This video went up on Friday, but I have had a busy weekend, so I didn’t get a chance to watch it closely until now. Lot’s of interesting things to discuss!
First there is the way it was launched. Not through Shahrukh’s twitter, or Red Chillies, or a business friend/famous person like Karan Johar, or Rishi Kapoor (first co-star) or Hema Malini (first director), but through his wife Gauri. It is part of positioning him and his 26 year journey, his entire film career, as something that happened to a private citizen, not a public figure. Bringing him down to earth just a little.
The entire tone of the video matches that. It is intimate, in his home, talking to the camera. Shahrukh has done twitter videos like this before, but they are usually short and less than professional, just fun things for his followers. But this is professionally shot, later he thanked Aanand L Rai for taking time to film it along with the two crew members who also helped. And the way the lines are delivered, I am sure it was written out in advance as well. Probably written by Shahrukh himself, but still written, not just off the cuff.
It feels like part of a repackaging. Shahrukh, for the past ten years or so since social media and the global market took off, has been strangely approachable and unapproachable. He had random twitter posts revealing his deepest thoughts, he brought his family out to wave to the crowd on Eid, he was completely open. And at the same time, he accepted an untouchable position in his professional life, he was the King and all powerful and all knowing and so on and so on. So you could love the Shahrukh you knew as a real person, and revere the Shahrukh as a movie star, and he had the best of both worlds.
Until recently when he has begun to have the worst of both worlds. His personal self is attacked over and over again, every photo and every moment dissected and critiqued and analyzed. He has left himself vulnerable to that, they aren’t just attacking some fake image that serves as a shield, they are attacking the real him, and that is painful. And on the other side of things, he is expected to be the perfect all powerful King of the industry, every flop is blamed on him, even if it isn’t his film sometimes it is still blamed on him. Every bad action by an industry member, every foolish quote, every flawed business decision, comes back to him.
And so now, very slowly, he has started repackaging. Giving us the real but slightly fake versions. Like this, it’s his real self talking in his real house, but it is carefully lit and carefully written and presenting the best version of the real. If this Shahrukh is attacked, it doesn’t really matter, because it isn’t exactly the “Real” Shahrukh. Don’t like his hair? Who cares, it was styled and dyed and set up to look like that, that’s not his real hair. Don’t like his words? Who cares, they were written in advance and polished even further in post-production, they aren’t his “real” words. And on and on. It was the same with his accepting the award at Davos, his producing the TED talks for India, he is moving more and more into this formal kind of persona and personality, keeping some part of himself out of view, and at the same time downplaying the parts that always seemed a little superhuman, rejecting his status as the all powerful industry God who gets both the credit and the blame for everything.
How does he do that in this video exactly? And what is the version of himself he wants to present? Let me count down year by year as he does!
1.Fauji to Deewana (“I thought was a good performance”)
He starts with his first film, casually says that “I thought it was a good performance” and then smiles as he indicates that not everyone agreed. He is doing two things here, making fun of his arrogance and being humble, and also making fun of his younger self, distancing himself from that person and acknowledging that now he is very very old.
2. Gentleman-Baazigar-Stalker/Darr (social media)
He mentions 3 movies for this year, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman which was his first movie with Juhi and Aziz Mirza. And Baazigar, which was his first movie with Kajol and his first major hit. And Darr, which of course was his first movie with Yash Chopra. He skips Maya Memsaab, choosing instead to look at his commercial hits. This is part of a trend in this video, he is selling himself as a simple movie star who we shouldn’t take seriously, a humble boy who came to Bombay and worked hard. This was the year he turned “Gentleman”, he says, accepting the identity he got from that film as a sweet innocent brought to the big city. He brings that into the present day by self-deprecating humor about stalking on social media, he’s still just like us.
(Just a simple boy who came to the city and tried to make good)
He skips Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Another challengingly good performance, another film that makes him a little more than just a silly entertainer. Instead, he picks Anjaam and claims it taught him competitiveness. But, oddly, his choices here and in the video as a whole are showing him backing off from the competition, the “I am the best” attitude. He isn’t going to bring up his best films, the ones that make him a brilliant actor and top star, just the non-threatening ones.
4. DDLJ-Raj taught him about Love
Of course he can’t skip DDLJ, people would notice that. So instead he flips it a little, says that he learned about love from Raj, people fell in love with “Raj”. He separates himself from the character visually as well, brings in a DDLJ doll to represent Raj while he is speaking. We shouldn’t be threatened by nice normal Shahrukh, he isn’t the one who made DDLJ a record breaking hit, it was Raj, someone other than himself.
5. Love you all had for me…or Raj Chaahat
For 1996, he only mentions one film, Chaahat. It probably is the best film of that year, the others were just sort of odd. But I suspect he also brings it up because it is his film with the Bhatts, now that the Bhatts (Alia, Pooja, and Mukesh) are on an upswing right now. And again, he carefully separates himself from Raj, makes sure that he is not claiming love from the people, that was Raj, he is just a normal humble guy.
(It’s also another simple innocent boy who comes to the city character)
I may have missed it, but I don’t think there is any movie mentioned for 1997, the year of Pardes and Dil To Pagal Hai and Koyla and Yes Boss. Instead he only talks about Aryan. But not a true story of Aryan, like in other interviews where he has talked about how difficult the pregnancy was for Gauri, or how it feels like getting his parents back again to have his children. Just a superficial impersonal joke about how the stork brought Aryan, he hopes Aryan knows better now. Shahrukh is the silly old-fashioned father of a teenage son, a little behind the times and a little shy.
7. Dil Se
Only one film mentioned for 1998, which means no Kuch Kuch. And Dil Se is his only difficult art film mentioned, he refers to it as learning the importance of doing things from the heart. As in, “I was a silly shallow movie star slowly growing up and learning to respect my art”. He is creating a narrative in which he was naive and inexperienced, no Maya Memsaab, no Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, no Oh Darling Yeh Hai India, or even In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones, just Dil Se and the risk of moving out of the commercial and into the art realm for the first time. And not for nothing, this entire video is also in English, and Dil Se is his most popular film among the English speaking world, while Kuch Kuch lags behind.
8. Baadshah (hope I am worthy)
Well, this is just ridiculous! He mentions Baadshah (as the music plays lightly in the background, just as it did for Dil Se), and says it is a name the people gave him and he hopes he is worthy. It’s his own name! He picked it out! And he produced the movie with that title! He is so cautious about any sign of arrogance, he even rewrites that part of history.
9. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani Suhana (risk taking, fatherhood)
No Hey Ram, because that version of Shahrukh, the one who wants to take interesting roles even in other industries, doesn’t exist. Instead, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani which he refers to as risk taking, a backhand way of acknowledging its failure. And also labeling that fairly safe movie as his biggest risk. And he talks about Suhana and learning the joys of fatherhood again. He is just a normal father, remembering his children’s youth, not a movie star.
10. Asoka, moniker too seriously, long hair
For Asoka, he has a double humility, first saying that he was taking the “Baadshah” title too seriously, thought he was really a king. Making fun of himself for thinking he was worthy of playing Asoka. And second, making fun of himself for making a flop movie. He even makes fun of the long hair for the role. And he ignores Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, just as he ignored Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, his two biggest hits.
11. Hit the bottle Devdas, quotes lines
He turns Devdas into a joke, saying that he hit the bottle because he was so upset about the flop of Asoka. He also quotes the lines, “Paro Paro Chandramukhi Paro”, and then laughs at himself. He can quote Devdas because it isn’t just a Shahrukh film or a Shahrukh story, it is an Indian classic that is bigger than him. He isn’t quoting himself, he is quoting the character. No pride here, still humility.
12. Kal Ho Na Ho
Kal Ho Na Ho is pretty straight forward, just says he learned to appreciate what he has as the title song plays in the background. No need for anything fancy there, the title itself gives the message.
13. Main Hoon Na unconditional friendship
Interesting choice here, the title “Main Hoon Na” lends itself to the friendship message, and unconditional friendship is a nice humble regular guy kind of concept for this video. But it is also sort of hidden in the background that Farah directed this and he produced it, his first big producer hit. And again, no mention of Swades, a movie too challenging and a performance that was too good.
(This version of Shahrukh, the one calling out India’s hypocrisy, that’s not going to be the version they want for this video)
14. Paheli, good bad, I don’t know
He has to talk about Paheli for this year, because it was his only major film release. But he doesn’t really talk about it, just says “good, bad, I don’t know, it’s a Paheli”. Turning the title into a pun, avoiding acknowledging the quality of the film. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, that was his “risk”, not this odd period drama with classical soundtrack. This movie, just forget about it.
15. Don, bad
He jokes that he turned bad with Don, making us aware that of course that dangerous sexy powerful figure is completely unlike this nice humble real guy in front of us.
16. Chak De India, proudest film
And of course he is a patriot. Says he is proudest of Chak De, gives us an image of him literally waving the flag. The only difficult performance that he spends real time on, because it is the patriotic one, and patriotism is never threatening.
17. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, simplest men have greatest hearts
He spends time on this one too, he wants us to think of him as respecting the “simple men”. He is a movie star, but he honors the regular man as better than him.
18. My Name is Khan, I do smell sweet
He can’t not talk about My Name is Khan. His only film in 2009 was Billu, a movie in which he played a massive powerful movie star, what he is trying to make us forget. Plus, it was a small unsuccessful film. And his only real film in 2010 is My Name is Khan. To skip it would mean skipping two full years. And MNIK is still a recordholding film for the international market, the English speaking market this video is partly for. So he finds a way to talk about it, says he learned what is in a name, Shakespeare says a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, his name is Khan and he has been told he does smell sweet. This is ridiculous! He avoids pretty much everything real about the film in order to turn it into a vapid humble compliment. The film is too difficult to address in any real way and keep this simple persona he wants.
19. Ra.One reminder of something, if I forget it, I will still make a sequel
Ra.One, he talks about wanting to play a superhero, and half mentions it’s failure by saying that it was a reminder of something and if he forgets, he may still make the sequel. No mention of wanting to drive Indian film forward, special effects accomplishments, any of that. He is just a simple man who wanted to play a superhero.
20. Unleashed the Don at a Cricket Stadium
This is the first mention of something from his real life besides his kids. Because now we are getting into the recent era, the stuff that was repeated and talked about over and over again, he knows that the casual non-Shahrukh fans watching this, the ones he wants to reach and reintroduce himself too, will know about the Wakhende incident even if they don’t know about the fight with Shirish Kunder, or the other ugly moments of anger. So he addresses it, and apologizes, accepting that the public has the right to judge him.
21. Jab Tak Hain Jaan, father figure
Another real life mention, again we are in the recent era, people would know about his relationship with Yashji. And just in case they missed it, he throws in the title of Jab Tak Hain Jaan to help connect the dots. Again, he is just like us, he has kids, works hard, and now his father dies when he is a middle-aged man in the midst of his career. That’s easier and more “normal” than the real story of his father dying when he was 14 and growing up in struggling poverty.
22. Chennai Express, stork visit
Chennai Express is the perfect film for this persona he is selling us. And also, not so coincidentally, Shahrukh’s last truly massive hit. He knows this is the last version of himself that people really liked. Silly, average, out of date, the “common man”. And there is the pay off of his “stork visit” version of having kids, he doesn’t even have to worry about wording to describe AbRam’s birth, there is no awkward discussion of surrogacy, no need to switch from “we had a baby” to some other phrase.
23. Happy New Year, made many people cry
This surprised me. I understand the self-deprecating insults towards the older films, he has to acknowledge that they weren’t very good or successful. But Happy New Year JUST came out. And he still has a relationship with everyone involved, co-stars and director Farah. He is really willing to acknowledge it as a flop? That’s a big gamble on this new “humility” persona paying off.
(He’s risking offending all these people in the hopes of being rewarded by the public appreciating his honesty. It’s a big risk)
24. Dilwale as long as AbRam, his little Dilwale, is happy, he is
And then we get him and AbRam playing catch, the only time we see him with anyone else, and the only time we see something filmed not in perfectly lit and professional. This is what he wants us to think of as “real” him, playing catch with his son. Not his older kids with their international boarding schools and universities, not his glamorous working wife, not even the other parts of his life, the famous friends, the houses in Dubai and London, just a regular father playing catch with his son.
25. Raees sold liquor (bad), Dr. Jug gave advice
Again, a movie which so recently was talked about seriously and deeply is turned into a joke. He says that he gave liquor and advice, and drops his voice into a dangerous tone for the title “Raees”, just like he did for “Don”. But, Raees wasn’t promoted as the same as Don, a silly action movie. He talked about playing a gangster, but also the importance of the necklace that the character wears, the challenge of the role, and the film was a serious film. But not according to this, according to this it is just another job, another silly thing he did to make money, he isn’t a serious person and we shouldn’t be threatened by him.
26. Zero, coffee cup
And all of this is building to the finale. The mention of his current film, as he sips from a coffee cup, The most trite and easy way of making someone seem like a real person, the coffee cup is present in half the ad campaigns and stock photos in existence. So we will notice the Zero reference in particular, thanks to this extra visual touch.
So, what does this all add up to? Shahrukh is rebranding himself. He is making himself small, and simple, and easy. At least for the audience this video is aimed at, the English language internet people. That’s why it was released online only, and in English.
Shahrukh, the real person as we have come to know him from thousands of interviews, is a mixture of depression and artistic struggle, pride and confidence in his power in the world and abilities, and also a loving husband and father who gets happiness from his family. These are hard things to bring together, the self-doubt and struggle of the artist and the confidence of the movie star. And the confidence of an intelligent man, Shahrukh looks at the world and sees the truth and says it. It’s why I love him, and it’s also why so many people hate him, you aren’t supposed to say that there is “intolerance” in India and then refuse to apologize. You aren’t supposed to invite Pakistani cricket players and actors to work with you and then point out that there is no problem with that. He can be all of these things, a serious struggling artist, a confident truth speaking powerful movie star and producer, and also a man who is confused by his teenage children and shy with women who aren’t his wife. But he can’t be them in public. In public, he has to choose a smaller easier version of himself. At least, for now.
There is an issue called the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. Describing a culture in which those who achieve a higher stature are then cut down. It’s been updated to be referenced particularly with cyber bullying. Shahrukh is a very tall poppy. Intelligent, talented, powerful. And over and over again, he has been cut down. Especially by the English speaking portion of his fans, the higher class and better educated types, the ones who want to think they are just as good as anyone else, certainly better than a mere movie star.
So now he is voluntarily cutting down himself. In a very careful way. He is just an old fuddy-duddy looking back on a career which started out with bad acting and slowly grew into better acting, but with a lot of mistakes along the way. He is a simple father who loves his kids and doesn’t even fully understand himself how he became so famous. He is just an average guy, not in control of his own life, just like all the rest of us. No, not as good as the rest of us, he wants to humbly beg our forgiveness for Happy New Year and the Wankhede brawl, it was a terrible injustice he did to his superiors, putting us through that.
(No discussion of the protests which cut into the Dilwale box office, the excellent overseas figures, no, the public says it is a bad movie and so he humbly apologizes. I’m not saying it is a good film, just that the narrative of it being a flop movie that everyone hated is a created one, and Shahrukh has given up on fighting it and just accepts the false version that everyone hated it and he should apologize)
And because real “truth” is distrusted, he presents this to us as a carefully constructed lie. Perfect lighting, perfect words, perfect editing. Not the funky twitter messages he usually posts, those are actually “real” and no one believes them, rumors start that he has a ghost writer, he couldn’t really be that smart. Okay, he will give us what we want, the created reality that we will believe instead of the real reality we doubt. A twitter post from his wife that is transparently fake, unlike his birthday message from Red Chillies last year that could easily have been filmed without his knowledge, this was the work of several days and yet we are expected to believe Gauri is “surprising” him with it, and he didn’t know she would be posting it. But then, no one believes in their real love story, every public appearance and shared moment is doubted, so why not give the fake one and see if folks will buy that? And then a video that, unlike his usual personal videos, is scripted and edited. But then the personal videos are ignored and made fun of and only his die hard fans like them, so why not create something fake and see if those people who haven’t been paying attention to him will like him for it?
(See how similar it is to this? It’s an ad campaign video, only this time Shahrukh is selling himself. Packaged enough to go down easy, personal enough to grab your attention)
My hope is that, at least in some ways, Shahrukh keeps that funky real person available to the public eye. I think he will. He still puts up the occasional odd tweet, he still forgets himself in interviews and reveals the real person, and of course there are still his actual film performances, where we have that real brilliant actor he is trying to hide away from the public. But maybe this new rebranding will help him win over some people who have drifted away from that funky real person, no longer trust or like that version of himself, and cut through a bit of the created hatred that is so painful to read on the internet.
And all of this makes me hopeful for Zero. This may be sold as a 26th anniversary personal video, but it’s not, it’s an advertisement for Zero. Produced and directed by Aanand L. Rai and the Zero team, all building up to the Zero title reference at the end. They have created a promotional video for Shahrukh the person, a rebranding video, as the first step to getting us to accept him as his character in Zero.
And it seems like they have a good grasp on how they want to rebrand him. He is humble, he is weak, he is average. He isn’t going to be the big overbearing hero type that causes the “Tall Poppy” reaction and gets him hatred and smear campaigns. No, he is a simple soul who makes mistakes and acknowledges them, powerless and harmless and non-threatening. He is too tall, it makes people want to cut him down, so they are (literally) making him short again.
Anyway, that’s what it looks like to me, feel free to disagree.