Ours is the land of unity in diversity. The only thing we agree upon is the general consensus that we will disagree. And most of the times it’s safe to leave it to the experts. In art, for instance, we may never be able to appreciate music as well as the classically trained, we may never realize the beauty of word choices in poetry and lyrics the way linguists do, and to be honest the rest of us don’t even care. But tell an Indian movie buff their opinion on Bollywood is crass and they’ll pin you to the wall and deliver two tight slaps. That’s how deeply we feel about our movies. These movies have affected our lives in ways more than one. They have played a very formative role in our emotional development and have taught us things that we rarely credit to them. The 90s and the early 2000s were the era of romantic movies, and the era of the biggest seller that India has created – Shahrukh Khan.
His romantic roles have affected our lives more that one might notice. All of us were growing up when Rahul was dealing with a plethora of relationships problems in situations that appeared to be too dramatized but were very real problems nonetheless. He was falling in love with his friends, getting close to girls brought up in way too conservative families, dealing with the death of loved ones and what not. These situations and his responses have a huge imprint on the minds of a huge chunk of our society. The media dubbed him the King of Romance but to us, the nineties kids, he was much more than a movie figure.
Alright, perhaps not to all of us but a sizeable number, indeed, believes in the absolute timelessness of SRK’s performances and romantic roles. Even the ones who don’t, can’t deny the fact that he has taught the common man the art of romance and in doing so has united the largest section of our population in this cultural revolution. Critics of this theory do not realize that his movies were watched by my millions of people in India, and the effect of a cumulative change in the romantic mindset of the society affects everyone. Therefore, we shall and will continue to take Mr. Khan very seriously.
“You can love me or hate me. But you can’t ignore me.” – Shahrukh Khan
The closest parameter to judge the state of a society is by the study of its movies.
The ‘70s was the era that witnessed the birth of the biggest phenomena of Indian cinema, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, with his ‘Angry Young Man’ image. This was the time when the middle class, who had sacrificed much during the freedom struggle in the hope of a better tomorrow suffered a great deal. Mr. Bachchan voiced the true sentiments of the ‘janta’. Not everybody could choose or embrace the violent route to fixing things, but via Bachchan, they vicariously lived the joy of bashing away the ills that irked them day in and day out.
The ‘80s are considered to be the darkest era of Indian cinema. This was a period of confused transition, where fun and entertainment were expressed through weird fantasies. The romance of the 1960’s was replaced by sex and violence. Indira Gandhi’s reign motivated women’s empowerment to a considerable extent. Women were increasingly gaining strength in the scripts and acting as vigilantes who avenged crimes against themselves. Hema Malini, Sridevi, Rekha, and others often represented the fearless woman of substance, who ran the family and worked with the police with a mission to eradicate evils from the society. To move from this to a decade where gaining the attention of women formed a major section of most films was unforeseen.
Almost all nation’s movie industry has seen this transition but only in India we have a face that represents this change very closely. It could be said that our generation was conceived and brought up in the most romantically enlightened times we have ever seen.
The type of movie roles he started with and ended up mastering reflect a romantic rendition of the social intricacies surrounding love and relationships relevant to our country. In the process, Mr. Khan also succeeded in highlighting several glitches in the Indian society- the treatment and status of women in India, the taboo surrounding love marriages, the excessive authority that elders have on their daughters, etc. However unintentional, but he does deserve credit for at least giving the older generation their children’s perspective.
The entire generation that watched him during their formative years learned to handle their first experiences of affection with unseen passion. Unlike their predecessors, this generation would go on to add unprecedented excitement and fervor to one of the most important feelings of their lives, they will ever be grateful to Mr. Khan to subtly highlight the importance of the once unseemly feeling. A playful Raj teases his love-interest and makes fun of her but never does he let anything harm her. He puts up with her father’s stiff-necked pride, takes a beating for her and makes her feel like she is the most important thing to him in the world. And that is how every young girl wants to feel and be treated like. A college student Rahul wants attention and he appears to be the kind of guy who would never settle for a serious relationship but when he does fall in love it is with complete devotion and purity. Every time we watch the movie, his words, “Love is friendship” strike a chord with anyone who’s ever known what it feels like to lose a friend to love. And who can forget the image of a young man dancing to the beats of ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ atop an actual moving train singing about the wonders of love.
Watching his performances has conditioned our Hindustani minds to understand both infatuation and eternal love in the harmonies of the Mandolin or the Violin, in challenging a Sumo wrestler for a loved one without a second thought, in the dreaded love triangles between friends, in sizing up against a suitor more financially and socially well-off than yourself and many more. These nuances of a relationship have become the common language of romance right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
The very sight of mustard fields and multicolored friendship bands transport us back to rose-tinted memories and the ability to dissolve into television screens without much struggle. After two decades, his movies still have the fresh energy and heartfelt poignance. Every re-watch is a memory of a lesson learned, and a comparison created from where we stood the last time we watched it. He has taught an entire generation that it’s alright to be a little cynical about romance, to be hopelessly romantic about platonic love and that what matters, at the end of the day, is when a girl turns around to look at you and says –
Kuchh kuchh hota hai Rahul, tum nahi samjhoge.
Written in collaboration with Vashi Negi and Apoorva Agarwal.