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  For the Edit Page
  Shahruakh Khan

Devesh Vijay

The Hindu

3/9/04, Friday Supplement


Deciphering Shah Rukh Khan


The spell cast on film fans by mega ‘stars’ of yesteryears such as Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan seems archaic in present times when cable television, CDs and an unrelenting paparazzi have diminished the remoteness and mystique of celebrities considerably. Yet, the impact of the entertainment industry on our populace should not be ignored even now as screen idols continue to set the trends not only for hair and shirt lengths of fans but also deeply mould tastes, attitudes and values of the young in general.


One such current idol is surely Shah Rukh Khan who has given, to a flop prone Bollywood, a hit film and, to the nation, a superhit song, almost every year over the past decade. But the actual worth of SRK consists not just in the financial reprieve he brings, along with others of his ilk, to a broke industry or, in the musical notes he hums to carry along, however superficially and temporarily, the many fractions of our society. SRK’s special and most valuable contribution to current cultural scene lies in the unique style and spirit of the fun loving characters he mostly portrays; characters who indulge in clever talk and flirtations but rarely in vulgar erotics or angry fights that dominate so much of our entertainment world today.


At the same time, it is noteworthy that the ‘Rahuls’ and the ‘Karans’ enacted by this Khan are not like the vulnerable heroes of yore but mostly characters who seem to suggest to today’s youth that the way out of the many obstacles in life is neither dependence on poetic justice from it nor violence against it but simple wit and humor that goes along with it.


Such a message may not be Shah Rukh’s own conscious creation; nor is he the only Khan in Bollywood playing it out through his roles. But for reasons better left to social psychologists, his articulations of such fun and little flirtations have most effectively and consistently moved audiences across our social spectrum and helped in bringing more acceptability for such values in mofussil India with precious relief for the young in particular.


The processes of cultural transformation are perhaps the most mysterious amongst the workings of any society. But that the direction of change in contemporary values, tastes and attitudes in our country is being moulded more by the media and less by the designs of educationists and religious leaders seems obvious. The subtle transformative role played by Bollywood in recasting fashions, individuality and aspirations since the beginning of the previous century is a striking example.


Many undoubtedly miss today the soul stirring music and platonic relations beautifully etched on the screen by masters like Gurudutt and Bimal Roy in the fifties and the sixties. The values represented by today’s stars would perhaps compare poorly with such genius. But in a society that is not only dusty, sweaty and poor but also, now, more corrupt and criminalized, it is a hearty laugh and some cleverness that perhaps do better than serious idealism for millions, for the moment. Kudos to Badshah Khan for articulating this reality with such verve and appeal, knowingly or otherwise.



Dr. Devesh Vijay

University of Delhi.