(Updated: February 15, 2020) A recent viral tweet from a fan read, “Bollywood didn’t make him famous. He made Bollywood famous.” That pretty much sums up the influence India’s biggest star wields both on the home ground and overseas. In 2004, he was the third Indian actor to feature on the Time magazine cover. In 2014, Shah Rukh Khan was making more money than Tom Cruise, according to a Forbes report. For fans overseas, his name is synonymous with Hindi cinema. SRK, as he’s fondly known here, is one of the few actors (after Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan) who’s put Bollywood on the global map.
From the small screen charmer to signing five films in a day to reigning on the big screen for 27 years to becoming a global icon, SRK’s journey from the ‘actor’ to the ‘star’ is particularly noteworthy. He didn’t come from a film dynasty or with connections in the industry to support him. (Tidbit: Did you know his father ran a canteen at the prestigious National School of Drama, which served as his first introduction to the world of movies?)
Growing up, becoming an actor was never on his mind. Sports interested him. He played cricket and hockey. He did watch a lot of his films but he didn’t think about becoming an actor until he saw Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The rest, as they say, is history. Here’s a look back at some of the best and most memorable performances of his career:
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1. Darr | Baazigar (1993)
Directors: Yash Chopra | Abbas Mustan
After his first hit Deewana (1992), Shah Rukh played dark, negative characters, a risk few actors would undertake at that stage of their careers. In Darr, the pivotal character was an anti-hero and Shah Rukh astutely essays the obsessive, psychopathic stalker. In Baazigar and Anjaam, we saw shades of both the romantic and the vengeful hero. Interestingly, Abbas-Mustan’s Baazigar was turned down by Akshay Kumar, Arbaaz Khan, Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan before Shah Rukh Khan took it up. It was hard to convince ‘heroes’ to play a villain.
Fortunately, for Shah Rukh, the risk paid off. The defining film of his career, Baazigar was not only well received critically but also became the fourth highest grosser of 1993. And with that, he broke stereotypes and confines of the image of a Bollywood ‘hero.’
Watch Darr on Amazon Prime
2. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994)
Director: Kundan Shah
Again, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is not the story of a ‘hero.’ Sunil, far more close to real-life and relatable, undoes the definition of a Hindi film ‘hero,’ one scene at a time. He’s one of us. This is probably what didn’t sit too well with the audience back then. But that’s exactly what set it apart from its contemporaries and makes this Kundan Shah film a modern classic. Shah Rukh endears in a heartwarming, heartbreaking performance in one of his most underrated films.
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3. DDLJ (1995)
Director: Aditya Chopra
When Aditya Chopra directed his first film at 26, little would he have known of the success that was to follow. The film that established Shah Rukh Khan (there’s a poster in Aditya Chopra’s office signed by the actor that reads, ‘Thank you for making me the star that I am today’) was also a turning point for Hindi cinema.
To say that SRK headlined the 90s is an understatement. He redefined Hindi cinema. He redefined romance. He rewrote the rules of the mainstream Indian ‘hero.’
The ultimate rulebook of all rulebooks of romance, DDLJ became the longest running film in the history of Indian cinema (surpassing the action classic Sholay). No other Indian film has ever come close to the overwhelming success DDLJ has enjoyed over these years. Aditya Chopra’s debut film gave us memorable screen characters in Raj and Simran, that epitomised love. The record-breaking cult film set benchmarks for romantic dramas to come.
Watch DDLJ on Amazon Prime
4. Dil Se.. (1998)
Director: Mani Ratnam
Dil Se was the better one among Mani Ratnam’s unofficial ‘terrorism’ (or political) trilogy. The usual simplification of the sociopolitical backdrop wasn’t so bothersome in Dil Se.
It’s a great love story at heart with career-best performances from Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala. As Amar, SRK gives a layered performance, transforming from a carefree youngster to a desperate adult. There’s a scene when Manisha tries to cry but her frozen emotional state doesn’t bring out the tears. Such endearing moments prove why she is one of the best actresses in Indian cinema.
Visually, Dil Se is among Ratnam’s top three works. Santosh Sivan’s majestic portrayal of Ladakh will stay forever in our minds.
Shah Rukh Khan’s portrayal is powerful, his desires are fiery and his dilemmas are morally compelling.
Watch Dil Se on Amazon
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5. Hey Ram (2000)
Director: Kamal Haasan
Kamal Haasan’s controversial historical fiction Hey Ram explored a taboo subject in Indian cinema. The violence of the partition. At the time of its release, the visual imagery was too complex for an average Tamil/Indian movie viewer. Today, the film is considered one of our most brave and unique works. Hey Ram tells Saketh Ram’s story, an archaeologist caught in Kolkata’s pre-partition communal violence. The collective madness of the nation deeply traumatizes Ram’s psyche. He chooses a path of fanaticism. And his personal journey takes us closer to the dark, bloody chapters of Indian independence.
Hey Ram featured two of my favorite actors — Shah Rukh Khan and Kamal Hassan. The historical-political drama boasts a fantastic storyline and execution. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Hey Ram is right up there with the classics. Shah Rukh Khan is at his best with a bone-chilling performance that tends to deliver the true meaning of brotherhood and secularism. His struggles against a society — rigid, ruthless and ready to kill those that don’t conform to their ideals are awe-inspiring.
Watch Hey Ram on Amazon Prime
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6. Devdas (2002)
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novel starring Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai, Shah Rukh was nowhere close to immortal classics – P C Barua (1935) or Bimal Roy’s (1956) Devdas. The soap opera-ish melodrama from the supporting cast could’ve been done away with as much as the needless songs that didn’t aid the narrative (Dola Re Dola). That said, the film of sumptuous production values, stands tall on the performances of its leads. Shah Rukh perfectly embodies the tragedy of the character. His performance is powerful and moving at the same time. “Objection! Milord” dialogue still gives me goosebumps. The movie reinvigorates itself anew after each watch.
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7. Swades (2004)
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Gowariker started writing Swades at the same time as Lagaan. The latter released first and obviously left the critics and audiences wondering ‘What after Lagaan?’ One of the most defining films of our times, Lagaan had altered the course of modern Indian cinema. Gowariker’s answer was down pat. Nothing better could have followed. It may have taken time for the audience to accept and embrace the film but Swades is inarguably, one of the best Hindi films of our times.
As Mohan Bharghava, Shah Rukh Khan shone in one of the career’s best performances. After a string of hits in the 90s decade, where Shah Rukh wowed us as the ‘romantic hero,’ his subtle, understated style in Swades was a delightful break. A cult classic, the film is treasured not just for its impeccable performances but its subject that struck a chord, old-world charm, simple narrative that held us right through the end (despite the three and a half hour runtime) and solid direction.
Where to Watch: Netflix
8. Chak de! India (2007)
Director: Shimit Amin
Chak de! India was another milestone in Shah Rukh Khan’s career. The plot and the film itself would want you to believe he’s been sidestepped and removed from all the real action. But the experienced actor that he is, is able to shine through that situation as well. His headspace and emotional musings have us more hooked than the action in the hockey field.
The hurt of wrongful defamation lingers throughout, never once disappearing from his face. Behind every smile, every tear is an undying, unflinching desire to prove oneself. The burning passion never subsides in his heart and that is clear from the way he portrays the character. His career may not have a future or a direction, but he never loses hope. He maintains a stern demeanor throughout most of the film but behind the stern face lies a heart that truly wishes to do good. Expressions convey where words could’ve fallen short. Emotions overflow as we are taken on a cathartic ride of sorrow and eventual triumph, holding the hand of one of the best men available for the job.
Watch Chak De on Amazon Prime
9. My Name Is Khan (2010)
Director: Karan Johar
My Name Is Khan was one of his most gripping, chilling and heart-rending performances. He portrays a man with a disability, with subdued charm and confidence. My Name Is Khan is one of the most moving portrayals of the plight of those stuck between the hate and suspicion of the masses. He embodies the tragic figure with unflinching grace. Not for a single moment does it feel that he is forcing himself to bring alive the true melancholy that shrouds the world. The way he traverses from one scene to the next is a joy to watch. He immediately endears us to the character and his journey.
10. Dear Zindagi (2016)
Director: Gauri Shinde
Shah Rukh’s performance in Dear Zindagi is a gentle, nudging reminder why he’s still hailed King Khan. SRK has always said in his interviews: it’s easy to do subtle, restrained roles, it’s the roles where I have to entertain that I find more challenging. Jehangir Khan comes across as one of his easier roles. Or maybe it’s just Shah Rukh who makes it look effortless. Nevertheless, as Dr. Khan points out in Dear Zindagi, “It’s okay to choose easy sometimes.”
Where to Watch: Netflix
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11. Fan (2016)
Director: Maneesh Sharma
Like any other critical fan, I’ve been disappointed in some of his bad choices in the recent past – Chennai Express, Happy New Year, Dilwale. Fan dusted off those memories. For all its flaws, the film doesn’t take away from what can be called Shah Rukh’s best performance, till date. “There’s a personal me, there’s an actor me and there’s a star me,” Shah Rukh Khan once said in an interview. Fan brings together all of that. First shot onward, where we’re taken through a montage of vintage Shah Rukh Khan, Fan ceases to be a film. It’s a phenomenon. A celebration of a superstar!
Watch Fan on Amazon Prime
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There we are! These are, what we think, the best Shah Rukh Khan movies/performances of all time. Some very obvious, popular choices may not have made it to the list for their genres/roles being similar to those already on the list. That, in no way, takes away from any of his performances, in his nearly 3-decade career spanning 70 films.
The media may have written him off for his recent film choices but how many would’ve risked a role like Zero? The film may not have found favour with the audiences but the actor doesn’t fail to impress.
Over to you! Which are your favourite Shah Rukh films? Let’s talk in the comments below.
By Mansi Dutta, Deepjyoti Roy