The trio of imperfect heroes Shahrukh Khan has played in Fan, Dear Zindagi and Raees, is good news for moviemakers and moviegoers.
As the Indian film industry looks to make fewer films, more digital series and better television, while keeping the evolving audience's taste in mind, it will need its stars to support creativity.
Aamir Khan makes movies which are entertaining and enlightening, consciously ensuring the message of his movies is in keeping with his values. That’s important in an industry where male stalking is routinely passed off as romance and extreme objectification is justified as item numbers, a break in the story, or relief from drama.
Salman Khan’s association with directors with different sensibilities has yielded blockbusters like Dabangg, which did a lot to revive his career and repackaged him as the desi cool. With Kabir Khan he made Ek Tha Tiger, the lovely Bajrangi Bhaijaan and now Tubelight while Ali Abbas Zafar made him break into a sweat in Sultan.
Akshay Kumar’s choice of subjects is improving as is the depiction of his filmmakers — the Manoj Kumar of the naughties is making films quickly, deftly, interestingly, taking off from headlines: Baby, Airlift, Rustom, with detours for ridiculous sequels, which one presumes are essentially expensive holidays.
New directors, new stories, new ideas — they renew an actor as much as the viewer. As all these actors enter their 50s with no replacement in sight for the depth and width of their stardom, such collaborations will make a difference to the movies we get to watch.
Like our politics, we get the movies we deserve. If we don’t push our actors by rejecting nonsense like Dilwale, the actors won’t feel the need to exercise themselves.
As Shahrukh Khan’s fictional star Aryan Khanna says in Fan, "Agar mere fans nahin to main kuch nahin."
Stars like him owe it to the multitudes who turn up to watch them, emptying their wallets to pay for tickets and popcorn, and bottled and carbonated water, to tell better stories, work with smarter people, create more human and humane characters.
We may not all be the obnoxious Bhutiani whose daughter’s wedding in Dubrovnik Shahrukh has to dance at, but we are not averse to demanding a good performance because "after all, I’m spending a bomb on you". So this is what Shahrukh Khan in his interview with Rajeev Masand called his search for honesty.
Twenty five years on, it’s his quiet reinvention, his search for relevance with a group of filmmakers who’ve always been armed with stories for him.
Fan’s director Maneesh Sharma narrated the story to Shahrukh Khan when the former graduated from CalArts. Gauri Shinde couldn’t have cast anyone else as the quirky Dr Jehangir Khan in Dear Zindagi.
Rahul Dholakia waited patiently through his star’s surgery and other schedules and the changing political environment to complete Raees. You can spot the compromises from a mile off — the Ram Janmabhoomi demolition and Mumbai blasts have been changed and made suitably vague, the characters of Dawood Ibrahim and Abdul Latif altered — perhaps to ward off the kind of unwelcome attention Ae Dil Hai Mushkil got for casting Pakistani actor Fawad Khan (forcing director Karan Johar to change Anushka’s city of origin from Lahore to Lucknow).
But apart from an entertaining film, Raees is also a social document of sorts of the '70s and '80s, of prohibition and its eventual communal overtones.
As we await more interesting collaborations from Shahrukh Khan, in the second phase of his career, with The Ring with Imtiaz Ali, and an unnamed movie with Aanand L Rai, we can expect better cinema from all the others — topping the list is Aamir Khan who has never disappointed with the courage of his choices and the meticulousness of his craft; Salman Khan who has forged new alliances with smarter filmmakers; and Akshay Kumar who has a nose for the newsy.
The younger stars don’t need to be told of their responsibilities — they make smart choices even if they don’t make enough of them.
Yes, Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, that’s for you. They take risks but not enough of them, leaving their fans starved for much of the year.
A reinvented Shahrukh Khan who is doing more than one movie a year is good news for everyone — theatres, fans, and filmmakers.
He and we are all too aware of our mortality.