Happy 14 Days to Shahrukh’s Birthday! 14 Best Performances

Yesterday I did “top characters“.  This is a post that pairs with it, top performances.  But is different, characters were wonderful people imagined by the script writer who Shahrukh was lucky to play.  These are characters that Shahrukh elevated through his performance. (part of this post is the same as last year, but most of it is new)

14. Swades: I can see people disagreeing with my putting it so low.  Heck, another day I might disagree with myself!  But right now, looking at the rest of the list, eh.  It’s certainly a very different performance from his usual one.  All of the standard “Shahrukh Khan” tricks are gone.  But, one the other hand, I don’t know if he really replaces it with that much else.  It works for the film, and the character, because he is supposed to be so internal.  But ultimately, it isn’t a performance that, on it’s own, really moves me.

13. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge I know it seems like it should be higher.  But after doing my exhaustive scene by scene discussion, I realized it isn’t his best performance.  It’s an amazing performance, don’t get me wrong, but he is not at his best yet.  He is working too hard, and I can see him working a little, if I look close.  Unlike later, where you can’t even see the effort.

(See?  The slight effort, the slight overacting in some moments)

12. Om Shanti Om Someone (sorry, can’t remember who!) pointed out in the comments that this is really a triple role.  Om Prakash, Om Kapoor, and Om Prakash as Om Kapoor.  But we don’t see that.  There is no effort here, it just flows naturally.  Silly Om Prakash with his moments of depth and heart.  Silly Om Kapoor with his superficial blind confidence.  And then Om-Om, all that heart combined with all that confidence.

(Om Kapoor, reborn, as a more generous and happy person than before, delighted just to be here and be dancing)

11. Chalte Chalte  This one I remember because it just happened yesterday!  Procrastinatrix pointed out in the comments on the best characters post that I missed Shahrukh in Chalte Chalte.  It is a great character, but it only really flies because of what Shahrukh brings to it.  In lesser hands, this would be a terrible unsympathetic fellow.  Resents his wife’s money, keeps her stuck in a boring middle-class life, throws her out when she tries to use her connections to help his business.  But Shahrukh works with the hints that are there in the script (it’s a good script, they gave him stuff to work with) to make something more.  He is a happy hard-driving confident guy, who has made it on his own.  Not just in business, but in all parts of life, made his own friends and turned them into family, won over his own wife, and is proud of everything he has accomplished.  And that justifiable pride is also his weakness, his identity is caught up in his achievements, when one of them is threatened (his business) it feels like all the rest are falling apart.  And all of those details, that comes from Shahrukh’s performance.  The little bit of happy confidence when talking about his business, the slow falling apart as he watches it go, the willingness to give up all false manly posturing and sob in his wife’s arms, combined with the scary anger that comes out when he feels like his last bit of pride is going.

(that little moment at the beginning when he keeps moving his head not to look at her, that’s so brilliant)

10. Saathiya: Shahrukh is barely in this movie, it’s really just a glorified Friendly Appearance.  Which is kind of what makes it so tough.  He has to show up in the last 15 minutes and immediately build a character and a relationship with the other characters, and have the audience 100% behind him.  And he does it!  He makes us believe that he is a high-ranking police officer, and loves his wife Tabu, and we should trust his judgement and decisions.

9. Chak De, India: Okay, I know I might be getting some pushback on putting this one so low.  And it is an amazing performance.  But part of it being amazing is that he has to step back and stomp down on himself a little so his character doesn’t over-shadow the girls who are the real stars.  And so the audience is left in as much mystery as the characters onscreen as to what his true intentions and motivations are.  So, yes, in the opening we see some crazy anger.  And at the end, there is some amazing small muscle movements and posture that tells us how much he has been waiting for this happy ending.  And along the way, there are the periodic speeches and reaction shots and so on during the games.  But mostly he stands back and lets the story and the other characters shine.

(unlike Swades, this one absolutely moves me, just with the little moments in his eyes)

8. Koyla: Now this is a performance!  Completely different from what he usually plays, with all kinds of emotions thrown in too.  Anger and revenge and innocence and love and so on and so on and so on.  Plus, no words!  Shahrukh is so incredibly verbal, both offscreen with his interviews, but also onscreen, with his stage training in how to deliver a monologue.  And he does this whole thing with no words!  Not saying it is the best movie, or the best character, but the performance is super impressive!

(Such a cute song!  Some of the best chemistry he has every had with Madhuri, and it’s all wordless)

7. Duplicate: Yes, I am putting Duplicate above Swades.  Stupid stupid Duplicate.  Because what Shahrukh does is AMAZING!  It’s not acting, that’s where people get confused, it’s a spot-on 3 hour celebrity impersonation.  He is doing Jerry Lewis in The Big Mouth, a movie with an almost completely different plot but the same hook.  If you watch it like that, it’s genius!

(also, this song is endlessly amusing)

6. Baazigar: Oh my gosh, so brilliant!  The performances, and the script, not the rest of the movie necessarily.  Really, the script and the performance are all intertwined.  I’m not saying it’s the deepest film in the world, but it is one of the cleverest and most surprising.  And it only works because of how Shahrukh plays his well-nigh impossible role.  Going from innocent to evil to tortured to furious and dragging the audience along with him.  But, and this is the important part, all of his various characters still feel related to each other!  It’s not like the innocent lover disappears when he turns evil, or the evil is completely hidden within the innocent lover.

(Such a strangely disturbing joyful song)

5. Don: Which brings me to this film!  I’ve written before about how the first time I watched it, I remember getting all mad at Shahrukh for how he lost focus and let these little bits of the Don character sneak in even when he was playing Vijay.  And then of course, twist!  It was all on purpose!  And it was PERFECT!  Just enough to make you think it was an actor slipping, because it was an “actor” slipping, only it was the character acting the role, not the actor acting the role.

(I know it’s a fanvid, but it is SO GOOD!)

4. Dear ZindagiOnce again, the recent films are at the top of the list.  He is really challenging himself with the roles he takes, and with how he performs them.  Jaginder Khan is a wonderful character already, but Shahrukh makes him even more wonderful, so much so that he overwhelms the film.  The little things, the way he mentions his father and you suddenly know that he is dead, the way he delivers a monologue without making it feel like a monologue, the way he treads the line of gentle warmth without veering into romance.  And makes it all look easy!

3. Jab Harry Met SejalAnother one that he makes look easy!  Charming bad boy type who romances a young woman.  On the surface.  But underneath that is pain and bitterness and deep deep depression and it is all there in his eyes, in a half-caught expression, in tiny little gestures.  And that’s not even mentioning the way he manages to capture the spirit of a younger man, tired and sad certainly, but still with the uncertainty and energy of someone younger than 52.

(The joy, the sadness, the youth, all there just under the surface)

2. Fan: I almost flipped a coin to decide between this and next one.  In most ways, this really is the greatest performance of his career.  A double role, in which he disappears so much into it that someone I went with honestly thought there were two different actors.  And both characters are so complicated!  It’s not like Duplicate, where they are two different spot on impersonations, but these are two fully realized layered people.  Really, either of them alone, the movie star with the madness inside and the charm on the surface, or the lowly fan whose humility hides insanity, would have gotten the film on this list easily.  But to do both!  That’s just unbelievable.  Honestly, I don’t know if there is another actor living today, anywhere in the world, who could have pulled it off.

1.1. My Name is Khan: So, why is this one #1 and not the last one?  It’s not because of anything we see onscreen, although his performance is amazing there, but because of the choices that went into this performance before the cameras started rolling.  Dealing with the actual performance first, this is another one like Swades where all of the standard “Shahrukh Khan” stuff is just totally stripped away.  But unlike Swades, it is replaced by a whole new array of mannerisms and personality and everything else.  And then those mannerisms are put through the emotional wringer as he has to act out the deepest possible emotions, from sudden love to impossible grief to anger to resolution to really just about everything.

So, that’s why it’s in the top 2.  But why is it at the very top of the list?  Because, before he researched the character and dug deep into his training for every line and every expression and gave up months of his life for filming this one project, he must have read the script and decided he was going to risk his entire career on this very very dangerous project with a very very important message.

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28 thoughts on “Happy 14 Days to Shahrukh’s Birthday! 14 Best Performances

  1. `
    I am trying to make peace with the fact that we’re never ever going to agree about anything concerning My Name is Khan. I just found it, and the performance, melodramatic and unbelievable. In Fan, on the other hand, SRK was so brilliant I completely lost track that it was acting. The only flaw with the film was that it was SO creepy, I don’t think I can ever watch it again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find that I like MNIK much better if I just watch it up until they wake up in bed to learn that the WTC has been hit. The second half is just such a mess that Kajols and Shah Rukh’s performances can’t save it. MNIK is the movie that convinced me that Kajol can actually act when called upon to do so, incidentally.

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  2. Wow, what a hard job to select and then rank these! As an aside, I think “performer” is the perfect word to describe Shah Rukh. He often uses “entertainer” but based on interviews with him and those close to him, he’s sort of always performing except when sleeping (or, I’m guessing, when completely absorbed in some activity like reading, writing, talking with close ones, playing a game, watching cricket). Yes, I’ve thought about this way too much.

    I fully agree with this list. I’m delighted to see Koyla and Baazigar here! If we were at 19 days before his birthday, I’d add Dil Se, Devdas, RNBDJ, Paheli, and Raees, because I think that these are all roles and films that wouldn’t be remotely the same with out Shah Rukh performing the lead roles. For example there have been other Devdas’s as you’ve written a lot about, but SRK doing Bhansali’s Devdas made it a different movie than it otherwise would have been.

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    • I considered and rejected all of those! Because they didn’t make the cut for top 14. Dil Se is wonderful, but his role isn’t quite as complex, and his performance (similar to Chak De) is purposefully bland, behind the heroine and the film as a whole. Devdas, I feel like the film is actually holding him back, he isn’t allowed to play the many layers to Dev that other actors were able to, because the script cut out large portions of the character. RNBDJ, that was a hard one to pass up, but it feels like again the script held him back just a little. Adi wanted to keep it light, so Shahrukh wasn’t able to fully dig into the darkness of Suri. Paheli, same thing, I want to see more of the “real” Shahrukh, not just the “ghost” Shahrukh, that performance was actually a lot more interesting. But it was cut off before it could really go deep. And Raees, brilliant performance, just not as brilliant as some of his others. A little choppy and jerked off and not as fully rounded as it could be.

      On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 10:46 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Exactly! I don’t know if I should blame the script, or Shahrukh’s performance for somehow being TOO deep, but that ending always feels kind of sad to me. He finally learned to love and came home to his wife and family, only to be rejected.

          On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 11:01 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Both characters I would have put in the previous post about the characters…

        Such a pleasure to red your thoughts, Margaret. I may disagree but I love to read you. I will try to make my own list…it’s a tough task and I admire you for doing it four our pleasure.

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        • that may be my Monday question for you all, make you build your own list of characters or performances or one of the other topics I covered.

          On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 12:53 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I really appreciate this defense of srk in mnik as an actor’s exercise: “But unlike Swades, it is replaced by a whole new array of mannerisms and personality and everything else. And then those mannerisms are put through the emotional wringer as he has to act out the deepest possible emotions, from sudden love to impossible grief to anger to resolution to really just about everything.”

    What’s unusual is that in most modern (i.e. color-film) movies where the character is autistic, mentally challenged, or a space alien – ultimately such characters serve as the audience’s conscience – the actor “underperforms” the character’s emotions, or makes them internal. I’m thinking Aamir in PK, (I haven’t yet seen Salman in Tubelight), Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Jeff Bridges in Star Man. Off the top of my head, the 1 exception that comes to mind is Leo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. So why did SRK choose to go the showy expressive route instead? Possibly to make the movie a more cathartic experience for the audience, esp the American diaspora (NRI and x-gen)?

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    • That’s a really interesting way to think about it. First, I should say that Shahrukh’s performance rang “true” to me in terms of people I have met in real life who are somewhere on the spectrum, it’s not that they don’t have the same emotions as other people, just that they are expressed differently.

      But going back to this film in particular, I remember from interviews around the making of it that Karan explained he wanted the sort of epic romantic journey plot, but the audience is now to cynical to accept that sort of plot, to believe that someone would do that. So he made the character have Aspergers in order to explain his willingness to take this demand so literally. So the starting point wasn’t a character who was less emotional, but a character who needed to be extra romantic and emotional. Which is interesting.

      On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 2:26 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Loving all your lists, Margaret. Again I say it is wonderful to have a knowledgeable host for this blog not just an egotistical host. Your thoughtful responses to disagreement provide a wonderful environment.

    FAN – Margaret says: “In most ways, this really is the greatest performance of his career. A double role, in which he disappears so much into it that someone I went with honestly thought there were two different actors. And both characters are so complicated!” — Remember this film had to wait both for the director to evolve and the VFX to mature.

    I agree, it is doubtful if there is another actor living today, anywhere in the world, who could have pulled it off. Sadly the dexterity and proficiency of this “greatest performance of his career” will go unrecognized because of the boxoffice. As for rewatching – I am mesmerized by his performance every time I pull it out. But I too have chosen to stop viewing at the point Shahrukh jumps off the stage for the final chase.

    Paheli – “I want to see more of the “real” Shahrukh, not just the “ghost” Shahrukh, that performance was actually a lot more interesting.”

    I couldn’t disagree more with this sentiment. I strongly doubt that the “real” Shahrukh’s love and wonderment and awe at his wife’s beauty could ever have reached the height that “ghost” Shahrukh does in this song and the moments that follow. I need it on a loop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqMhqSwi7Fw This is my song for melancholy moments. Shahrukh’s love and admiration for Rani overflows to the max. And his unmatched honesty draws you into his heart.

    We can be sure that “real” Shahrukh’s father would have pinched off any time given to her and away from his selfish motivations, reducing him to a whimpering shell. “Real” Shahrukh couldn’t have brought resolution to the many knotty problems tangling up the family: 1. Eradicated the shame of losing the camel race 2. Brought back the absent husband 3. Pacified the father’s greed 4. Remedied Rani’s breach birth 5. Found water for the village. How could “real” Shahrukh’s performance have topped “ghost” Shahrukh’s performance through these events?

    We all admire the impressive depth Shahrukh is able to bring to each character within the limits of the story. When the movie slumps, we may fault the script or the editing but very, very rarely Shahrukh’s acting. Have you noticed? His consistency matches his energy.

    Did you notice that you included all the roles for which he was given Best Actor Awards – except Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I think that is an example of an ordinary role that he infused with his extraordinary magic and it won him the Award.

    Just this month in Vogue Oct 2017 – I noted this quote: “I don’t have a dream role. Give me a role and I’ll make it a dream role.” I do say he knows his worth. Now the script writers need to up their game.

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    • I think what intrigues me about the performance of the “real” Shahrukh is that he is so humble, so weak, in comparison with the “ghost” Shahrukh. It can be easy sometimes to play the perfect powerful person, but to play the weak one who is trying to be better can be a lot harder.

      On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 4:32 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Point well taken, Margaret. Set me to thinking.
        I recognize that the Ghost seemed to be more powerful and have the advantage of extra powers but he also had these distinct points of weakness:
        1. Had never been a part of a human family – resulting in immense uncertainty
        2. Knew his time with her was limited – resulting in enormous insecurity
        3. Knew he had to divulge his ruse – could result in losing her forever as he held his breath
        4. Accepted her vow to not reveal his powers – shackled even ways to show his love
        5. Fell under the suspicion of the neighborhood – helpless to even have adequate self defense
        6. Forbearance of the father to even remain in the house – depended on shallowness of daily coins
        7. Knew he was disapproved of by the “parent puppets” – left to a lonely way forward
        Ran out of time to think of more.

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    • Love that quote from him. I haven’t read that interview yet.

      I watch Khaali Hai Tere Bina (real Shah Rukh regretting his actions and pining for his wife) when I’m melancholy and enjoying being melancholy. I watch Dheere Jalna (ghost Shah Rukh and real Rani embodying true love) when I’m melancholy and want to cheer up. Sigh. 🙂

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    • The best ‘solution’: merge both into one…???

      Like Suri needed to explore Raj and make him an obvious & touchable part of his persona, Kishan had to be infused by the ghost to live a life he longued for…and to be – as a real man – the one the woman longued for.

      Monday, Margaret? Okay, I’ll try 🙂

      So many double roles…even in movies where no double role is required… I think there really are a loooot of characters that only work because of ShahRukh’s performance.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Which goes back to moviemavengal’s question on Monday, about who “owns” Diwale. It’s Shahrukh, so there’s going to be a whole series of joint anniversaries over the next few weeks as we run through the Diwale time period.

          On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 2:15 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Pingback: Last Minute Secret Superstar Post: Khamoshi: The Musical, and a Heroine Who Just Has to Sing! | dontcallitbollywood

  6. I said that about the triple role in OSO – 10 years ago, on another forum. 🙂 🙂 🙂 and the same thing happens in Don. The subtleties are just amazing.
    Great to see Koyla on the list, it’s one of those films that don’t get talked about much. But no, I just can’t come at Duplicate. I have noticed Shahrukh channels Jerry Lewis on occasion, but Duplicate is too over the top, needs the breaks applied a little. …. no……a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

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