Shahrukh Summer: Princess and Pauper Shahrukh Romances, Why So Many?

I has another thought! And I think it is a good thought, but maybe you will disagree. Or maybe you will have more thoughts.

I was watching Cake, the Pakistani movie I am reviewing next week, and there is a sensitive understanding servant character that reminded me so much of Shahrukh’s sensitive understanding servant characters, and that sent me down a whole rabbit hole of thinking about why he played that kind of role in so many movies.

In a culture with a strong gender divide, there is a strange loophole in the servant-mistress relationship. Servants are everywhere in wealthy households, a well-brought up young woman might never consider wearing less than three layers in front of a man, being alone with him in a room, or ever breaking through her “proper” behavior, no emotions, no demands, always sweet and silent. But at the same time, the “houseman” will fold her underwear, listen as she tells raunchy jokes with her girlfriend, know her better than any other man in her life.

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This isn’t just limited to India. In a larger sense, this degree of careful presentation and protection of wealthy woman requires a large workforce. And some of that workforce will be male. Where you find this kind of modesty and boundaries around women, you will probably also find a houseman who knows them better than their own husbands.

But then, he isn’t a “man” exactly, society sees servants as just that, “servants”, not people. And that isn’t a cruel way to live, they are employees after all. In this intimate setting, having those invisible boundaries can be healthy and fair to both sides. And the intimacy that most often arises is one of sympathy and friendship directed from employer to employee. They listen to their little family troubles, give gifts, give understanding, tread the fine line of switching between treating them as friends or family, and then employees again. A young woman may ask her maid why she is crying, and then offer to give her money to help pay her rent if she needs it. But five minutes later, she will ask her maid to hand her a dress. Because that is her job after all, and it is best to remember these places.

Shahrukh’s films take this to another level by focusing on the relationship between a young man servant and a young woman of the household. Along with the strange loophole of intimacy in this one particular relationship between a woman and a man, there is also a feeling of power shifting moment by moment. She is rich, she has a higher overall social status. But on the street, a young woman alone is entirely reliant on the man with her to protect her. At the same time, as a man, Shahrukh has the power to choose his own life, to break free and do whatever he wants, to live and love where he will. While a wealthy young woman is ultimately controlled by her family.

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This is what JHMS spent over 2 hours considering, how Shahrukh and Anushka are both powerful and powerless in front of each other.

Shahrukh’s particular appeal to a female audience is that he understands woman, not just the person they present to the world but who they are inside. And that he will always protect and serve them. That particular message comes through over and over again in the films where he plays the young man in forced intimacy with a woman, protecting her and honoring her wishes and understanding her better than her own family.

That pattern, Shahrukh serving and protecting and knowing a woman, comes up over and over again whether he plays an official servant or not. DDLJ, Chennai Express, Dilwale, Om Shanti Om, and on and on. But I find it particularly striking in the films where he chooses to play the servant roles. His stereotypical persona is that of the rich urbanite, the NRI success. But in fact, over and over again, he has chosen to drop to a lower economic and class level, to take a step back and behind his heroine.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean with film examples:

Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman: Shahrukh’s first two films had him playing the loving support to the heroine, but in both cases he was a wealthy charming powerful man. In this film, he is a struggling boy from the village. The heroine given him is his equal, Juhi. But the more unusual relationship is between him and his wealthy powerful boss, Amrita. While he and Juhi struggle to find time and places to be alone, as Amrita’s employee they can even travel to hotels together without raised eyebrows. Amrita delights in her ability to be herself with him, and falls in love because he seems to truly like her, the real her. Maybe it is this romance that made Shahrukh start to think of taking more servant roles?

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Karan Arjun: Kajol and Shahrukh’s second movie together, he plays the lowly stable boy teaching her to ride. Their romance is very quick and only has a few scenes, but that dynamic is heavily present. Kajol is used to being trapped in her rich world, she revels in a stable boy who lets her be herself. And going off for “riding lessons” is a handy excuse at home, no one would suspect a romance with a boy who lives in the stables.

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Koyla: 3 movies in a row with the same dynamic, perfected. Shahrukh is the stable boy again, this time the ignored and forgotten and abused stable boy. And Madhuri is the trapped and unhappy young wife. She has the jewels and the big room in the big house, but ultimately she has no more power than the lowly stable boy Shahrukh. She seeks him out, trusts him not to hurt her because he is so humble, but also wants him to protect her because he has the freedom and strength of being a man.

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Yes Boss: Shahrukh is a servant again. The abused and trusted servant of a rich man. And Juhi is the new girlfriend, the lied to and ultimately powerless (although he gives her gifts and treats) girlfriend. They are thrown together again and again, she trusts him because he is her boyfriend’s servant, he would never be disloyal or disrespectful. And he is tormented by his sense of inferiority and loyalty to his boss that keeps him from “saving” Juhi although he wants to.

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Pardes: This is an interesting one for exploring how the servant-mistress dynamic can change again and again. When Shahrukh first arrives, as the earliest visitor from the groom’s side, he takes control of the household. Mahima teasingly rebels but ultimately obeys him. However, once the groom’s family arrives and approves of Mahima, Shahrukh is pushed aside. He is now below Mahima, as she is increasingly brought into the family of his superiors. And yet the familiarity lingers, Mahima cannot shift so quickly from seeing Shahrukh as a friend, and as someone she respects, to merely a “servant”. Shahrukh tries to return to his role, but again and again is called forth to be a friend, and ultimately a Man, by Mahima.

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Duplicate: Like Karan-Arjun, this is barely part of the film, but still there. Sweet good Shahrukh is hired by hotel manager Juhi. She loves the way he wants to serve her and please her. And we can see how she rejects the advances of Mohnish Behl, her superior who makes demands, in preference for Shahrukh, the sweet man who doesn’t expect anything. The gender dynamics equal out, Shahrukh is a grown man but does not take advantage of that role, is happy to accept his place as Juhi’s employee, and that is what she likes about him.

Image result for duplicate shahrukh juhi

Ra.One: Forget that Shahrukh is a robot. He is also a servant. Kareena takes responsibility for him, but also orders him around and instructs him. And he takes her orders and wants to please her. Kareena does not reveal her weakness even to her son, but she can’t hide it from Robot Shahrukh, he is just always there. And that is why he grows to love her, because he sees who she really is underneath it all.

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Jab Tak Hain Jaan: This is the most class explicit version. In this case, Shahrukh is so very far below Katrina in class that he has lost her fear of her. While the men who work for her father, or who meet her in social situations, might be overly polite and cautious, Shahrukh doesn’t care. And Katrina doesn’t care either, while with other people she may be proper and correct, with Shahrukh and her friends she can be herself. What does it matter what a waiter thinks of her? She is free.

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Jab Harry Met Sejal: A fascinating one! The power in this film is upside down and sideways, and yet ultimately it is all driven by that complete security a wealthy Indian woman feels with her servants. Shahrukh is intelligent, well-traveled, and on his home turf. And he is an experienced man. Anushka can’t speak the languages, has never been alone before, and can’t even go outside without getting lost. But Shahrukh is an employee of her family, and a fellow Indian, so Anushka and her family look at him and see him as “safe”, as just a servant. And Anushka casually offers him intimacies she has never offered her fiance, but has probably given her whole life to a rotating group of houseboys and cooks and other male employees. Slowly Anushka comes to see him as an equal and a man, and yet her family never worries or suspects, because how can a servant be dangerous? And Shahrukh never crosses the line, because Anushka’s intimacies have lead him to see her as a person, someone he feels the need to care for her. Which ultimately is part of what protects all these wealthy young woman, the basic human decency and care for someone who you know so well and see so much of.

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Zero: The Shahrukh and Katrina relationship is fascinating here, because of how it ends. Shahrukh fully accepts, even welcomes, the servant-mistress dynamic. And because of that, he finds himself unable to break free. That’s another thing that happens in life, the people who spend their lives serving others, come to live their lives through those they serve. It’s not always the money or the security that keeps them there. Shahrukh cannot leave her, not until she forces him to go.

Image result for zero katrina shahrukh

Okay, that’s all I’ve got! There were other movies I debated including, like My Name is Khan or Om Shanti Om, but ultimately I decided to limit it to just the ones that were straight up servant roles.

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22 thoughts on “Shahrukh Summer: Princess and Pauper Shahrukh Romances, Why So Many?

    • I don’t know, Yes Boss seems so risky! Cute and sweet and all, and then suddenly dark. And then cute again. Or maybe it is just me, getting distracted by how yucky Aditya Pancholi is. The songs are certainly top notch, and SRK-Juhi is adorable.

      On Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 10:29 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I don’t know! I thought so, but then I know his filmography far better than other actors. Aamir had Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Salman has Bodyguard, and that’s just off the top of my head. I am sure there are others.

      Anyway, the first part of my analysis still stands, in a society where wealthy women are kept isolated, the “servant” relationship is an interesting way of creating intimacy between men and women.

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      • Salman also has Prem Ratan something something, and Sonam is the real princess in it, but he pretends to be prince so I don’t know if it counts.

        I like this post a lot, especially JHMS part. I promise myself I will rewatch the movie but never have time (and mood) for it.

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        • There’s also Shaandar and Fitoor which are picking up on this dynamic.

          In my experience, the first watch of JHMS is fun, the second is work because you start to notice more stuff, and then 3rd through infinity are just a joy because you can have it on in the background all the time and every scene is good.

          On Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 3:48 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Just took a spin through Aamir’s filmography, I could only find 3, but they were 3 of his biggest hits, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, RAja Hindustani, and Fanaa. So I don’t know if that proves it isn’t special for Shahrukh, but I think it proves that it has a special appeal for the Indian audience no matter who the actor is. Stand by for the Salman Filmography consideration!

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          • Raja Hindustani is an interesting counterexample because I feel like the whole idea of the character is he doesn’t see himself as subordinate to anyone. Whereas, agreed, a number of the SRK characters are humble in relation to the female boss type. Regardless of the power dynamic in a given moment, they’re willing to be in the role of deferring to her.

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          • Ooo, interesting! I agree about Raja Hindustani, except he thinks that he is inferior to Karisma, at least until the kiss. Not because he is her servant but because he worships her in particular, he wouldn’t feel the same way about another female employer. On the other hand, Karisma’s behavior with him is absolutely that strange comfort a sheltered rich woman has with an employee. With a deeply hidden subconscious desire for him that she is completely unaware of, and which makes her treat him slightly differently than her other employees.

            Interesting to think how Shahrukh would play that role. I think he would bring a lot more torment to it instead of Aamir’s kind of innocent joy. He knows he is inferior to Karisma and can’t touch her, but also can’t help falling in love with her. And I think instead of Aamir’s anger when their marriage falls apart, he would have a sort of sad humiliated acceptance.

            On Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 11:27 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • It’s an irresistible movie to recast, just because the role is so juicy and Aamir’s performance is so unique to him that it changes the whole movie to imagine another actor in that role.

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          • Yes! I hadn’t thought about it before, but you are absolutely right. The general idea of a local tour guide and a rich woman falling in love is simple, but then there are so many variations on the way it plays out depending on the choices the lead actor makes.

            On Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 1:12 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Okay, just went through Salman! And I haven’t seen every movie, but I’ve seen or read about most of them. There are a lot of movies where he is lower class than the heroine, but I could find only two where he is actually employed by her, Bodyguard and Bharat. So at least for Salman, it is not that common.

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          • Yeah, or at least not a universal thing. But also, always a popular thing! The 3 Aamir films and 2 Salman films were all big hits.

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          • Hi, sorry if this come by as rudely interrupting but can’t help to point out that in Bandhan, Salman plays the lower class than the heroine and it was kind of confirmed by his brother-in-law who said he is a servant to them all.

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          • Not rude at all! I haven’t seen Bandhan, so I didn’t know.

            On Mon, Jul 22, 2019 at 1:40 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. Hadn’t thought about what the rich woman/poor man pairing does to the romantic power dynamic. Like Angie, I really like this as an angle on JHMS and I suspect you’re right that SRK has a quality that allows him to play those roles especially well. Salman is too caught up in manliness and Aamir probably can’t in his heart of hearts imagine anyone as superior to him. There must be others, though. Maybe Vicky in the younger generation? And Shahid I think (though a funny moment to think of him in the midst of the Kabir Singh phenomenon).

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    • Definitely Shahid, looking at his filmography now. Kaminey, if you accept that he and Mikheal were in a relationship, he works for the man he loves. R…Rajkumar sort of. Shaandar, definitely. Rangoon, yes. I really like how he played it in Shaandar, he wasn’t ashamed of his work and his role in the world, but he also didn’t feel innately inferior to anyone. R….Rajkumar and Rangoon it was more a straight up sexy secret romance under the noses of those who wouldn’t suspect a lowly soldier/gunda of looking at the woman above him.

      On Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 1:20 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Thought of Vicky because of Love per Square Foot, there’s a boss romance in that one. And his character in Manmarziyaan had a touch of submissive too, in his lost boy way. He’s my contender for the new generation for this plot type.

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  2. Just a note, that scene in JHMS on the bridge where Shah Rukh grabs Anushka’s wrists and restrains her is a perfect illustration of this power dynamic. He’s physically stronger than her and forces her to submit but then immediately realizes he went too far and steps back and calls her ma’am. His voice goes from growly back into smooth servant tone. She goes from furious and humiliated to back in control. Then as she brushes past him you see the servant mask drop again.

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    • Yes!!!! And it would even work for, like, a talk on the social relationships between classes. It’s not necessarily romantic even, just a quick show of how that power can shift so quickly. The other thing that scene gets at, which JHMS just hints at but I would love to see a film fully explore, is the predatory nature of the upper class woman who has normal human sexual desires and might see the lower class man who works for her family as a “safe” place to experiment with them. And the anger of the lower classes once they become aware of how they are being used. I think Harry nods at that in his description of how these women are willing but then turn around and tell their husbands and he is punished. It would be interesting to see a film that deals with this more directly, a houseboy or driver in India who is seduced by the young woman of the household and then left to be fired and his life destroyed while her family ignores her “sin”. Or worst of all, if she claims it was against her will.

      On Sun, Jul 21, 2019 at 1:44 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • That’s an interesting dynamic, and a gender flip from the stories we’re more used to seeing onscreen. I would definitely watch that movie. I just watched Gully Boy, you could imagine a whole alternative movie from the scene in the car with the rich daughter he’s driving home from the club. Same focus on Ranveer’s perspective and home life and ambition to get to a better place, but with a plot involving a rash affair with the boss’s daughter.

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