SRK's midlife meltdown: Real, raw and tragic
by Lakshmi Chaudhry and Sandip Roy
"Ae bewada," calls out an anonymous voice from the crowd, carrying high and clear over the chatter. An enraged Shah Rukh Khan yells right back, "Tu peeche se mat bolna... samne se aake bol ae peeli shirt ****… yahin gaad doonga." (Don't talk to me from back there. Come in front of me, you yellow shirt. I will bury you right here.)
It's a telling moment in the unfolding fracas in Wankhede Stadium, but not because it offers definitive proof of guilt. The Indian Express audio recording doesn't tell us whether SRK was indeed drunk or if his children were manhandled. What it reveals is more damning: King Khan having a complete emotional meltdown. It would be a mistake to dismiss this as just another celebrity brawling badly a la Saif or Sallu and their bad boy antics. This is a Bollywood mega-star losing control of his life, his image, his career – and not because of arrogance or entitlement, but age. Shah Rukh is having a gigantic midlife crisis – in front of the entire world.
The first public sign of trouble came during an emotional, rambling interview with Barkha Dutt last October. Gone was the funny, confident, cheerful SRK we all knew and loved. In his place was a man unsure of himself and his place in the world, alienated, angry and hurt.
The interview reads like an extended rant against "everyone" who complains he "does the same thing," doesn't get his humour, claims "I am detached and I lie." But far more startling is the naked confession of his emotional isolation and neediness:
It's not a nice thing to say I prefer talking to my kids now, then the dogs, but I love my dogs. When I talk to my daughter I hold her hand. I told her you know I feel that I don't have any friends. Then she says so and so is your friend. But then I say not that kind of a friend. She likes you. I say yeah, she likes me but I don't have a friend. Then I look at her and say would you be my friend? But she says Papa I am your daughter. And I told her please be my friend also. Then finally she agreed, so okay I will be your friend and let's watch what we were watching, so it makes me feel nice.
Also notable: Bollywood's most famously devoted husband does not mention his wife, Gauri. Not even in passing. Over the course of the interview, he displays all the classic signs of a midlife crisis: a sullen depression, tendency to blame others, confusion about his career, and above all, the curious insistence that he's still young at heart.
Any doubts about his malady were removed by the release of Ra.One which was immediately dubbed "SRK's most expensive midlife crisis." And not of the useful kind. "He could have bought a Ferrari, got a nose job, inked a tattoo or coloured his hair. Yet, Shah Rukh Khan chose to pierce his nipples, play a Tam Brahm, and grab Arjun Rampal’s crotch," wrote film critic Nandini Krishnan.
That SRK has been earnestly battling Father Time is hardly a secret to anyone whose watched his morphing face and body. The absurdly black hair, the newly chiseled nose and jawline, skin that grows lighter with each passing year, and of course the eight-pack. But these are fruits of a decision taken years ago, when faced with with the big Four-Oh, Khan chose to turn himself into a toy boy.
His most avid fans were more prescient, smelling trouble way before the rest of us. Here's Deepti Lamba on PlanetSRK back in 2007:
But today, while watching him gyrate in a song from the soon-to-be-released movie Om Shanti Om, his glam seemed to slip from my eyes. He didn't seem to be the Shah Rukh I was familiar with... Where was the sturdy, aging with grace Shah Rukh that I had known for over two decades? This new Shah Rukh Khan all of a sudden seemed like a swan that had reverted back to being an ugly duckling in his middling years. Could Shah Rukh be suffering from mid life crisis?
Could this new get up be his last attempts at trying to out-shine the contemporary macho young actors like John Abraham, Ajay Devgan and Vivek Oberoi? My heart went out to the poor fellow. Could it be that Shah Rukh knows deep within his heart that his time as one of the reigning Pashas of Bollywood will soon be up? Why else would he try to regain his youth?
In many ways, SRK may have fared better if more people had shared Lamba's reaction. Or if he had treated Om Shanti Om as a one-off role, as Aamir did with Ghajni. Instead its success sent him down the alluring garden path that has now run smack into the Ra.One dead end. Going young is never a viable long-term solution to growing old.
But at least part of this blunder can be blamed on a Bollywood culture that values movie stars more as a brand now than as an actor. Shah Rukh Khan is a superstar of India Inc. In an era where a star's value is measured by his endorsements, his "youth connect" becomes all important. As Times of India notes, SRK has not signed any new big brand names over the past two years, and lost juicy contracts like Pepsi to younger stars like Ranbir Kapoor. Meanwhile other contemporaries like Aamir Khan seem to be charting out new frontiers for themselves, skilfully avoiding the Peter Pan trap.
"What you are seeing is something that a lot of stars have gone through. It's a transitional phase which all celebrities go through; while some bow out gracefully, some do not. It is an inevitable shift of power and it has not been a smooth ride for him," brand guru Santosh Desai told TOI.
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It has, in fact, been a spectacularly rocky ride for him. His increasing frustration is playing out in the form of public brawling -- be it at a party with Shirish Kundra or on the sidelines of Wankhede stadium. None of which helps a brand built on playing Mr. Nice Guy, unlike say a Salman 'dabangg' Khan. Even his rumoured romantic entanglement – with a much younger adoring actress, of course – adds to the sense of a life spinning out of control. The rumoured affair with Priyanka Chopra doesn't read like a Bollywood mega-stud enjoying his due, but as a middle-aged man ruining his family life with an unseemly public dalliance.
SRK's greatest asset has always been his everyman quality. Even for those who disdained his onscreen hamming, he was the quintessential success story we could all cheer for – the not-so-good looking outsider without Bollywood lineage, who made it to the top, powered by sheer chutzpah and perfect dimples. As Lamba says, “My love for Shah Rukh was nostalgic. He was a good Delhi boy who had come up the hard way, married his young love, had a beautiful family, loved to play on his Xbox and didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Bachchan and Rai families.”
In the wake of Ra.One, some critics charged that SRK had transformed himself from everyman to Plastic Man. But the real tragedy of Shah Rukh Khan’s mid life crisis is that it painfully proves that he's still like the rest of us. In fact it’s alarming how eerily his life mirrors the textbook “Are you having a mid-life crisis” checklist to a T. If Ra.One was the supersized rich man's bauble designed to stave off middle age, the Wankhede meltdown is its dark, plebian twin. This Shah Rukh is all too real, completely messed up and utterly lost.
But in Bollywood’s hall of mirrors can anyone really see that? More importantly, do we care enough to do so?