It’s his birthday month, and these are 9 reasons I love him, so this is not going to be a very critical post. Obviously. But if you love Shahrukh like I do, it may put some things into words that you have been wanting to say.
1.1. He is a Feminist
I first fell in love with Shahrukh watching Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, as did most people in the world. For me, it was partly because I felt like Kajol, our heroine, was finally someone I could relate to onscreen. I was 19, like her character. I was close with my family, like her character. I didn’t like going out to clubs or dating or all of that stuff, like her character. And all of this made her very different from the kind of heroine that I usually saw in films. And I loved Shahrukh because he loved her not in spite of all those differences, but because of them.
But then I didn’t stay that 19 year old who was shy in the world and clung to her family and all of that. I mean, I still love my family, and I still don’t like going to clubs, that is the same. But I’m not unsure in the world, not like I was then, because I’m not 19 any more. And yet, I still love Shahrukh. Because he still loves me. Because he loves all women.
That sounds silly, how can he love all women? But he does! In his films, he started by romancing a young widow, and then a naach girl raised in a brothel. Sure, there were plenty of college girls from good families thrown in there in his filmography, the usual heroine types, but there were others too. And no matter who the heroine was, he made us believe he loved her, just as she was.
(Village girl or modern woman)
And that is what he does in real life too. When he talks to a female interviewer, or about his female co-stars, or even just meets a fan, he loves and accepts them for who they are. On his recent Koffee With Karan appearance with Alia, he was terribly embarrassed to discover that she had dated 4-6 boys in her life. Embarrassed, but not judgmental. He made it about himself, that he is old-fashioned and behind the times, she can do what she wants.
When he talks about his daughter, it is the same, she can wear a hijab if she wants when they visit Muslim countries, and she can also plan an acting career and wear a bikini on the beach. His wife can run her own interior decorating business, and never learn how to cook, and he loves her for both those things. And will say both those things, he doesn’t hide what she is because he sees nothing to hide there. When he talks about his sister, it isn’t about how beautiful she was, or how sad it is she never married, it is that she was very intelligent, more intelligent than he was, and how sad it is that she never got to have the career she planned.
After the Nirbhaya incident, Shahrukh announced that from now on his heroines’ names would come before his in the credits for his films. And he has followed through on that. But, in most cases, you don’t even notice it. Because his heroines are already, always, the leads or at least co-leads of his films. Even in something like Raees, where there really was no need for a strong heroine, she was still there. In Fan, in addition to the girlfriend, the wife, and the mother, there was the strong assistant character, ensuring that a good half of screen time was taken up by an actress, not an actor.
Other actors make a big deal of it, a “female focused” picture, promote the actress that they are “proud” to consider their co-star, and so on. But Shahrukh doesn’t make a big deal, because it isn’t a big deal, it is Every. Single. Picture. And this is what his fans expect, what we have gotten used to. If it is his film, there will be someone there onscreen for us to relate to, someone we can pretend is us, and know that he loves us because he loves her.
And that’s the first reason I love him, because he is a feminist. Because he believes that women are equal to men in this world, and he makes sure that is represented in his film worlds.
2. He is a Patriot
Shahrukh is a patriot like I am a patriot. He unconditionally loves his country because it is his country, and he will never give up on it. But that does not mean that he doesn’t want it to do better. He’s not out there waving a flag or saying India is the greatest. He is out there saying that India can do better. And also that he is not leaving, he is going to help it do better.
He could leave. He could be like Akshay Kumar and get Canadian citizenship, or just give up entirely and move to London or Dubai or one of the other places where he already has a home like MF Hussain did. India certainly isn’t giving him a lot of love right now, considering how often he is used as a punching bag by politicians who purport to represent the country. But he isn’t leaving.
If you look at his “patriotic” films, what they have in common is the idea that we should demand something better and the change should start with ourselves. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, he ends by calling on the common citizen to take to the street, to reclaim their right to the flag and do the right thing, instead of blindly following the lies of those in power. Main Hoon Na has a message of looking for the greater good, the greater needs of the country over your own, maybe letting the terrorists kidnap the college kids if it meant the peace exchange with Pakistan could occur. Chak De, India, the athletic board is blind and chauvinistic and the country itself is prejudiced and communalistic, but Shahrukh just keeps going because he loves it in spite of all that and knows someday it will love him back. That there is another India, a greater spirit of India, which will not die and will come back to him.
He loves India for what it could be, for the good that is already there, and for the people who live there. His patriotism isn’t about political campaigns or simplistic slogans, it’s about something deeper and richer that is always trying to fight it’s way to the surface.
3. He Believes in Religion and in Freedom of Religion
Shahrukh has an interreligious marriage. As do many people in the film industry. And he is raising his children in both faiths. Again, as do many people in the film industry. But it is a little more rare for someone to be so open about it, to post family photos of both Eid and Diwale. To talk about his daughter wearing a Hijab, and say “Insh’Allah” to reporters. To name his son “AbRam”, bringing together both faiths in one name.
He may not make big speeches or blunt films about it, but he is living his life in a way that shows he believes in religion, yes. He is a faithful person. But he also does not feel the right or the need to put his faith on anyone else.
4. He is Thoughtful
I considered and rejected a lot of options for this section. “Smart”, “intelligent”, “clever”, “witty”, but really “thoughtful” is what I mean the most. He is someone who thinks deeply on things, analyses them, and enjoys that process. There are plenty of successful people who are equally smart. But I don’t think they all spend as long as he does thinking about his success, about what it means, about where to go next.
His thoughts may not always lead him down a good path. I think some of the flaws in his recent films might be due to over-thinking. But I appreciate the effort. I appreciate that his public speeches are considered and layered and thought-provoking. I appreciate that even his tweets are thought-provoking, not just meaningless blather. And I appreciate that he is modeling this kind of behavior, this consideration and resistance of leaping to a conclusion, for the wider public. It is something we should demand from more of our public figures.
5. He is Pragmatic
Idealism is exhausting. Making the grand rebellious statement is dangerous. “Preaching to the choir”, to use the American slang, doesn’t get results. Patience and pragmatism are necessary. Sure, the grand rebellious statement is necessary too, but you need that balance.
And so Shahrukh will be out there saying “Insh’Allah”, talking about his family connections to Pakistan, talking about his multi-religious family, putting strong heroines in every film. But he will be very careful about making direct statements, either in film or in his personal life. He will maintain his position as the “Most Famous Muslim” in India and use it carefully. He will say that there is “growing intolerance” in India at the exact time that elections are happening in Bihar and gently tip the scales away from the conservative party.
And then he won’t say anything else for a while. He will model good male behavior, but he will do it through mainstream happy romances, not through angry feminist screeds. He will present himself as a proud Muslim, but he will not take a political position. He will do what he can when he can, but without going all in, without stopping himself from being able to do anything else in future.
6. He Believes in Giving Back
Can you imagine going up to Tom Cruise on the street and saying “my father’s in the hospital, I need help”? And can you imagine him actually helping? And yet that is a day to day occurrence for all Indian film stars, Shahrukh included. There is a natural feeling of responsibility to the wider world, most especially their fan followers. It’s not something that is spoken of or advertised, it is just “known”.
This isn’t a reason that I love Shahrukh more than other Indian film stars, this is a reason that I love Indian film stars more than other global celebrities. There is a higher sense of give and take, of real love for people who love them, then I see anywhere else. American film stars, rock stars, politicians, business people, everyone. To do something like adopting villages, giving massive percentages of film profits for flood relief, building hospital wings, and that’s just the stuff we know about.
What struck me the most was a story from one of his interviews. The point of the story was his father’s death anniversary, and how there are the little things that remind him. But in this particular case, what reminded him of his father was that he happened to get a text on his phone from someone who needed a particular medicine flown in to Hyderabad to save their life. So he had his people arrange it, and it was a nice little thing on his father’s birthday. The text and the saving the life of a total stranger, someone whose name he never even learned, that was everyday. He is constantly being called on to help, to save lives, and he constantly casually does it. That is his contract with his followers, they give him love and he gives back.
7. He is Proud
There’s something refreshing about a Shahrukh Khan interview with the Western press. He isn’t interested in explaining the Indian film industry to them, or drawing simple comparisons. Or being “grateful” for the attention. Or playing to the Western ego, talking about how he wishes he could work in Hollywood. Or, most of all, making fun of where he came from and who he is. He is Indian, he is a movie star, he is possibly the biggest star in the world, and he is proud of all those things.
I am not Indian. But like every person alive, I have had that moment of feeling less than, of feeling out of place, of feeling like I haven’t earned a right to be there. And watching Shahrukh, he reminds me that I don’t have to feel that way. That it is all right to say “No, this is who I am, this is what I am, and you should respect me for it.”
8. He Puts All of This Into His Films
Shahrukh doesn’t have a line between his public persona and his film roles. He doesn’t talk about loving his working wife in real life, and then turn around and play a regressive husband who refuses to let his wife follow her dreams. And make that man into a hero. He doesn’t speak about being a Muslim in India in real life, and then play opposite a Muslim terrorist on film. And make that man into a villain.
Thoughtfulness, care for others, pride, it is all there in his characters and the scripts he chooses. They may not all succeed, but they are there. I love him for himself, and his films, because his films are himself.
9. He is Me
I am a Shahrukh Khan fan, I love him for all these reasons. But that doesn’t mean everyone else has to love him, or will love him. Maybe you look for a different kind of patriotism, or a different kind of religious faith. More importantly, maybe you yourself have a different kind of patriotism or a different kind of religious faith.
But for me, Shahrukh gives me a model to look up to, achievements I respect and wish I could emulate. I want to be that loving towards all people, that charitable, that faithful to my country and my religion while still accepting other countries and religious.
And maybe you have entirely different reasons for loving him. Or agree with some of my reasons, but not others. But the point is, if you are a Shahrukh fan, there is something about him that speaks to you. It’s not just about the dimples and the cute face, there is something deeper that he offers, something which can provide light in the darkness and strength when you feel weak and hope when times seem hopeless.