Just to be clear, this is not best performances. “Performances” would mean he brought something extra to the role. Which of course he did, but here I want to focus on characters, characters as written in the script, who would have been interesting no matter who played them.
15. Kabir Khan: A great idea for a character no matter who played him. A brilliant athlete who was exiled from doing what he loved, and came back seemingly emotionless and perfect, burned to a strong unbreakable center by adversity. Only to reveal in the last few moments that his heart was always there, that he has been waiting for victory, both the big public victory and the small private one, all these years.
14. Surinder Sahni: Not Raj. Raj is superficial, silly, a joke. It is Surinder who is the real hero, the quiet man who takes in a bereaved woman and expects nothing from her, who somehow understand what she needs without talking to her, and who is strong enough in his own heart to know that he will not accept her love for a fantasy man, but only for who he really is.
13. Dev Saran: A very different character. Angry, bitter, straight up unlikable. This is someone you would not want to talk to in real life, might not trust to be your friend in real life. But that’s what makes this love story so unusual, someone who doesn’t exactly “deserve” love, but finds it anyway, because sometimes love just happens.
12. Asoka: Well, this is just a great character! One of the most fascinating figures in world history, a conqueror who fought his way to the throne by killing his own family, then continued to fight to conquer all his surrounding territory, until a sudden change of heart made him realize the brutality and pointlessness of war. I can see why Shahrukh wanted to play him, and I hope that someone else take sup the challenge and tries again, because I don’t think everything that can be said about this person has yet been said.
11. Sunil (Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa) This is justifiably one of the roles that Shahrukh is proudest of. A hero who isn’t a hero. A protagonist, rather than a hero. Someone who is kind of bad, and kind of boring at the same time. A small person leading a small life. And yet we are drawn into him, the script makes us care and sympathize and understand.
10. Rahul (Darr) A boy stuck in a man’s body, devoted to his mother without acknowledging she is dead, in love with love but unable to express it, living a fantasy life trapped in his room until eventually he goes outside and tries to make that fantasy real. A fascinating character! And one that was turned down by all the big names, before someone was willing to take a risk on this very difficult script.
9. Harry: All of his recent films made their way to this list. That is, all his post-Dilwale films. I think it is fair to say that Shahrukh is now looking at the character and the script more than the profitability of a movie. And Harry is a fascinating character. Lonely, charming, tormented, happy, related to all the NRI heroes Shahrukh has played for so long, but also different from them. Someone with a hidden past and an unknown future, but an emotional life so clearly drawn in the script that we feel we know him.
8. Dr. Jahengir Khan: Another unknown-but-known character. His past is unknown, and so is his future. But we know right now that he is a caring sensitive intelligent experienced person. That he has his own sorrows and his own ways of dealing with them. But that they don’t stop him from caring about someone else.
7. Raees: If only the film as a whole had lived up to this central character! A brutal gangster, who takes no real pleasure in violence, just sees it as another part of his job. Who lives and dies for his neighborhood, not in a romantic dramatic way, but in a gritty day to day way. Who is short, who wears glasses and cooks with his wife. This is a different kind of gangster that, unfortunately, ended up trapped in what turned out to be the same old kind of gangster film.
6. Om Kapoor: One of the all time great comic characters! The self-involvement, the shallowness, the stupidity! The kind of guy who would with think a Disco style sad love song is a brilliant idea!
5. Raj Malhotra: DDLJ is SO good! And a lot of it is because of what an amazing character Raj Malhotra is. So amazing, that filmmakers spent the next few years trying to create pale imitations of him. He’s cocky and funny and a little mean. But he’s also sensitive and smart and will do anything for the ones he loves.
4. Rahul Joshi: Yes Boss is a movie that is a little too shallow to be really good, but a little too deep to be completely written off. And that is mostly because of Rahul Joshi. Shamelessly ambitious, and yet strangely innocent. In love, but afraid to admit it. Completely amoral, until suddenly he isn’t.
3. Arjun Sagar: Pardes has A LOT going on. And unfortunately, Arjun’s story kind of gets lost in the mix. But his character is really the most fascinating! An orphan from India brought to the west, who never feels like he really belongs anywhere, most of all within his adopted family. Who carries with him so much guilt and obligation, he isn’t even willing to rescue the woman he loves until the last minute. Who stands on the outside and tries to make everyone else’s life better, and resists being brought into the story.
2. Gaurav Chadana: Fascinating character! Just fascinating. Somehow both humble and prideful at the same time. Both entitled and generous. He comes off as harmless, simple, the one who is put upon not the put upon-er. And then, somehow, by the end of the film, all those layers have been peeled off and you realize that he will always convince himself he is the victim in every situation.
1.1. Aryan Khanna: This one is kind of fascinating, because it is Shahrukh. I mean, he’s playing himself. But not a simplified version of himself, like in Om Shanti Om or Billu, but a character who tries to contain all the complications and depth of Shahrukh Khan, the real person. A movie star with a lot of charm and love. But with a lot of madness and pride too. And, underneath that, a human need to protect his family, and a human sense of sadness about how little family he has (that moment at the end, when he tells Gaurav to go home to his parents, that’s brilliant and heartbreaking).