2023 is the year of Shah Rukh Khan because, after a gap of five very long years, the man with many monikers (King of Bollywood, Baadshah, King Khan, King of Romance, etc.) is coming back to the big screen. Not just with one film but three: “Pathaan,” “Jawan,” and “Dunki.” Now, it’s easy to look at his last few outings and say that the love for him is overhyped or undeserved. But Shah Rukh Khan isn’t the Shah Rukh Khan he is today (or will be forever) because of those last few missteps. He has traveled long and far to build this legacy. And as long as I am here, I won’t let that be discounted so easily. Hence, I decided to go through his filmography and talk about his experiments, his highs, and his lows. He has made over 60 feature films, excluding cameos, special appearances, and limited series released as movies. Therefore, it’s tough to do it all at once. So, for now, I’ve limited my scope to the ’90s, starting with “Deewana” and ending with “Baadshah,” and here to share my thoughts. Brace yourself.
‘Deewana’ (1992, dir. Raj Kanwar)
Shah Rukh’s feature film debut set the stage for what he was about to do in his career. He entered the big screen with a stunt that involved him riding a bike on the divider between the streets and the ocean. The song accompanying that moment, “Koi Na Koi Chahiye,” became an instant hit. His character was upper-class but didn’t discriminate as he fell in love with an apparent widow (which is considered a taboo subject even now, I suppose). He went toe-to-toe with the one and only Rishi Kapoor. And he began his long and action-packed relationship with the late Amrish Puri.
‘Chamatkar’ (1992, dir. Rajiv Mehra)
Shah Rukh’s Red Chillies Entertainment is responsible for some of the biggest leaps in VFX and CGI, nationally and internationally. And you can kind of see where that fascination with digital trickery began because it’s full of amazing visual effects for its time. Shah Rukh’s chemistry with the great Naseeruddin Shah was electrifying and made the movie watchable. Khan’s role also symbolized the film’s take on classism and the struggle to prioritize educational institutions (which would benefit everyone) over malls (which would only benefit its already rich owners).
‘Dil Aashna Hai’ (1992, dir. Hema Malini)
Although the movie went in a lot of different directions, it continued Shah Rukh’s trend of portraying an upper-class character who gave up his wealth and status to stand behind Laila, a woman who was being forced to work in a brothel. Even though the movie had legends like Jeetendra, Mithun Chakraborty, Dimple Kapadia, and Amrita Singh, Shah Rukh shone brightly. He also got to show his flair for performing risky stunts in the otherwise bland concluding act.
‘Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman’ (1992, dir. Aziz Mirza)
It seemed like the shades of anti-classism sentiment in Shah Rukh Khan’s previous roles led him to this. Khan beautifully essayed the chaos one feels while entering a bustling city like Mumbai with big ambitions in one’s heart while harboring the need to be honest and ethical as well. Aziz Mirza and his team gave him the superstar treatment, complete with amazing cinematography to highlight his facets and a fantastic script to help him flex his skills. And it was bookended with a scary stunt where Khan dangled from the bonnet of a jeep and a bloody fight scene near the courtroom.
‘King Uncle’ (1993, dir. Rakesh Roshan)
Shah Rukh Khan’s Anil stands up to his fascist brother, Ashok, who doesn’t like to have fun. Eventually, Anil leaves his wealth and his family to go and stand on his own two feet and live with the love of his life, Kavita, someone Ashok despises because of his ingrained classism. That’s the only positive aspect of the film. Everything else is utterly despicable.
‘Maya’ (1993, dir. Ketan Mehta)
Apart from the amazing cinematography, editing, and ghostly vibes of the film, Shah Rukh Khan was its best aspect. Because, unlike the rest of the cast, the man genuinely committed to the role to show Lalit’s naivety. Or maybe it was all intentional so that Khan came off as the guy who grounded the narrative. While that’s up for debate, there’s no doubt that Ketan Mehta and Anoop Jotwani worked their magic to make Khan look gorgeous. All in all, the movie itself is very underrated, and Khan’s performance in it deserves a lot of appreciation.
‘Baazigar’ (1993, dir. Abbas-Mustan)
Shah Rukh Khan left me utterly gobsmacked and speechless by the end of Ajay’s journey. It seemed like Abbas-Mustan had told him to stop holding back, and he simply swung for the fences. The revenge bubbling through every sinew of Ajay’s body was made palpable by Khan. And when the film entered into the horror-genre territory in its concluding 15-20 minutes, Khan metamorphosed into a force of nature. I genuinely shed tears when Ajay died, even though I knew that was the only way to end his revenge saga.
‘Darr’ (1993, dir. Yash Chopra)
Thanks to Yash Chopra, Shah Rukh got to continue the horror movie vibes from “Baazigar” and even amplify it by a few notches. The smugness and arrogance with which Rahul carried out his stalking really crept under my skin. And, despite portraying yet another upper-class, spoiled dude, this time, Khan showed how the real menace to society are the unemployed sons of affluent fathers because they have an abundance of resources to choose from if they decide to harass someone like Kiran. In addition to all that, he highlighted his stunt-acting chops by partaking in a sweat-inducing foot chase through Mumbai, which had Khan running head-first into a lamppost.
‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’ (1994, dir. Kundan Shah)
It is really rare for actors to play absolutely bumbling idiots who fumble every opportunity to succeed in life because they overcomplicate things so much. Shah Rukh’s Sunil exemplified that, as he made you empathize with him as he failed to be a good friend, a good son, and a good lover. And unlike every other Bollywood film, he didn’t miraculously get the girl at the end. Yes, he got a girl. But Khan and Shah instilled so much doubt about Sunil that you’re left with a sense of doubt about whether he could convert that into a win for himself.
‘Anjaam’ (1994, dir. Rahul Rawail)
This was, and still is, Shah Rukh Khan at his scariest. It was released in an era where stalking was considered normal. So, seeing Khan singing “Badi Mushkil Hai” atop a taxi with no harness and no VFX, as usual, doesn’t really prepare you for what’s about to unfold. But when Shivani properly rejects Vijay, we get to see the depths that Khan can explore to enter not just the characters’ nightmares but ours as well. Most of the film belonged to Madhuri Dixit, as she gave a gut-wrenching performance. However, Shah Rukh Khan’s bone-chilling presence was felt throughout its runtime.
‘Karan Arjun’ (1995, dir. Rakesh Roshan)
On a technical level, the movie did everything right. Roshan used Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan’s screen presence to the maximum. And it critiqued casteism and the horrors that the upper-caste people inflicted upon the villagers. But the film needed to spend more time in the past to instill a sense of urgency in the resurrected brothers and to empathize with the despair of the childless mother, played brilliantly by Rakhee. Well, what’s done is done. Now, we can look forward to Shah Rukh and Salman sharing screen space again in the YRF Spy Universe.
‘Zamaana Deewana’ (1995, dir. Ramesh Sippy)
I have never heard anyone, not even the most hardcore Shah Rukh Khan fans, talk about this. Yes, it’s difficult to figure out if it’s meta about the “Romeo Juliet” trope or extremely serious about it. But even if you put all that aside, you get a sweltering on-screen couple in the form of Shah Rukh and Raveena Tandon. And there are two brilliant twists, one of which is resolved with Shah Rukh dousing the fire with his whole body and then jumping into a house engulfed in flames. The IMDb rating will make you think it’s unwatchable, but I am urging you to give it a try.
‘Guddu’ (1995, dir. Prem Lalwani)
Apparently, Shah Rukh Khan did this film for a sentimental reason rather than a logical one. Maybe that was also the reason why he decided to wear a bald cap. I don’t think he appeared as a bald guy on-screen after “Guddu.” Apart from all that, the movie tried to craft an argument between atheism and theism, with Khan’s titular Guddu stuck between his dysfunctional parents. But since the makers were so hellbent on proving that theism is superior that it didn’t quite work.
‘Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India!’ (1995, dir. Ketan Mehta)
I rarely use the term “underrated” or “overrated” because I think almost everything is aptly rated. It’s either under-appreciated or over-appreciated. But in this case, I’d like to break out the term because this Ketan Mehta directorial is quite literally underrated. And I have to give props to Khan for starring in a film that was so ahead of its time in terms of critiquing the corporate takeover of India, nepotism culture, and how easily riots can be incited because most of the general populace is hungry, unemployed, and uneducated. Also, it felt like Khan’s Hero (that’s his character’s name) was predicting the state of Indian actors who would have to kill fictional terrorists on the big screen in order to be celebrated in real life.
‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ (1995, dir. Aditya Chopra)
The New York Times recently released an article about how Maratha Mandir, a single-screen theater in Mumbai, has been running this film non-stop for the last 27 years. And that says all that needs to be said about this Shah Rukh Khan-led film. My personal thoughts on it pale in comparison to that unwavering facet of life.
‘Ram Jaane’ (1995, dir. Rajiv Mehra)
From portraying cops and politicians as villains to talking about systemic oppression, this underrated masterpiece by Rajiv Mehra did it all. And at the center of it, Shah Rukh Khan delivered an over-the-top, cocky performance while telling a wholly different story about his inner turmoil through his eyes only. I swear if a White actor had been in Khan’s place, Ramjaane would’ve been hailed as an iconic character. But since we Indians don’t understand the difference between overacting and purposefully hammy acting, here we are. Anyway, this is yet another film I highly recommend because nobody else is probably recommending it.
‘Trimurti’ (1995, dir. Mukul Anand)
Shah Rukh Khan’s Romi is literally the soul of this chaotic film because whoever possesses him wins the war between good and evil. That’s the highest praise I can give when it comes to talking about the film’s themes. There are some audacious pieces of cinematography and production design strewn throughout its runtime. But if you want to watch it in one sitting, you should probably get high and then take the leap.
‘English Babu Desi Mem’ (1996, dir. Praveen Nischol)
During the opening moments of the film, Shah Rukh Khan jumped into yet another fiery building, and the flames got closer to him than they did in “Zamaana Deewana.” That was its high point. After that, the film just meandered all the way to its end. Shah Rukh Khan did play the main character, his brother, and his father. So, that’s quite an achievement. Given the opportunity, I think he would’ve played every character in the film, and I, for one, wouldn’t have complained.
‘Chaahat’ (1996, dir. Mahesh Bhatt)
This Mahesh Bhatt directorial had Shah Rukh Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Ramya Krishnan, and Pooja Bhatt setting the screen on fire with their performances. It felt like an amalgamation of “Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman” and “Darr,” but with Khan’s Ajay as the victim of an obsessive, one-sided romance. Bhatt wanted to show the difference between the wealthy and an oppressed individual’s expression of love and how the former derives love out of fear while the latter finds empathy even in their weakest moments. Additionally, Bhatt showed that oppression has its limits, and when the common man breaks, there’s no stopping him. And during that “tipping point” moment, Shah Rukh was simply brilliant.
‘Koyla’ (1996, dir. Rakesh Roshan)
In addition to the iconic songs and the amazing locales, Roshan’s third venture with Shah Rukh Khan is known for that moment when his body was set on fire, and he ran on the train tracks. But what we don’t talk about enough is that minutes after shedding his flaming clothes, Khan dangled from a train engine that was going at a decent enough speed and lived to tell the tale. The rest of the movie was fine because it couldn’t decide if it wanted to talk about the oppression that women face or let Shankar have his revenge while having Khan utter the most ridiculous lines. Thankfully, due to Khan’s commitment to the role, you won’t mind it all that much.
‘Yes Boss’ (1997, dir. Aziz Mirza)
Hustle culture has ruined the lives of so many people that in order to keep it going, young professionals are now normalizing it to cope with the fact that they’re wasting their lives in a thankless workplace. And Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, and Aziz Mirza warned us about it back in the ’90s! Why didn’t we pay any attention? Anyway, the movie struck a beautiful balance between comedy, romance, and emotional drama, with Khan and Chawla proving that they are too good at their jobs. Fun fact: during “Chaand Taare,” which feels like a prediction of Khan’s career, we get a brief glimpse of the plot where Khan’s famous residence, Mannat, now stands. Isn’t that magical?
‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ (1997, dir. Yash Chopra)
Chopra adorned Khan with everything that was necessary to make him the quintessential romantic hero. But underneath all that, I think that those two, along with Aditya Chopra, Pamela Chopra, and Tanuja Chandra, were commenting on the auteur theory and Yash Chopra’s personal struggles with telling a romantic story in that cinematic landscape. Rahul’s arrogance about being the best director to toying with giving his latest romance a realistic or crowd-pleasing ending all point to that theory. If that’s too much to digest, just know that Khan, Madhuri Dixit, and Karisma Kapoor are absolutely stunning in this gorgeous-looking film.
‘Pardes’ (1997, dir. Subhash Ghai)
For the most part, Shah Rukh’s Arjun passively observed the gradual hijacking of Ganga’s life by Kishorilal and his son, Rajiv. But that surprisingly allowed the film’s anti-NRI stance to come to the fore. And Khan’s empathy towards Ganga, right after she was sexually abused by Rajiv, contrasted heavily with Ganga’s father’s victim-shaming. However, being a Bollywood family film from the ’90s meant that everyone except the obvious villains was given a warm, smiling pass right after their acts of bigotry. Until then, the movie was fine. Also, it gave us “Yeh Dil,” where Shah Rukh expressed all our emo-filled pangs of loneliness and heartbreak.
‘Duplicate’ (1998, dir. Mahesh Bhatt)
Although it is expected of actors playing dual roles to portray them as differently as possible, when you see it in action, it still seems like magic. And, of course, Shah Rukh Khan managed to pull it off with ease. The VFX department deserves a lot of praise for the physical interactions between the two Khans. They were almost seamless. The rest of the film was alright. We got two amazing songs, though, i.e., “Mere Mehboob Mere Sanam” and “Kathai Aankhon Wali.” So, that’s a plus point.
‘Dil Se..’ (1998, dir. Mani Ratnam)
“Dil Se..” was a complicated film to talk about back then. It is a complicated film to talk about even now. It is home to one of the best musical numbers put to film ever, courtesy of Shah Rukh Khan, Malaika Arora, Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Farah Khan, A.R. Rahman, Gulzar, Suresh Urs, and everyone on that freaking train on which “Chhaiya Chhaiya” was done. In fact, all the songs are pure masterpieces. It does deserve credit for highlighting crimes committed by the Indian Army and how the unheard and the oppressed must take up arms to fight for their rights. Khan and the rest of the cast and crew showed a lot of balls for associating themselves with this project. Unfortunately, Ratnam’s storytelling didn’t do its subject matter any justice.
‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ (1998, dir. Karan Johar)
Since Shah Rukh is in his 50s now, everyone is telling him to take on fatherly roles on screen. And his turn as Daddy Rahul proves that point. His rapport with Sana Saeed’s Anjali is so endearing and adorable that it eclipses whatever’s happening with Kajol’s Anjali and Rani’s Tina. Look, Johar tried to make a point about how widowers should marry if they want to, and women shouldn’t enter a loveless marriage. However, the route taken to get to that point is absolutely horrendous.
‘Baadshah’ (1999, dir. Abbas-Mustan)
I had heard all about how this film is made of elements from “Nick of Time,” “Rush Hour,” and “If Looks Could Kill.” And it didn’t hamper my viewing experience at all because I was too blown away by Shah Rukh Khan’s charisma and comic timing. All the jokes and the visual gags landed really well. And in addition to all the amazing songs, we got yet another song (“Baadshah O Baadshah”) that seemed to encapsulate the man’s stardom. My only complaint is that it should’ve gotten numerous sequels with Khan’s Raj and the rest of the team unknowingly uncovering government and corporate conspiracies and then solving them. It’s not too late to do it. Shah Rukh and Abbas-Mustan can get together again and do a trilogy. Just saying.
Everything that I have talked about in this article covers one-third of Shah Rukh’s career, and you can see the variety. It’s truly insane. Recently, in an interview for “Pathaan,” Khan talked about how he always wanted to be an action star and that he’s getting to do full-fledged action films now. But I beg to differ. Because the amount of stunt work that he has done in the aforementioned projects will make many self-proclaimed action heroes envious. Additionally, there has always been an argument regarding whether Khan is great when he’s doing romance or when he’s playing an antagonist or an outright villain. I’ll say that he’s at his best when he’s doing social satire, as that allows him to do romance, comedy, (sometimes) unhinged villainy, drama, and, of course, loads of action. I don’t know if he’ll get to do more films like “Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman,” “Ram Jaane,” or “Yes Boss” in this socio-political climate. However, I’ll be there at the theater for the first show of the day if he does.