At around midnight in the year 1994, my mother woke me up. She was uncharacteristically worked up and panicky. She checked my palms, wrist and arm right till the shoulder blades. I was soon told that one of my closest friends in the apartment complex had carved the name of a girl – one I knew he really fancied – into his palm with a knife. Her name wasn’t Kiran, but started with the letter ‘K’ – something that prompted him to start her name with four Ks on his palm. This looked and sounded familiar in my mind. He could speak clearly, yet he wanted to show the world how her name made him different. Only weeks ago, we had watched the film ‘Darr‘ together in the drive-in cinema with our respective families.
He was already a bit intense, and perhaps Shah Rukh Khan’s Rahul had pushed him over the edge. It inspired him to immortalize his infatuation in the most cinematic and stupidest way possible. He lost a lot of blood, survived, but never quite survived the backlash after that. They moved away to another city. The girl and her family kept a low profile, too, and I didn’t hear from them again.
I was told to be careful with this actor’s films. Fortunately for everybody, Khan soon graduated to romantic cinema, and except for the odd Anjaam here and there, never quite took up a psychotic role again. Guys like Arbaaz Khan (Daraar) and Sharad Kapoor (Dastak) tried to emulate Khan’s terrifying Darr persona, but weren’t half as effective, which fortunately meant that not many youngsters were led to believe that stalking and dying for love is trendy.
22 years later, as Khan returns to play an unstable young doppelganger fan of a superstar (both played by him) in Maneesh Sharma’s Fan, I wonder where that friend of mine is. I wonder if he chooses to remember that night, and if those scars have been permanently etched into his skin and soul. I wonder if he ever did woo a girl in a civilized manner again. I wonder if he will watch this film with his wife or girlfriend, knowing that his actions changed many lives those decades ago. He wasn’t as much an obsessive fan of the superstar as he had subscribed to the characters he played. In fact, I think he quite liked Aamir Khan, and had even learned how to ride a cycle because of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.
I wonder if he may have convinced his father to move to London so that he could feel like a bratty, rich kid destined to find a simple Indian girl in his own version of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. He was certainly a boy who thought the world of unrequited love, and a kid who made the name ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ a term mentioned in hushed tones and whispers for a few years after that incident.
I, of course, went on to subscribe to Khan’s more influential and idealistic roles – from draping a sweater around my shoulders and getting familiar with the Hindi language through his dialogues with Narayan Shankar (Amitabh Bachchan) in Mohabbatein, to growing a stubble and harboring a menacing quietness studied from his ‘last substantial role’ in Chak De! India. The fact is that Khan defined an entire generation looking to embrace fan culture, kids who were looking to emulate and worship their own version of superheroes. Every role he did changed the outlook of many kids like us – which is why he perhaps moved on to optimistic lover-boy roles after his initial risks.
With great power came great responsibility, and after shocking the world with his villainous face, he became one of the only actors to successfully transition to the bright side – and certainly became the only star to convince his fans that he could. I wonder if he became aware of the kind of influence he wielded (unintentionally) through his roles.
Which is why he perhaps began to play himself, often in and as Shah Rukh Khan, in most of his latter films – much to the chagrin of the 90s kids who grew up discovering the meaning of passion and obsession through his floppy haired, brown-eyed journeys of destruction.