This is my fifth column as homage to 100 years of Indian cinema. I am telling my story as a film lover.
In the previous column I talked about Shah Rukh Khan doing Economics (Honours) with me from Delhi University's Hans Raj College from 1985 to 88. My classmate SRK was not a namesake of the Badshah of Bollywood, he was the same SRK. He was a very quiet guy, not very vocal and was not very regular in attending college. He was doing a lot of things apart from graduation. He was doing serious theatre, playing hockey, cricket and football and romancing his girl friend. Success in all his activities, academics included, demanded devoted investment of time and energy on an almost daily basis. Twenty-four hours a day-that's what all of us had. And without having any idea how he was spending his days, I can say he was extracting everything out of every second.
It was obvious from the results he gave in all his pursuits. He topped the college, all three years of graduation combined. I remember checking out my marks first and then those of my friends from the college notice board after the final year results were out. I had got 444 out of a total of 800 marks. I then scanned the list for the highest marks-507, against Shah Rukh's name. I am not sure about the level to which he rose to play hockey, but heard he was very good in the game. In acting, he did enough in college to prepare the ground for becoming one of the legends of Bollywood. And his love interest of college days is his wife today.
Shah Rukh is known to have manic energy. The intensity and involvement with which he has worked from his school and college days till now is incredible. An average person can work like that for a few weeks or months, but to go on working at the peak levels of one's energy for decades is indeed very uncommon. One can find numerous faults in his acting and personality, but just one quality makes him quite extraordinary-he gives his 100 per cent to whatever he does. His commitment and sincerity towards whatever he does is total. Besides a human being's 100 per cent effort, success and failure are the outcome of almost innumerable other factors, both known and unknown. But from what I have seen of Shah Rukh in college and from what I have heard about him from friends in the media industry who know him, I can say that his dedication to plain, simple hard work is pure enough to make success inevitable. Going by the yardstick of sheer hard work, he deserves all the success he has achieved.
I grudged him his success initially. Shah Rukh was just one among many actors playing the role of Army men in the TV serial Fauji. When I watched the serial, I gave more attention to Shah Rukh only because he had been my class mate. But I did not find his acting in the serial made him stand out. In fact, I thought he wasn’t acting at all because in his role, he seemed to be just the way I had found him in real life. But many family members, friends and acquaintances chose his acting for special praise. Women found him handsome. People around me were loving him and I could see no reason for it. Shah Rukh writes in his autobiography, “I believe that when you are in love, your partner is the most beautiful person in the world. I believe I can have a love story with my audience. I can love them and love them a lot. Even then, I was sure that they would realize this love and love me back. And once they were in love they would find me nice, whether I was Adonis or not.” This was the feeling with which Shah Rukh was acting from the time of his TV serials. It was a noble and lofty feeling. His love did not go unrequited.
I could not digest his success in the beginning to a great extent because I was plain jealous. But a person can be jealous only of someone whom he finds comparable to himself. Shah Rukh moved finally to a realm where he was too successful for my jealousy. It was time then to enjoy the success of a classmate.
There came a moment when I knew Shah Rukh had made it as a star and would in all likelihood make it bigger. I was watching the 9-12 night show of his debut film Deewana in a Patna movie hall in 1992, four years after graduation. The elite, educated, well-to-do or sophisticated people didn’t watch the 9-12 night movie shows in Patna then. This show was largely seen by ordinary people, especially those from the underprivileged sections of society-the sections that constitute the bulk of the masses which make or break the careers of film actors. I had chosen this show of Deewana to see how the masses received Shah Rukh. Sitting next to me in the hall was a young man in a vest and lungi, smoking a beedi whenever he felt like it. He represented the masses. He could have been a rickshaw-puller, a fruit vendor, a paan shop owner ... I was monitoring his reactions. There is a scene in the film in which Shah Rukh vents his anger at the character playing his father. Just as the scene ended, this common man, resonating with Shah Rukh's on-screen energy, burst out saying, “Jiyoh, Sharukh.” It means “Bravo Shah Rukh” in English. I wrote a long letter to Shah Rukh, talking about this episode and our college days, but for some reason never posted it. Perhaps I knew there was no need to. Shah Rukh must have known that he had struck a chord with the masses from the deluge of letters reaching him.
If you ask me to rate Shah Rukh as an actor, I would say ‘good’. One of his best performances was in Chak De! India. It was a movie in which he did not play ‘star’ SRK. He was closer to being just an actor and he looked his part. like many other star actors, his acting potential has not been realised because of the preoccupation with encashing his stardom. His ability to appeal to people with mannerisms makes him comparable to Rajesh Khanna. Shah Rukh looks almost the same in many of his hit films, including the movies at the beginning of his career like Darr and Baazigar in which his character has negative shades. There is not much difference in the way he exhibits different emotions in different films. I have seen SRK, the star, doing a set stock of things most of the time. I hope Shah Rukh gives himself more chances to be an actor and not just a star.