By Tara Bhattacharjya Gupta
Illustration by Shikha Sreenivas
I rediscovered my love for Shah Rukh Khan in the first few months of the pandemic.
I had just turned fourteen, and it had been a while since I’d seen a Shah Rukh film. Before that, all I had were memories of a sort-of fondness for Shah Rukh, tied to my memories of watching old childhood favourites like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and Main Hoon Na. Occasionally, I would see him on the big screen for films like Happy New Year and Zero. Then… 2020 happened.
In those initial dystopian months, all seemed lost. We were stocking up on food, I was realizing school wouldn’t reopen for a while yet, and I didn’t see my friends for weeks on end. In that time, I remember slowly getting lost in Bollywood’s unfailingly bright and hopeful films, especially from the early 2000s. And, as a result, I remember slowly getting lost in Shah Rukh Khan.
I think, at first, I began to love Shah Rukh Khan because he represented a softer time in Hindi films, where love was the motivation – but also the reward. In this love, the woman wasn’t simply a way for the hero to go on a journey of self-discovery. She wasn’t just an accessory to his quest. This was a love that was kind and fierce and true, where Shah Rukh’s world revolved around the woman. He would die for her, and she owed him nothing for it – not even her love.
My nostalgia for this kind of empathetic, hopeful cinema (especially in 2020) and my search for this kind of brave, charismatic, sensitive hero is what initially took me back to Shah Rukh Khan. But the honesty, vulnerability and playfulness that is special to him, that he brings to his roles, is what made me stay.
These qualities – the things that take Shah Rukh Khan and make him the King of Romance, the Badshah of Bollywood – are best captured in some of my favorite Shah Rukh music videos: Chaiyya Chaiyya, Yeh Ladka Hai Allah, Mitwa, Koi Mil Gaya, Tumse Milke Dil Ka Hai Jo Haal, Maahi Ve, and Deewangi Deewangi. His song picturizations are a large part of why I love him – they sometimes feel like the most Shah Rukh part of his films. These music videos are colorful, romantic, spirited, and, above all, fun. They make me feel happy and nostalgic and safe – to me, there’s something incredibly comforting in the familiar rhythms of the songs and the steps. Whether he’s dancing on top of a train with Malaika Arora or romancing Kajol at her best friend’s wedding, I can’t take my eyes off him. It’s like everything that makes him special has been compressed into those four minutes of song and dance – a Shah Rukh overload that you can’t help but be charmed by.
In a TED Talk that Shah Rukh Khan gives in Vancouver, April 2017, he says, “I sell dreams, and I peddle love to millions of people back home in India, who assume that I am the best lover in the world.” I love Shah Rukh Khan because of his sincerity, and his genuine faith in the love that he is “peddling”. I have never once doubted his love for his heroines, because the way he looks at them – whether he is Raj or Rahul, Veer or Ram, Aman or Om – never changes. There are scenes from his films and music videos that I love to rewatch, just because of that look in his eye: the look that says he would die for his Anjali, his Simran, his Zaara. You believe him, and then you begin to believe in him, and all the love that he offers. In that moment, you fall for him right alongside his Anjali, his Simran and his Zaara… and then there’s no turning back. How could you? After all, as Rani Mukerji says – nobody loves like Shah Rukh Khan.
Why I love Shah Rukh Khan is a complicated question. I haven’t been able to find the right words for it, to convey exactly what him and the characters he plays onscreen mean to me, and why I keep coming back to them. This feels strange. After all, I have so much love in my heart for him. There is just something magical and indescribable about him, something that I’ve tried hard to capture, something that all his fans connect with.
And I suppose I am exactly that – a fan.
Being a fan is weird for me. In the beginning, it was embarrassing to call myself that, because it meant that I cared. To care so strongly for a superstar who doesn’t even know I exist felt silly. As a teenager who lives in Bombay, the glitz and glamour of Bollywood stars aren’t supposed to affect me – I’m supposed to be cool, removed, unbothered. So, I simply dismissed the word, despite quite obviously being a fan. I didn’t want people to know exactly how much I cared, how much I loved. It isn’t the done thing, to be a ‘fan’.
Being a Shah Rukh fan puts me in a national club of people – most of whom wear their love for their hero on their sleeves, who call themselves SRKians, who make edits and start fanpages, who visit Mannat on Shah Rukh’s birthday and take photos outside the gate (something I’ve tried doing, much to the embarrassed protests of my friends. I had to eventually take the photo discreetly from across the road, with Mannat somewhere in the background.) This isn’t as acceptable as being, for example, an Ariana Grande fan, or a Taylor Swift fan – collectives that do many of the same things, but speak majorly in English.
But being a Shahrukh fan – an SRKian – also means that I’m never alone. There are millions of people all over the world who feel the same as me, who find themselves and their hopes and dreams in the worlds that Shah Rukh creates. We watch the same music videos and interviews five hundred times. We hang posters in our rooms. We learn the choreography to his music videos. We try and convert our friends and families. We defend Shah Rukh and our love for him more often than we’d like.
The special thing is, though, that even though my friends might be slightly exasperated with my fan behavior, they can’t help but settle in besides me to watch the next music video, and the next, and the next, and talk about the magical way that Shah Rukh looks at Kajol, or how handsome he looks in a sherwani. They don’t bat an eye when I tell them that my fifteenth birthday party is SRK themed – instead, they all participate wholeheartedly, coming dressed up as various characters from SRK films and learning the choreography to Maahi Ve.
So… why do I love Shah Rukh Khan? I love Shah Rukh Khan because I’m a fan. And it is weird, to be a fan, but it’s also exciting and liberating. More of us should try it. It frees you from worrying about what’s silly and what’s cool, and allows you to just be – to love what you love. And isn’t that exactly what Shah Rukh Khan stands for?
In the end, this is the magic of Shah Rukh Khan. If you love him, you love him the way he loves his heroines – unabashedly, inexplicably, and forever. I guess some things are best left unexplained. As Rahul Khanna once said: kuch kuch hota hai Anjali… tum nahi samjhogi!
(Happy Birthday, Shah Rukh Khan. Thank you for giving us your love, and letting us love you in return.)
Tara Bhattacharjya Gupta is fifteen years old, studying and living in Bombay. She likes listening to music, watching films, and collecting earrings – and she used to think her dad looks a lot like Shah Rukh Khan.