hero ki entry is such a cliche. And Shah Rukh Khan’s entry in Deewana was the mostest of all cliches– bowling along on a motorcycle on Marine Drive. It was 1992. The Raj Kanwar film, headlined by its lead stars Rishi Kapoor and Divya Bharti, was expected to deliver your standard melodrama, along with the introduction of ‘a TV actor’ called Shah Rukh Khan. No one had any idea what was about to happen when that film opened.
Pre-interval, Kapoor, who was already looking too old to be a hero, and the much-younger Bharti had done what heroes and heroines do in Bollywood movies. Sung, danced, romanced. Bharti was still relatively new in Bollywood, but she knew exactly how to catch your eye.
That motorcycle scene which introduced SRK was a total dhamaka. We were at Odeon in CP (that theater is now a swish PVR), first day first show. The hall erupted in claps, hoots, whistles. Cliched entry ki aisi taisi: we could see a star being born in front of our eyes. You can feel these things, and there it was: that knowing of something shifting, something brand new, some kind of tectonic force emanating out of that scene, versions of which we had seen, and would continue to see.
That year SRK had also done ‘Ahmaq’ (based on Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’), a near-forgotten film with none other than Mani Kaul. I have very faint memories of that film, the kind of ‘festival film’ only cinephiles can make time for, but in one arresting frame, his face peers out from behind a wall, and there’s something in that face, an intense awareness of self , of the moment.
But it was interesting that he could do that film with Mani Kaul, who was as avant-garde as you can get. As well as a few others which showed SRK’s desire to be taken seriously as an actor, and to do ‘different’ cinema. Remember Ketan Mehta’s ‘Maya Memsaab’ in which he rolled down snowy hillsides with the sultry Deepa Sahi, and Mirza’s way ahead of its time stinging satire ‘ O Darling Yeh Hai India’?
But fate, and his overriding ambition to be a star–yes, that’s what he wanted, right from the very popular DD serial ‘Fauji’, when he became a huge heartthrob- put paid to all of that. From then on, SRK started his dizzying ascent, a Delhi boy who conquered Bombay on the basis of his unshakeable conviction, deep dimples, and widespread arms: yes, he did spread those arms wide in ‘Deewana’, for the very first time, his trademark adaa.
He worked with a whole bunch of diverse directors; he did roles that would have been called supporting: in Aziz Mirza’s ‘Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman’, Juhi Chawla was the bigger star; he did a couple of hugely popular bad boy roles, in ‘Darr’, ‘Baazigar’, and ‘Anjaam’, but managed to get the script-writers to give him ample scope to display his dimpled charm; he played a near-loser type in Kundan Shah’s ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’, where he does n’t get the girl. That film is cult for the right reasons.
He showed, very early on, that he had the ability to be self-deprecating, of setting himself up, a quality which no other huge star possessed, and which has stood him in good stead all these years. He has also shown that he does have more than those five expressions that he says he owns. But we didn’t really want to see him do anything other than spread those arms, wide, wider, widest.
On that motorcycle, looking like any of your millions of show-offy young Indian men, leaving the handle-bars, jumping up on the seat (where were the alert Bombay traffic cops, huh? Probably watching the shoot), he sang: koi na koi chahiye, pyaar karne waala. And that was that.
Thirty years on, he still has it.