09/01/2016 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

What Makes Shah Rukh Khan The Brightest Star Of Them All

STRDEL via Getty Images
Indian Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan looks on during a promotional event for the forthcoming Hindi film 'Dilwale' directed by Rohit Shetty and produced by Gauri Khan in Mumbai on November 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / STR / AFP / STRDEL (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

There is a certain refreshing kind of intellect that one always associates with Shah Rukh Khan. It is significant to suggest that he reflects a particular kind of intellect because in India we generally tend to separate "entertainment" from "real life", "actors" from "politics", as if every fiction that was ever produced, every comic scene that elicited laughter, every fight scene had no connection with real life. It is Shah Rukh Khan, and perhaps only Shah Rukh Khan, who is able to blur these distinctions, in his actual, as well as acted life.

How, you may ask after watching Dilwale and Chennai Express, are these real lives, and how is Shah Rukh Khan the connecting factor? I believe there is something about Shah Rukh Khan, something which I can't quite name, that makes him more likeable than other actors in his league. Salman Khan, although insanely popular, doesn't seem quite the guy one would call sharp or insightful. Amitabh Bachchan, touted as one of the greatest actors India has ever seen, seems just a little too large for real life. Aamir Khan, known to have made and acted in some of the most intelligent movies of Bollywood, just doesn't have that ubiquitous appeal.

He's a projection of a starlit version of us.

To understand fully, we must go back to where Shah Rukh Khan came from, the capital city of Delhi, a city of almost ten million. His biographical details are well known - he comes from an ordinary middle-class family, he attended the prestigious St. Columba's school (where he received the Sword of Honour, the school's highest award, for being an excellent student), he studied economics at Hansraj College in Delhi University. It is also well known that very soon he did theatre, enrolled in Jamia Millia Islamia, another prestigious university, and soon married Gauri Khan -- all in all, an extremely eventful period for the actor we are guessing. There are cigarette shops that claim Shah Rukh Khan used to hang around there and theatres where he is known to have performed, all very accessible public places, which have become the stuff of legends so many years on.

Between this and him becoming a Bollywood actor travels an interesting path. Starting out with a television series, Shah Rukh Khan soon graduated to starring in movies as his inimitable charm, talent and hard work bloomed under his prevailing good luck as he started landing the right films at the right time. It wasn't long before he had amassed a loyal fan base that only grew with the years.

His acting was boyish and mischievous, much as we see in actors like Ranveer Singh today, but more importantly, Shah Rukh Khan's performances seemed to be straight from the heart. He was the crazy boy next door, the one we couldn't help falling for (it helped that his real-life love story ran along those familiar lines too). It was also significant that at the same time he played extremely villainous roles, the most important of which were in Baazigar and Darr, demonstrating the dark alter ego of the chocolate boy. Whatever your romantic fantasies, Shah Rukh could fulfill them.

[H]e played extremely villainous roles... demonstrating the dark alter ego of the chocolate boy. Whatever your romantic fantasies, Shah Rukh could fulfill them.

Following the success of Karan Arjun, alongside Salman Khan, came Shah Rukh's greatest movie yet -- Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. One of the biggest hits of his career, the timing of DDLJ couldn't have been more perfect -- 1995 was the year that the Indian economy had just opened up, and "western culture" had just begun penetrating Indian daily life. The east vs. west dynamic played out in DDLJ, and being swept along by all-consuming love and following your heart were just the mantras that a restless India needed. An all-time blockbuster and the longest running film of Indian cinema, DDLJ established Shah Rukh Khan's supremacy as a romantic hero.

Thus began what is known as the rise and rise of Shah Rukh Khan, with Yes Boss, Pardes, Dil Toh Paagal Hai, Dil Se.., Mohabattein, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, he was unstoppable and quickly taking over the country. His charm, his witticisms, his mannerisms, his jokes, and personal statements about his love towards his children, the respectful demeanour towards women, all contributed towards his ever growing popularity.

Good films just gave way to more good films, such as Devdas, Kal Ho Na Ho, Chalte Chalte, Main Hoon Na, Veer Zaara and Swades. He was not just a boy in love anymore -- he had strong ideological beliefs that he refused to compromise on, although comedy and romance never lost their place.

By this time, Shah Rukh Khan was already a star beyond comparison and could pull crowds to the theatre by his name alone. Even damp squibs like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Happy New Year could not affect his reputation. His business ventures, which included his production house Red Chillies Entertainment and co-ownership of his IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders also established him as a businessman par excellence. Add to that his amazing stage presence and his unending endorsements, Shah Rukh Khan was an actor who was not going to go anywhere soon. Some reports claim that he is one of the biggest and highest paid movie actors in the world. Others suggest he's the biggest move star in the world, given he has more than 3.2 billion fans.

He turned the human into the star, but he also turns the star into the human, each time he makes a joke, every time he speaks.

But there is something else, something in him that is so endearing, that provokes such extreme reactions that make you love him or hate him, and that is exactly what I believe makes him unimaginably famous, yet so closely real. As he once noted, "It's special to be ordinary." Indeed, one of the most attractive things about him is that he is just like us. His witty answers make us wish we had said them and his romantic hero persona makes us wish we were him. He turned the human into the star, but he also turns the star into the human, each time he makes a joke, every time he speaks.

When he discusses his kids, his working style, his fears of growing old, he shows us that despite his veneer of stardom, he is one of us. And doesn't he represent what we all want? To be "true at heart and down to earth", yet achieve fame and wealth? Shah Rukh Khan has done that. He's a projection of a starlit version of us.

One of my best English literature professors once said while teaching us the Romantics, "William Wordsworth is the Shah Rukh Khan of romantic poetry." In Wordsworth, as they say, it is hard to distinguish between the man and the poet - the same seems to hold true for Shah Rukh Khan too.

"I don't write cheques anymore because I end up signing them 'with love, Shah Rukh Khan'," he said in an interview once -- that for us is SRK, so starry and so real at the same time.

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