It’s been a little over 27 years since Shah Rukh Khan first appeared in a Hindi feature film, his last few films being below par (which is a polite way of saying ‘terrible’) and he is barely seen on social media as well these days. Yet, if you are a Bollywood fan it’s impossible to deny the kind of excitement even a rumour of a new Shah Rukh Khan film incites. Khan’s vast filmography, that includes over 80 films, has its fair share of duds and routine, now annoying formula and dazzling hits.
Some of Khan’s biggest hits also had him follow a tried and tested formula which stuck with him for very long, until he began making what seemed like deliberate departures. All said and done, there’s always a Shah Rukh Khan film for a bad day. Here, we have listed his best performances till date.
8. Kal Ho Naa Ho
Okay, don’t shoot me. We all remember that embarrassing pre-interval scene where Khan admits to his on-screen mother (Reema Lagoo), that he has a terminal heart condition. Where he unconvincingly sobs and recites dialogues like ′pehli baar iss dil ne kisi ke liye saansein li hai, lekin yeh dil hi kamzor hai’. It’s right up Khan’s alley, but even his hardcore fans will have to admit it that the overdose of melodrama sort of botches up the scene. Did not help that the line was also awfully corny.
However, apart from that one scene, Kal Ho Naa Ho is a terrific exhibition of how Khan charmed his audience. As Aman Mathur, Khan goes about his extrovert-with-a-terminal-condition routine with so much flair, that it’s impossible to remain untouched. Armed with funny banter (especially with Saif Ali Khan), some of Aman’s most hilarious lines come off like on-the-spot improvisations. Like when he delivers an impassioned monologue about saving a restaurant and he’s saying ”humein apna desh yahaan New York laana hai, chaaro taraf basana hai″ and then he looks at Saif and says ”... including Gujarat”. Given the film’s over-the-top aesthetic that charges at the audience with glitzy wedding songs and meticulously-choreographed hospital sequences, it’s easy to overlook Khan’s performance where he weaponises the wit and dry humour that is synonymous with him off screen as well.
7. Yes Boss
Even though it was with Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992) that Shah Rukh Khan became the face of middle-class aspiration, it was in this 1997 film (also directed by Aziz Mirza) where Khan became the one-true mascot of a newly-liberalised Indian economy, that was still coming to terms with its limitless aspirations. This film featured Khan at his most luminous. You don’t need to go any further than the film’s songs — be it ‘Main koi aisa geet’ or ‘Bas Itna Sa Khwaab Hai’ or even ‘Ek Din Aap’ — to understand the easy charm Khan brought to his characters, that made him the star he is. Khan leaves no stone unturned while playing the ‘fool’ to impress his boss (Aditya Pancholi), or to serenade the lady he loves (Juhi Chawla). Maybe it was during these song sequences that he ended up charming an entire nation.
6. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna
Guys, please lower your guns. I do realise that it’s not cool to like anything by Karan Johar anymore. But as one of the fifteen people in the world who probably LOVE Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK), I do need to make a case for why Dev Saran is one of Khan’s best performances. This came during Khan’s golden period (2004-07) as an actor, where he was sportingly taking up ‘characters’ instead of projects. It’s a case of inspired casting by Karan Johar, someone who played a significant part in positioning Khan on a pedestal as the perfect son/lover/husband/father, and then turned it all around with Dev Saran. With KANK, Khan — the premise of whose very stardom had been to be easily likable — took on the role of a man unhappy with his own life, also someone who makes people around him unhappy. Rewatching it now makes you question the film’s gender politics, but that said, Johar did not cast an empathetic gaze on Khan’s coldness or his conflicts. Instead, KANK shows Khan’s Dev grappling with his failures with anything but dignity, keeping the audience hooked on the hope that maybe the character will redeem himself. He plays the character of man who is dealing with failed ambitions and daily drudgery and barely scraping through with the same conviction with which he danced atop a train in Chhaiyya Chhaiyya.
Fan is Shah Rukh Khan’s is the most fascinating of Khan’s experiments in the last decade and I often think with a little better writing it would have been a better film. That said, the film documents one of Khan’s most intriguing performances.
Playing a double role — that of a jilted fan and his superstar idol — Khan manages to bring about both the obsession of a fan and the cold restraint of a star. In spite of being buried under prosthetic make-up and VFX, Khan brings about a primal obsession in those eyes, which arguably builds the character of Gaurav Chandna. What is an even bigger surprise about the film, is the way Khan also goes on to play the superstar Aryan Khanna. Cutting very close to the bone, Khan riffs on his much-publicised performances at rich people’s weddings, and doesn’t shy away from showcasing a picture of a vain, temperamental, and often foul-mouthed superstar. In a fleeting moment in the film, Khanna, an aging superstar is seen staring at the mirror and shakily touching a wrinkle on his face only to quickly remove his hand almost as if he is chiding himself for his age. One wishes the film built more on these spectacular moments which revealed Khan as vulnerable and real.
Arguably one of Khan’s best films in the last 20 years, also saw him play the most ‘normal’ character of his career. There’s no slow-motion helicopter entry in this, there’s no Switzerland with leading ladies in matching saris, Khan isn’t sporting GAP sweat-shirts here, and finally, there are no broad declarations of love. Khan plays a NASA scientist, Mohan Bhargav, on a trip to India to meet his former nanny (Kishori Ballal). Even though he goes on to fill the mould of a saviour (because it’s a Bollywood film duh!), he does it gradually after having observed the tiny injustices around him that get swept under the carpet. This seems like a rare occasion where Khan trusted the process and he let his feelings simmer within him. There was very little that felt made-up about his character, and Khan did something in Swades that he has great difficulty doing in any film - doing less.
Even though Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘anti-hero’ characters went on to become successful after Darr, and became mythic after Anjaam, one needs to remember that it all began with Baazigar. Considering Khan is best known for his romantic roles, it is fascinating that his role as Ajay Sharma, a psychopath, actually made him a household name. It also makes fans think why Khan stuck to a stereotype for so many years when he had dared to experiment with a ‘negative’ role that early in his career. Khan really pushed the boundaries of what a ‘hero’ could do in a Bollywood film with Baazigar. Also, who can forget the climax where Khan’s white shirt is drenched in blood and he says the immortal words ”Ab sailaab aayega, Madan Chopra. Sailaab aayega...″ Shah Rukh Khan tried to redo the ‘crazy lover’ role later in his career, but the shock-value in this made sure that none of them were quite like his turn in this one.
2. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
Kundan Shah’s effervescent coming-of-age film disguised as a love story between Sunil and Anna (Khan and Suchitra Krishnamoorthi), features one of the sweetest roles of Khan’s career. Sunil doesn’t wish to work at his father’s garage, but he’s no good at studies. He’s in love with a girl, who only sees him as an overgrown child. He’s good at music, but he doesn’t quite fit in with all his band-mates. He doesn’t know what to make of his life, and like boys his age, he believes his life’s meaning depends on his love story. He befriends a local gangster, Anthony D’Costa, who labels him a saccha aashiq. Anna doesn’t love him back, and what’s worse is that she instead loves Sunil’s best friend, Chris (Deepak Tijori). In a whirlwind of a year that includes getting over his heartbreak for Anna, being embraced by his band-members and redeeming himself after lying to his father about his college results, Sunil comes out a changed man. Kabhi Haa Kabhi Naa is one of the warmest films in Khan’s filmography, that is still as watchable today as it was 26 years ago.
1. Chak De India
Hands down, the best performance by Shah Rukh Khan in a Hindi film. Playing the role of a hockey player falsely accused to taking a bribe from Pakistan to throw away a match, just because he is Muslim, Chak De had Shah Rukh Khan wade into the political for the first time. And it made for a spectacular movie. The film sees Khan asserting his Muslim identity in a quiet, revolutionary way. Sporting a beard for the first time in a film, Khan’s transformation in the hands of Shimit Amin is so seamless, that some of us might even forget about the myth of Shah Rukh Khan’s stardom while watching the film. ‘A coach with a past’ is a standard mould of a character in a film, given the many sports films that have been made in the world till date, but what really works for Chak De India is how Shimit Amin and Jaideep Sahni ground the film in India’s warped gender politics and Islamophobia. Also, they do the unthinkable by breaking down Khan’s larger-than-life persona, and making his splendid screen-presence work for this coach in search of redemption. The result was Khan’s most accomplished performance on the big screen.
Shah Rukh Khan in Luck By Chance: One of Khan’s most splendid moments on screen was in this cameo as himself in Zoya Akhtar’s directorial debut. He’s talking to a newly-successful actor (Farhan Akhtar) and going around the usual conversation to choose the ‘right kind of scripts’. It’s a startling moment when Khan calls Akhtar’s character out for ditching his friends to speak to him and follows it up by saying ′unhe mat bhulo jo tumhe tab jaante the, jab tum kuch nahi the. Kyun ki sirf wahi tumhe sach bolenge’. Khan has rarely felt so genuine as he did during those 30 seconds on screen.