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The Shah Rukh Khan fan who made a living out of playing duplicate

This Raju is on his way to becoming a gentleman.

 |  6-minute read |   15-04-2016
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The typical performance routine for Raju Rahikwar, a Mumbai-based artist, is to make a flamboyant silhouetted entry spreading his arms wide to the tune of a romantic song, much to the awe of the spectators; then asking the audience what they would like to hear - specifically those sitting at the back - and doing whatever they ask of him.

Also read - Shah Rukh Khan's career is now officially over

srk-raju1_041516125227.jpg Raju Rahikwar.

If you closed your eyes and just heard Raju talk during one of his shows and concentrate on the diction and the pauses, the precise breathing between the words of the popular film dialogues; you're likely to wonder if it's Shah Rukh Khan himself speaking, although the voice is slightly heavier.

Raju refers to himself as Jr SRK, and has perfected some of his idol's mannerisms like the exact curve of his lips when he smiles; although frankly, his looks aren't all that similar to those of the superstar. Not to the latter's current looks, at least.

Also read: Why there are two Shah Rukh Khans today

srk-raju2_041516125336.jpg The crowds go crazy when they're around Raju, asking him for autographs.

Raju has a rotund face, gruffy hair casually left to lie over his forehead; mildly resembling the Khan of the early 90s before his cheeks sunk in to make his face seem more vertically elongated, and before he started to comb back his hair. It's also the dialogues of the early 90s films that Raju recites the most (Ram Jaane being Raju's personal favourite and which according to him helped him the most, although it had flopped at the time of its release.)

Today, though, he wants Khan's films to work not just because he practically worships Khan, but because success of a new film also means more work for Raju.

Also read - Why SRK's Fan and Raees will suffer like Dilwale

His original name is Durga, he adopted the moniker Raju after Khan's film Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. It all began when Shah Rukh's breakout film Deewana came out (he was already a popular face through his work in television.) Raju used to live in the town of Balharshah in Chardapur district in Maharashtra, and a bunch of passers-by after a screening of the film remarked that Raju looks like Khan.

srk-raju3_041516125347.jpg Raju resembles the Khan of the early 90s.

Raju's brother wrote to him from Nagpur that Khan looks like Raju. He came to Mumbai in 1995 and had a brief encounter with Khan when the latter was shooting for Chamatkar, although he didn't know then that he'd end up making a living as Khan's duplicate.

According to Raju, it's the angry SRK that he imitates the most accurately, not the SRK we see much of these days - those intense, high-pitched monologues Khan would fire off in his gruffy hair and a round-er face days, from films such as Darr and Baazigar before settling with his most popular romantic hero image.

Also read - From SRK to Ranbir Kapoor: What stars have realised about the Bollywood fan

And yet, the crowds go crazy when they're around Raju, asking him for autographs and selfies. He is a star in his own right. "Where Shah Rukh bhai can't go, I can go. The people watch me and feel that had the real SRK been here, he'd have done something similar," says Raju.

Khan had once said in an interview, "I'm not Shah Rukh Khan, I work for Shah Rukh Khan," laying bare the distinction between the person and the myth. Raju, in his own small way, also seems share the same employer.

It's not just the looks and the voice departments that Raju resembles Khan in. There's also the disarming honesty and the charmingly self-contradictory way of speaking such that irrespective of what one thinks of their work, one can't help but identify with them. These are qualities which can't possibly be acquired through imitation even if one tried.

srk-raju4_041516125403.jpgHe adopted the moniker Raju after SRK's film Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman

When asked if he adds something original of his own while imitating Shah Rukh, Raju is quick to dismiss it - he just follows what Khan does. Recently, in a Bhojpuri film, Raju was given the rare chance to play a role not related to Khan (in most of his other film, TV, stage and advertisement work, he plays the SRK duplicate.) But despite trying different make-up and hair, the producer just couldn't shake off the feeling that there's a recognisable tinge of SRK.

On what sets him apart from other duplicates, Raju, in typical Khan-style, says "I'm still trying to perfect my craft," (he's been in the business for over twenty years) immediately followed by "I can say with confidence that I'm hundred per cent better than other Shah Rukh lookalikes." He hates the fact that Shah Rukh Khan mimicry has been reduced to just stammering in a particularly squeaky voice.

Raju feels a certain responsibility to not spoil Khan's image with substandard imitation, he believes that the persona is as dependant on him as he is on the persona. Says he, "Mimicry should be such that if Shah Rukh bhai himself sees my performance, he should feel proud, he should feel that he'd have probably done the same."

In the promo of the new film Fan, movie star Aryan Khanna asks his obsessive fan Gaurav (both roles essayed by Shah Rukh Khan) why should he give a few minutes of his life to the fan.

A recurring motif in Raju's musings is that he just wants two minutes of his idol's life. Raju has met Khan a few times before and fondly recalls how warm Khan was during those encounters. Khan had even invited him over to his office but on the day of the meet, Raju was told by the secretary that Khan is in Delhi attending a lunch party along with Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and other luminaries.

srk-raju5_041516125419.jpg I owe everything I have to SRK, says Raju.

The reason he wants to meet this time around is very specific, though. Journalist S Ramachandran has made a TV documentary on Raju, but Raju doesn't want to release it until Khan makes a two-minute appearance in the film.  The film has been on hold for five years now. Meanwhile, Raju has also starred in a film titled Aamir Salman Shahrukh, featuring lookalikes of the three Khans.

"I know he has gone through a lot to get where he is today, but I have dedicated over 20  years of my life to Shah Rukh Khan. I can never be who he is, I don't want to compare my journey to his, but I just want him to acknowledge my struggle."

He completely understands how busy Khan is, though, and the long wait hasn't disgruntled him even the slightest bit. "I owe everything I have to him. Everytime my family sits down to eat, we remember him. If he hadn't come to Mumbai, I wouldn't have come here either. In a way, I've inherited Mumbai from him."

Writer

Mohit Patil Mohit Patil @mohit_pat

The writer is an independent film critic based in Pune. He blogs at http://mohitpatil.wordpress.com

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