After becoming a professional film critic, I’ve forced myself to overcome – or rather forget – the days when I was a bloodthirsty, raging fanatic of an Indian superstar called Shah Rukh Khan. Chunks of my teenage years were spent aping, fantasizing and wishing I could emulate many of his screen personas – including the ones in films like Darr, Anjaam, Duplicate and other psychotic renditions. Dangerous, perhaps, but there’s no limit to a fan’s obsession. I’m far more sober these days, and I’ve also to be brutally honest and objective about Khan’s recent autopilot performances (and some horrendously mediocre films). It isn’t easy, but I’ve gotten used to it. Critics can’t afford to be emotional or overly passionate about their favorites. It’s my job, but I do get occasional glimpses of the actor I idolized for half my life.
Nevertheless, here are some of Shah Rukh Khan’s best roles – most of which, not surprisingly, occurred before the turn of this decade:
5. Shah Rukh Khan as Surinder Sahni and Raj Kapoor in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
I have a soft spot for the roleplaying Mr. Khan does in Aditya Chopra’s last directorial venture. It was Anushka Sharma’s debut, and Chopra’s return after 2000’s Mohabbatein, but it was Surinder Sahni that stole hearts. I believe Khan achieved the perfect balance of overacting and emotional manipulation in both these avatars, and made Chopra’s rather unlikely double role come to life. As Sahni, it was one of the rare times you’d forget it was Shah Rukh Khan – what with his deliberately pursed lips, soft ways and Amritsari twangs. As Raj, he was gloriously over-the-top, and seemed to have ad-libbed most of his mannerisms and lines. The movie opened to mixed reviews and moderate collections, but I will forever remember Shah Rukh’s brief return to form after Chak De! India
4. Shah Rukh Khan as Rahul Mehra in Darr
K-k-k-k-kome on. As overdramatic and crazed as this iconic rendition is, Shah Rukh forever etched himself in Hindi moviegoers’ memories with his antagonism in Darr. This was my first conscious glimpse of ‘villainous’ intentions on the silver screen, which is why it perhaps ranks high in my list of Khan’s most competent performances.
3. Shah Rukh Khan as Mohan Bhargava in Swades
For some reason – maybe it was the young age I watched this at – I never quite thought that this was his best act. Although it was mighty close to a natural, subdued and instinctive performance everyone craved for, after his histrionics in Devdas and Kal Ho Naa Ho. Most importantly, he chose an important script and a sensible film – and came the closest to shedding his star aura and throne on screen. A much-needed detour from his usual loverboy roles.
2. Shah Rukh Khan as Kabir Khan in Chak De! India
Easily one of Bollywood’s most iconic sports roles in years, Shah Rukh turned on the (subdued) gundagiri for his role as the World Cup-winning Women’s hockey team coach in Shimit Amin’s superbly entertaining film. He snarled, intimidated, and yet remained quietly determined as the stubble-sporting disgraced coach – eventually making us jump out of our seats in the end, as he guided countless newcomers to overnight stardom in the hockey drama.
1. Shah Rukh Khan as Sunil in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
A floppy-haired Shah Rukh Khan melted hearts in Kundan Shah’s delightful little Goan tale – about a flawed musician boy with no interest in academics, struggling to win the heart of a girl he has forever loved. Everything was perfect about this film – the atmosphere, the small-town reverie, the witty characterization, even the don-stereotyping. As Sunil, he was the heart and soul of a film that had convinced me that my final exam results would always appear in national newspapers on the back pages. You remember?
The WORST of Shah Rukh Khan is a list that’s fast expanding as he furthers his interests in business, brands and cricket teams. He appears as himself in almost every other film, forever looking to compete with Blockbuster King Salman Khan to find out who can make the worse film – or bigger hit.
5. Shah Rukh Khan as Ram Jaane in Ram Jaane
This was perhaps Khan’s reply to Aamir’s brilliant tapori rendition in Rangeela – and easily one of Shah Rukh’s most hammy, worst and clueless performances not only in his own career, but in the history of Hindi films. His oversized white suit and bare chest scarred me into wondering if this was my hero anymore. Surely, this was a blip in the 90s.
4. Shah Rukh Khan as Don in Don 2
This was a film that convinced director Farhan Akhtar that maybe directing wasn’t his cup of tea anymore, and threw Shah Rukh fans to the sharks. Every movement, word and action of his is so intentionally ominous and rehearsed that the movie looks like one big montage of Don striding around stylishly in slow-motion. No more bheegi billi dialogues for him, especially in locales like gloomy Berlin.
3. Shah Rukh Khan as King Ashoka in Asoka
Only now do I realize how unconvincing and stilted Shah Rukh was, back in 2001, as Santosh Sivan’s all-consuming Maurya King. The film looked and felt beautiful, as did Anu Malik’s music for once, but Khan seemed too deliberate and robotic in his attempts at intimidation and power. Perhaps because, by now, he was already superstar Shah Rukh Khan – and it was tough to step out of the avatar.
2. Shahrukh Khan as Charlie Sharma in Happy New Year
He just didn’t try anymore. It was his pal’s film, and an assured hit – so all he thought he needed to do was show up and look smart and important. Instead, he looked old and washed out, condemning us instead to glimpses of Abhishek Bachchan out-acting him in sequences. This was a heist comedy, with Shah Rukh at his oldest and laziest.
1. Shah Rukh Khan as Max Dias in Josh
Khan forever ruined memories of his well-enacted Sunil from Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa with this riotously bad Goan-gangster act alongside an equally bad Aishwarya Rai and Sharad Kapoor. This was a designer version of gangster wars in rural Goan villages – none of which was convincing, especially with Khan struggling to growl and look dangerous every single moment. He looked like he was acting, and that’s the worst crime someone of his caliber can commit.