From Raj/Rahul To Nonsensical Films: What Went Wrong For King Khan?

A blog on The Los Angeles Times called this man possibly “the biggest movie star in the world”. Estimated at a net worth of over half a billion American dollars, Shah Rukh Khan’s journey through superstardom, 26 years and still counting, is straight out of a film.

Popular Hindi cinema has seen many a male superstar. All of them captured the mass imagination. But it was Shah Rukh Khan who recreated superstardom by breaking down bit-by-bit the larger-than-life enigma of the movie star and making it accessible to the common man.

How is a star created? The movie star’s image is built over a stereotype. With Mr Bachchan, Vijay became eponymous with the ‘angry young man’, a man with a vendetta against the system dragged into the dark underbelly of crime, seeking revenge for injustices committed against his family. Even the flowing bell-bottoms became a trademark of his long-legged persona.

Rajesh Khanna too was the simple middle-class hero, unremarkable to look at, but oozing sentimentality, a symbol of the honest middle-class Indian. Raj Kapoor created his own public appeal of the endearing desi tramp, vis-à-vis Charlie Chaplin. These stars thus gained extraordinary cult status by repeatedly portraying these characters.

So what about King Khan? Like Kapoor, Khanna and Bachchan before him, Khan too, with his unconventional looks and thatch of funny hair, became typecast. In film after film, he played the flamboyant Raj or Rahul, the archetypal loverboy. He became synonymous with the urban/diasporic Indian. Khan’s signature arm stretch, even his specific laughter and dialogue delivery became as iconic as the man himself.

Yet, unlike his predecessors, Khan’s stardom went through a second stage of image construction. Not only did his boy-next-door image catapult him to superstardom, but the similar off-screen image that the star maintained further won hearts and fed into his stardom. Unlike stars before him, Khan created an off-screen image that was as regular, adorable, humorous and intelligent as his on-screen persona. Thus while Bachchan is held in awe, Khan has been held in adoration.

The king of romance has pulled down barriers between the movie star and the common man while becoming one of the richest men in the world. Far from ordinary!

However, for the past four years, the star has made movies, that, while grossing high at the box office, have earned him very little kudos otherwise. Even Khan fans, who religiously made it to the theatres, have come out, dejected by the lack of plot, the absence of a script and a near nonsensical nature of the films.

So what went wrong?

Unlike Salman Khan, whose audience belongs to a very specific social class, Shah Rukh’s appeal has been evenly distributed among the masses and the more educated audiences. So, while films like “Chennai Express”, “Happy New Year” and “Dilwale” might have targeted the mass audience, the so-called sophisticated section of the audience remained consistently disappointed. While Shah Rukh has repeatedly said in interviews that he is an entertainer, a large part of his fandom requires him to stop indulging in no-brainers, and do more sensible cinema.

So what happens when a film like, say, “Raees” releases? While critics had given it the thumbs up, portions of the audience, fans included, seemed sceptical. Yet, after a substantial period of time, this was a film with a meaningful script in place, a plot, albeit disjointed, and a distinct attempt at characterisation, despite relying heavily on the star’s screen presence to pull it through. And pull through he does! With the kohl-eyed, Pathani-suited Khan oozing charisma and sex appeal in every frame, “Raees” is SRK’s superstardom, devoid mannerisms, at its peak. Yet, the negative buzz on social media seemed endless, even while the movie was showing in theatres. So something doesn’t seem right! It seems even his fans are confused as to what they expect from their heartthrob of over two decades.

Shah Rukh Khan in “Raees”.

For the major part of his career, the star found his USP for all sections of his audience, churning out films that are crowd-pleasers. Now, at 52, he no longer fits the Raj/Rahul stereotype. Neither does doing a string of inane films help his now-at-crossroads stardom, especially with the ‘crème’ classes of his audience. Perhaps the star has been in his old shoes for far too long. And the audience has evolved with time, more than the star himself, who has only recently begun experimenting with roles. Hence, the dilemma.

While Salman, with new-found stardom at 50, and Aamir, have settled into their superstar and star-actor roles respectively, Shah Rukh’s indisputable stardom has suddenly become one bumpy ride. Will the audience love another done-to-death romantic stereotype? Seems unlikely. Do they love his anti-hero avatar? Not entirely. Will they welcome another brainless inanity? Not a chance. Can Shah Rukh bring back his “Chak De!” days? Not unless the script becomes the hero. Will the confused audience accept it if he really does another “Chak De!”? God only knows!

It seems then that the future of the ‘world’s biggest movie star’ lies in the hands of his muddled audience. For even with different kinds of roles, like in “Fan” and “Raees”, the star has failed to completely satisfy his audiences. His superstardom surely etched in history, we wish him luck in his new ventures like “Zero”. Here’s hoping as always with the inimitable Khan, “Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!”

Created by Anugraha Hadke

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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