has to be the kind of radical new thing to them. So she is peppy and pretty and calmly talks about love and sex. But is kept away from the more serious dramatic parts of the film. And then there was Kal Ho Na Ho. In which she was the center of the film. The character whose voice over tells the whole story. Very different, relying on the audience to love her, to believe her, to want to follow her. While Shahrukh was the interesting stranger who grabs the audience interest. Not to mention that she is no longer peppy and pretty, but bitter and angry. Followed the next year by Veer-Zaara. In which they are true co-stars. Her character has almost as much to do and as much to change as Shahrukh’s. And she grows from that peppy and pretty look to something more as the film goes on. And finally, Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna. One of the most unusual hero-heroine relationships in all of Hindi film. And it builds on everything we have seen from them before. Shahrukh has always been deeper, bitterer, and somewhat discounted her as less than him. In every film, Dil Se through Veer-Zaara. He was the guide and protector and teacher, she was the one who had to learn from him. But KANK questions that assumption, asks if he really is more than her, or if he has just convinced himself he is. If that is the real problem, that he has never been able to respect her as a person, think about what she wants and why she wants it.
12. Rani Mukherji
6 movies! And, here’s what’s really interesting, in 2 of them they were not strictly speaking love interests. Not a usual thing for Shahrukh with actresses. Or any star with any actress, to have the kind of chemistry that can translate to “lawyer-client” or “best friends but he doesn’t feel ‘that way’ about her”. And can easily turn back into being “love interests who are equals and mature about it”. I don’t think any of their romances really were the kind of dramatic romantic things that he has had with other heroines. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, they never really fought or anything, she was seriously considering him, he was presenting his case, and then they decided to get married. No elopement, no dramatic confrontation, no sobbing in the rain. Chalte Chalte sounds dramatic, but really isn’t. He follows her, they talk, they like each other, at the last minute she decides to marry him. And then they get married, they fight, they make up, the fight and don’t make-up. But again, it is not the usual “chasing and convincing a younger woman” feeling. She is an adult who gets to make her own decisions and has her own life, so is he. And the second half, their marriage fights, that is something really unusual that i think could only work opposite Rani, someone we believe he could be married to, and who would be strong enough to stand up to him. Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna, same thing. A grumpy friendship that slowly turned into something more. But they were both on the same page. He wasn’t pursuing her, she wasn’t resisting, not exactly. It just suddenly happened, to both of them at the same time. And they were both equally mature about it, he wasn’t “guiding” her ever, the way he often does with his heroines, even Kajol in some films. And finally Paheli. Where her strength was most important. Shahrukh is an ancient powerful being. And yet Rani is strong and intelligent and determined and knows what she wants, and is able to confront him and wear him down to being her partner.
11. Salman Khan
Only 3 real movies together, not counting friendly appearances, Karan-Arjun, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam. There is something special about them onscreen together, because the bring out what is best in the other. That is, in popular culture/society in the real world, Shahrukh fills Salman’s gaps and vice versa. And when they are both characters in the same film, it becomes even more so. Shahrukh is intelligent, in his own head, doubtful, slow to make a decision. Salman is warm and quick and emotional. And so in Karan-Arjun, it is Shahrukh who figures out their past from clues, while Salman takes a huge emotional leap. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, it is Salman who can speak his heart, even speak Shahrukh’s heart for him at the end, while Shahrukh is always stubbornly silent. And in Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, it is Salman’s warm and caring character who helps Shahrukh understand what marriage is and love is, and how shortsighted he has been.
10. Jackie Shroff
Like Anupam Kher, an actor who started as his slightly older contemporary but has aged to be the father figure to his heroines and others. They started out as brothers in Trimurti and King Uncle. In both cases, Jackie was the stern older brother while Shahrukh was the romantic younger brother. The gap was not just in their ages, but in their attitudes and the way they approached the world. And it was in their generation of film stars. Jackie quickly became out of date, that stern serious type didn’t fit in the 90s, it was the era of Shahrukh’s romantic younger brother. And therefore in their third film together, Jackie had to die. Jackie’s responsible boring single father in One 2 Ka 4 had to leave so Shahrukh’s fun and wild younger adoptive father could take over. Maybe he was less capable, but he was a lot more entertaining. And finally in Happy New Year, Jackie’s responsible competent type had actually become the villain. While the wild emotional incompetents were the heroes.
9. Sushmita Sen
Oh Sush! Only two movies together, but I still can’t forget you. In Main Hoon Na, you brought out a sort of puckish playfulness that Shahrukh had never had before. You were the glamorous confident woman who wasn’t afraid to have fun that turned him into a teasing little boy. And in Dulha Mil Gaya, that was extended even further. You were in charge, the one who controlled things, while Shahrukh was the one waiting on your commands, not ashamed to be powerless in front of you.
8. Saif Ali Khan
Only one movie together! But such phenomenal chemistry, I can’t ignore it. Somehow that funny happy feel he had with Anupam, only with someone his own age. They both have the same sense of humor, onscreen, and Saif brings out an over the top quality to Shahrukh, while he somehow makes Saif look dignified. Which is not the norm when Saif does chemistry.
7. Kareena Kapoor Khan
When I think of jodis, I think of them as individuals, being able to perform well opposite each other and bring out the best in each other. And I also think of that sort of magical 3rd element that comes out when they are onscreen together. Kareena and Shahrukh really bring out good stuff in each other, and look great together, and all of that. But, for me, there just isn’t as much of that kind of 3rd element that comes out through the magic of chemistry. But they do look really good opposite each other!
6. Divya Bharti
Shahrukh’s first co-star! Both of them were just little babies in their films together, and tragically we never really got to see Divya grow up. But there was something there, some kind of magic and chemistry between them. I really believed they loved each other.
5. Arjun Rampal
Word is, post-Ra.One, they aren’t that close any more. But for a while, they really were. Which is why Arjun got the role in Don and in Om Shanti Om and in Ra.One. And I love them together! Shahrukh brings out a kind of madness in Arjun’s performance and wildness in Arjun’s performance, but Arjun is still so calm and beautiful, he kind of makes Shahrukh look extra crazy and unpredictable and un-heroic in contrast. I love that, how they are always set up as yin and yang in their films. Plus, of course, raw sexual tension!
4. Deepika Padukone
I wasn’t that fond of them as a couple in Om Shanti Om, they were fine, nothing spectacular, I was more interested in seeing Shahrukh with Shreyas Talpade than with Deepika. But then in Chennai Express, excellence!!!!! His cocky older guy attitude was amazing when contrasted with her total lack of respect or interest in his opinion. And she had such strength! Such sure strength, more than he did. Which was exactly why they worked in Happy New Year too. Shahrukh thinks he has all the cards and knows everything, and then Deepika constantly sets him back on his heels.
3. Varun Dhawan
Again, only one movie together. But they did a good job, I bought the brother relationship more than Varun’s love story with Kriti. And Varun has a certain energy onscreen which reminds me of Shahrukh, which worked well, two people who were clearly raised closely even if they look nothing alike. I hope there are more movies coming that could take advantage of that.
2. Juhi Chawla
I think, in terms of knowing each other and enjoying working together and really loving each other in real life, Juhi is his best co-star. And certainly one of his most common co-stars, which brings with it it’s own advantages, a familiarity with their respective styles and able to predict how they will choose to play out scenes and so on and so on.
(Shahrukh and Juhi at her brother’s funeral)
She’s known him since his first few years in the industry, they are business partners, they’ve worked together in 10 movies, she’s played everything from his wife to his sister-in-law to the terrified object of his affection.
Really, did this surprise anyone? Of course it’s Kajol at the number 1 slot!!! There’s some kind of magic between them that is unusual not just for Shahrukh, but for, like, the world! I don’t know if there is another couple onscreen that has ever been like them. Maybe Raj and Nargis. Or Fred and Ginger. But it’s definitely a once in a generation kind of thing.
(Here, for comparison, everyone he has co-starred with together in one place, and Kajol still stands out as something special.)
Amitabh and SRK!
Their first film together is still their most important, Mohabbatein. While Jackie and Anil and other older actors were allowed to quietly fade away in front of the 90s romance onslaught, Amitabh was too big for that. He had to be confronted, remodeled, reimagined, and defeated. Which is what Mohabbatein was about, “love” (90s film romance represented by SRK) defeating “fear” (70s film action and anger represented by Amitabh). Their second film, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, is almost equally important. Shahrukh, the new young man who is rebelling purely for love. Thrown out of the house by Amitabh, who has become the very authority figure against which he used to rebel in his own youth. And then their 3rd substantial film together, Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna, in which Amitabh turns into his own love rebel. But more of one that Shahrukh could be, because he always has to be more. And wiser than Shahrukh too, because he always has to be wiser.