Shah Rukh Khan claims he's taking a break to introspect before his next film — why this may serve him well
Shah Rukh Khan's speech at the first ever Critics Choice Film Awards showed how he is trying to go beyond the star within.
It was quite refreshing to see Shah Rukh Khan deliver the concluding speech at the first ever Critics' Choice Film Awards (CCFA) on 21 April. As he advised the film critics in the audience to not fall prey to the 'star system', like the film industry did years ago, a show reel flashed in my head of all the times he's been a quintessential star himself, especially as the host of several awards shows and when he's danced at weddings.
Remember his gig with Saif Ali Khan at Filmfare Awards 2008 in a towel and blue face pack? They danced to 'Neela Neela', a parody of the popular song 'Piya Piya' to take a dig at Sanjay Leela Bhansali's box office disaster Saawariya. Or the time when him and Saif presented a 'Na-Real' award (shaped like a coconut) to Vidya Balan for Best Wardrobe Malfunction in Sajid Khan's 2007 comedy Heyy Babyy. He has been the poster boy of all the award shows that have placed TRPs above the sanctity of their awards.
But here was SRK, in 2019, telling the CCFA to go beyond the red carpet and staged acts. It would have been hypocritical had it not been for his self-deprecating humour. However, he ensured that he took a dig at his involvement in feeding to the TRPs of these award shows. "I do also hope that these awards become another opportunity, for people like me who really do not do too much as far as art and cinema is concerned, to glean on the red carpet and look as cool as I look today."
This acknowledgement was quite unlike brand SRK that we know of. He was not there at the CCFA to merely say what was required. He stood there and read out what he felt. He usually does not 'read out' even the longest of his speeches, but here, he was at his most vulnerable. He projected himself as a participant and not just a star entertaining the audience in exchange of a few crores.
Shah Rukh acknowledged himself as not only an actor but also a filmmaker. "Stars like me, and filmmakers like me, have to change myself as an actor, and as a filmmaker. I have to promise myself to push the envelope as far as I can. It's what my love for the art demands of me. It is what filmmaking demands of me. To become an actor, you need to deconstruct yourself, you need to discard yourself."
SRK is currently in this phase of 'deconstruction'. The deconstruction here is not in terms of physical form, like playing a midget in Aanand L Rai's Zero, or a man with a prosthetic face in Manish Sharma's Fan, or a superhero in Anubhav Sinha's Ra.One. He maintained that he does not regret the commercial failures of these films as he "will be whichever lie that will reach the truest levels of (my) creativity".
However, in the current phase of his career, SRK is trying to tap into the formless energy of an idea. "We filmmakers have for far too long given more credibility to constructed and jaded ideas. We search for form without searching the essence of our stories. We find logic in commerce and disregard the free spirit of storytelling. We have to remind ourselves that the truth is formless and only untruths have forms."
A major part of SRK's struggle, both as a film producer and actor, was to get the 'look' right in all his recent unsuccessful films. This 'look' includes both his character's physical appearance and that of the film. Even in a romantic drama like Imtiaz Ali's Jab Harry Met Sejal, he could not sink his teeth into his character, Harry, completely because he gave optics preference over the heart of the story.
Now, after the failure of Zero, when he has a slew of film offers lined up, he recently revealed that he is taking a minor sabbatical. For a star of his stature to not sign a film for months after his last release seems odd. But instead of revisiting the space exploration theme of Zero in Saare Jahan Se Achha (Rakesh Sharma's biopic) or repeating the familiar, successful titular character in Farhan Akhtar's Don 3, SRK has decided to give his creative energies a rest.
In an interview to a publication during the premiere of Zero in China, SRK said he does not have anything "stunning, scintillating and exciting" to work on next. He added that he may finalise his next project only in June. The gap between his two films may be wider than even the gap between Aamir Khan's films. Aamir, who does a film every two years on an average, will be seen in Lal Singh Chadha, Adwait Chandan's Hindi remake of Forest Gump, likely to release exactly two years after his debacle Thugs of Hindostan.
Aamir also took a sabbatical in 2001, immediately after delivering a blockbuster in Farhan's Dil Chahta Hai. Probably threatened by the arrival of younger stars like Hrithik Roshan, Aamir took a break of five years to realign his priorities, only to return with successes like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Rang De Basanti and Kunal Kohli's Fanaa in 2006. The streak continued till Nitesh Tiwari's 2016 sports drama Dangal, in which he played a 60-plus wrestler.
His 'Fat to Fit' transformation for Dangal was lauded but it never became the sole center of attraction. The idea behind the metamorphosis took precedence, because Aamir's transformation of his physical form was only to serve the formless belief in the story of his film. That is a crucial approach SRK implied he hopes to take in his future films, as both an actor and a filmmaker.
But the challenge for SRK is starkly different from, and perhaps more difficult than, Aamir's.
Though he may go back to his roots, where he was much hungrier in the 1990s, SRK may no longer play a romantic lead, which has been his core strength.
As the industry caters to shorter attention spans, SRK must invoke the same energy that made his romance warm our souls. He must then invest it in newfound areas of audience interest in order to make them take a break from their fast-paced lives. As he spelt out at the CCFA, "With the advent of homegrown critics sprouting all over, film critique (sic) is becoming an endangered species. Please don't let it perish to be replaced by a consumer service. The star system (ratings) cannot be the only way of summing up a film's merit by a critic. Three stars, three-and-a-half stars, five stars... it is a film, it is not a hotel for god's sake."
Through multiple statements like these, it appeared that SRK was telling himself the same lessons he wanted film critics to ponder over. Just like a film critic must now decode every frame through creative interpretation more than obsolete standards of judgement, an actor must not always invoke the 'star' within to reach the skies.
Ideas are bulletproof and limitless. It will be fascinating to know which one SRK embraces next, even with his arms not so wide open.
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