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    What does it mean to be a Shah Rukh Khan fan from the 1990s to now?

    Shah Rukh Khan greets fans on his birthday outside his home Mannat. PTI image.

    Shah Rukh Khan greets fans on his birthday outside his home Mannat. PTI image.

    It’s 1998. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has recently released in theatres. As it approached becoming a massive pop culture phenomenon, four 10-year-old Indian girls in Dubai, United Arab Emirates were so obsessed, they acted out scenes from the film. every single evening. I was one of them. My other friends would be playing “thief cop” games or skating around, singing pop songs. We are not four. We used to distribute parts first (most days I was given Mrs. Braganza, but on rare special days I got to play SRK) and then the whole film, dialogue after dialogue; Song after song. This was my daily ritual for almost a year.

    When play-acting with my friends would stop, I would sometimes talk about Shah Rukh Khan’s posters on my wall. It was a clumsy cut out from a magazine, a middle shot of the actor staring straight into the camera, with his famous dim smile. That tattered-out poster became my confidant when my first crush didn’t know I existed, or when I used to get angry at my friends over something stupid I can’t even remember anymore. There he was making some of the biggest movies of his life, and here I was, talking to a picture on my wall, convinced he could hear me (and understand me). Every day, I used to say to myself: One day, I will meet Shah Rukh Khan.

    It is 2021. Shah Rukh Khan is totally in news and not just for the right reasons. This is perhaps the most difficult year of his life, especially after his son was arrested for possession of drugs. As a longtime fan, seeing my idol so crushed on national television inspired me to go back to when and how this fandom was born.

    It was love at first sight, as soon as I saw him play Raj in DDLJ. He was promoting the hottest film dialogues and I was an impressionable young girl who stuck to her every romantic word. The next few movies only cemented a full-blown celebrity crush. This celebrity crush only escalated when I was entering my teens. My family members would tease me, make fun of my loyalty by asking me questions about his life (I would always know the answer), or tell me how they didn’t like his latest film. My grandmother used to tell me stories from the time when he was a struggling TV actor. Apparently, he used to visit a friend in our colony in south-west Delhi, and cross our house everyday. His friend lived on the second floor, and we were on the first floor. As he crossed our door, he would greet my grandmother everyday and she would smile back. One day, she stopped him and asked him what he was doing there. “I have come to woo a girl,” he said. When he asked if Janaki lives above us, he said no. Janki had a very close friendship with this girl named Gauri, on whom she had her heart. “Best friend ko pata luga to woh bhi pata hi jayegi na (If I impress my best friend, she will follow)?” he said.

    I’m not sure how true this story really is, as it gets passed down from generation to generation. But I choose to believe it, word for word.

    **

    In 2016, I saw him in person for the first time. He was standing in front of me, on a stage, celebrating his 51st birthday with the media at a suburban hotel in Mumbai, cutting more than 15 cakes he didn’t eat and gracefully answering useless questions . I couldn’t hold a close, and I was only a silent spectator through the event, but watching him in action (with his one-liners, and signature sarcastic interactions with media persons) was enough for me. When I got back home in an auto that evening, we passed by Mannat – intentionally – and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I told myself, even though it was, and I never saw him again, my heart was satisfied.

    In 2017, I finally met Shah Rukh Khan, I chatted with him, and he knew my name (without introducing himself). It was nothing less than a film miracle for me. I knew he took special care to know the details of every publication and journalist he was interviewing, but hearing him say that my name is real. It was a cold January evening, and my team was waiting at Mehboob Studio to interview him during the promotions of Raees. After waiting for 8 hours, he finally walked in, and at the end of the interview, when I hesitantly went to click a picture with him, he called me, and asked that I stand next to him for the picture. I looked at her, and words came out of my mouth: “I have loved you all my life.” Then came her dim smile and she said, “Thank you, you are very kind.”

    I wrote about this meeting and tweeted it, making sure to tag it. An hour later, I checked my notifications without hesitation, and noticed that he had retweeted my piece saying, “Nice to meet you (sic)”

    Shahrukh Khan in DDLJ.  image from youtube

    Shahrukh Khan in DDLJ. image from youtube

    So many people I knew had stories of Shahrukh Khan getting whipped at every party. I finally had mine.

    Even though both these encounters were in a professional capacity, I lacked the ability to be critical. Even though I was learning a great deal about how stardom is built, and how PR is an integral part of packaging an actor for public consumption, I still felt for him by the age of 10. Stayed on Even though he was making films like Dilwale and Happy New Year, I still loved him. Not all actors have a flawless filmography, I told myself.

    With each subsequent year, I found this aspect of my fantasy fading, and as I became an entertainment journalist, I began to develop the ability to look at his filmography a little more critically. I began to become more and more disappointed when he would produce and act in goofy, cash-grabbing movies. I could no longer defend him. He seemed to be in a bubble of stardom, unable to objectively look at what was on his plate. Was it because there was no one around him to tell him the truth? I often wondered if I could be that person. Maybe one day he’ll read a review I wrote, and, impressed by my honesty, invite me to be a key advisor at Red Chillies (yes, I quit). What? A girl can dream.

    Even in my disapproval of his work, and tacit devotion to brutal criticisms of him (“Srik’s reign ended”; “He was always a bad actor”; “What is his superstardom, but There’s a gathering of women on them” – and so on), I still had hope that things would change. I believed that he would stop making romantic films, and one day, a solid script would reach him, and he would turn the tide. He will find himself again.

    **

    What does it mean to be a Shah Rukh Khan fan in 2021?

    She is still very attractive. He is still the king of interviews. The videos of his thug life on Youtube are indeed the funniest. He is still the poster boy of Bollywood’s hopefuls who come from all over India trying to become the next big superstar.

    But his movies? On that front, something was amiss.

    I think this engagement with the new generation of audiences – who adored social media influencers and paid less attention – is the reason they had to take a well-deserved hiatus from making films. After Zero bombed at the box office, Shah Rukh Khan announced that he is going to take a break. As a longtime fan — and now a 30 married woman — this break was exciting to me. His romantic films no longer had any charm. I suddenly found myself leaning more towards Chak De! India, Fan and Swadesh. If only this break could lead him to see that he needed to take on a strong new-age script; He needed something offbeat. I still had faith, and I knew he did, but we all needed some time and space.

    And this belief was shaken when Shah Rukh Khan’s son was arrested by the NCB on October 2 after a raid on a cruise ship. When a case like this becomes global news, it is common in Bollywood to be brutally abused. The unprecedented interest in the film industry that usually manifests itself in gossip at dinner parties turned into a nationwide witch hunt. It was being said that the film industry is full of drug addicts, social climbers, criminals linked to terrorists. We saw this pseudo-religious denial during the media circus after the death of Sushant Singh Rajput last year. It became common to club entire industries into one bracket – “they’re all the same” or “that’s the price you pay for fame” are common phrases I hear.

    Shahrukh Khan outside Arthur Road Jail.  Image from Twitter.

    Shahrukh Khan outside Arthur Road Jail. Image from Twitter.

    The kind of harassment Aryan Khan has faced since his arrest has resulted in sympathy for Shah Rukh Khan (mostly from liberals). It was another guy from Delhi who made it big. He did not deserve such stigma. As videos of him surfaced on social media as he entered Arthur Road Jail, you could see the tension on his face. And yet he calmly folded his palms to greet anyone he passed by. He was here first a father, then a superstar. But he knew how to balance the two.

    Only then, in a jiffy, I could see all the different Shah Rukh Khans before my eyes – the overzealous Bollywood aspirant from the 80s, the chocolate boy from the 90s, SRK rocking the dad bod from the 2000s. , one-time KBC host, the arrogant Scorpio who believes he’s the best, the well-spoken, playful interviewer in the 2010 video with superstar/producer, AIB and David Letterman, the man who claims himself and his stardom can make jokes. His recent Disney+ Hotstar commercials, and more.

    This is when it struck me: After all this time, after all these anecdotes and controversies and movies and appearances, his fandom still holds up. It is a constant in his journey. It is one thing to be a Shah Rukh Khan fan in the 90s or in 2021. love and loyalty. Love grows, it decreases, sometimes it falls only to rise again. There are different types of love: infatuation, devotion, lust, adoration. Although loyalty is regularly tested, it is never less. Put the two together and you get a brand of fantasy that is unique to one of the biggest and most loved movie stars in the country. And Shah Rukh Khan will always be like this despite trials and tribulations.

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