Shah Rukh Khan’s Evolution Through The 2010s: Self-Mythologizing & Breaking Brand SRK


To celebrate the year of Shah Rukh Khan, I began watching all of his films. The viewing sessions were divided into three sections—the ’90s, the 2000s, and the 2010s—and each film in each of these phases revealed an interesting facet of one of the biggest superstars in the world. In the ’90s, he showcased his ability to induce fear, pull off the most death-defying stunts, and make us introspect about society as some of the most relatable characters in existence. The 2000s not only established him as the unbeatable king of romance but also as an actor who wasn’t afraid to draw a line between patriotism and nationalism. Now, the 2010s are widely accepted as the period that hurt Shah Rukh’s career. Is there any truth to that? Well, let’s find out.

My Name Is Khan (2010)

This features one of the best Shah Rukh Khan performances and one of the best Kajol performances. It’s also possibly one of Karan Johar’s most mature films. The fact that, despite being a film set in post-9/11 America, it continues to be relevant because of the rampant discrimination that people from the Muslim community are subjected to is scary and impressive. All the songs in the film are classics. The imagery on display is undoubtedly memorable. I think it’s one of the better adaptations of Forrest Gump. Does the Rain Man-autistic savant parallel hurt the film? Yes, it does, but not enough to drive you away from it. There’s actually a last-minute twist that hurts the film even more than that, and I think that having a more inclusive writers’ room would have helped. Other than that, it’s a good film.

Ra One (2011)

I distinctly remember disliking the movie after watching it on the big screen, and I never gave it a second chance for that very reason. But every time the Bollywood side of Twitter starts talking about VFX and CGI in India, Ra One gets a lot of praise for being “ahead of its time” and for having visual effects that can rival modern Bollywood films. And that always surprises me because that’s not the case at all. It’s not a good-looking film. The VFX and the CGI are atrocious. The humor is cheap and crass. The performances are not really good. There is a decent plot hidden somewhere inside the script. So, it’s a shame that that version of the film will never see the light of day. The only aspect of Ra One that has stood the test of time is the music. It’s difficult not to do the steps every time someone plays “Chammak Challo.”

Don 2 (2011)

Bollywood has a long history of essentially doing remakes and reboots while claiming that they’re doing sequels. So, I was so surprised to see Don 2 being an actual sequel to Don that I went to re-watch it against my parents’ wishes. And to this day, I believe it’s one of the best sequels of all time. It’s a totally different beast in comparison to its predecessor. It is as sleek and stylish as its predecessor. But it’s a heist film, and a good one at that. Do you know how difficult it is to come across a good heist film in Bollywood that isn’t a goofy comedy? It’s impossible. Shah Rukh Khan is effortless as the titular villain. His chemistry with Priyanka Chopra Jonas is sizzling. That Hrithik Roshan cameo is brilliant. All of the songs are great, and Usha Uthup’s “Hai Ye Maya” deserves more love. I’m aware of the fact that Don 3 has been announced with Ranveer Singh as the star, but my gut tells me that Shah Rukh Khan is going to show up because you don’t make two movies with SRK and then go into a third film without him!

Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012)

Look, I have a lot of respect for the late Yash Chopra. I clearly love Shah Rukh Khan. But I couldn’t bring myself to like this film. I think there’s a good story about a lover waging war against fate, destiny, and the very definition of God because the one he loves thinks that their relationship isn’t possible in this lifetime. And when someone from the “hook up and break up” generation comes across his story, her perspective about love completely changes. To be fair, I think that was the whole idea while writing the script. But somewhere along the way, it became about memory loss and showing Kashmir in the most idiotic ways possible, and it lost me. Everyone gave decent performances, with the exception of Anushka Sharma. The songs are all amazing. That’s all the positivity that I can muster for now.

Chennai Express (2013)

I think “insufferable” is the right word to describe this film. I don’t think any of the actors did a bad job. Shah Rukh Khan definitely gave it his all. The issue was Rohit Shetty and his vision. He just stacked a “funny” gag on top of another “funny” gag and hoped that it’d stick. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. The number of references to other films and Shah Rukh Khan’s career via songs and jokes can make a grown human being question their sanity and love for films. So, you can only imagine what it must’ve been like for the actors to do those scenes. The songs continue to be amazing. I danced to one of them during my college days, so I obviously have a soft spot for them despite the obvious cultural appropriation. If you see it less as a feature film and more as something that you can play in the background while you complete your chores, it feels acceptable.

Happy New Year (2014)

Remember what I said earlier? It’s tough to make a heist film without turning it into a goofy comedy, and this film is proof of that notion. Whenever I look at this film, I wonder what went wrong. Farah Khan could’ve made a perfect trilogy of action musicals with Shah Rukh Khan. But she just had to ruin it, didn’t she? I can see how a team of thieves doing a revenge heist while pretending to be dancers at an international competition can feel like a good idea on paper. However, the execution is just too lackluster. In addition to that, there’s the consistent racism. Well, at least you can laugh at Deepika doing a version of the “70 Minutes” scene and enjoy “Manwa Laage.”

Dilwale (2015)

It’s one of the worst movies of all time and a total and utter waste of a hot-looking Shah Rukh Khan and the opportunity to give the world yet another classic Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol romance. And the one and only Rohit Shetty should be blamed for this atrocity.

Fan (2016)

Double roles are hard to pull off, and sometimes the mere act of doing multiple roles feels so mind-boggling that people rush to praise them without really thinking about it. And maybe that’s why they didn’t fully praise Shah Rukh Khan’s turn as Aryan Khanna and Gaurav because they thought it was just another double-role act. FYI, it’s not just another double act. This film has two of the best performances of all time, and both of them are coming from Shah Rukh Khan. Gaurav is a creature that you won’t want to cross on your best day. Aryan is the beast that you don’t want to idolize. Yes, a lot of ground-breaking visual effects are involved. However, if you look closely at that scene where Aryan pretends to be Gaurav, who is trying to act like Aryan, then you’ll come to the realization that Shah Rukh Khan could’ve pulled this off without any VFX. It’s a flawed film, undoubtedly. That said, the good stuff clearly outweighs the bad stuff. Maneesh Sharma made SRK do long takes. That, in and of itself, is a big win. Additionally, there’s the whole commentary on fandom and VIP culture which is evergreen. It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of SRK or not; you should definitely give this film a try. It’s amazing.

Dear Zindagi (2016)

Rich people going to therapy isn’t my cup of tea. That’s all I will say without making things offensive. Shah Rukh Khan looks beautiful. But that’s about it.

Raees (2017)

I didn’t appreciate the brilliance of Shah Rukh Khan’s performance when I watched it for the first time. But upon a re-watch, I liked it a lot. The sense of gravitas and fear that he brings to the role is unparalleled. Khan’s eyes are extremely expressive, and Rahul Dholakia uses them to the maximum. While the first half of the film is a little by-the-numbers, it gets seriously interesting as soon as Raees gets blood on his hands. Despite his apparent villainy, you do want to see him win because you know his roots. So, it’s tough to accept that you are actually watching a tragic tale. The two things that do hurt the film are the action sequences and the references to real-life tragedies. The action sequences are horribly edited, and the references cause tonal whiplash because you think you’re watching a masala film, and suddenly, it’s too real for anyone to handle. With all that said, it’s a perfectly watchable film. The production design, the costume designs, the music, the politics, the social commentary—it’s all really good. Also, it has some of the most quotable lines. Every time someone says that you’re living out your best or worst days, you have to reply that days and nights might be for people, but lions have an era.

Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017)

It’s yet another film of Shah Rukh’s that I was too harsh on when I initially watched it, but it’s a pretty standard rom-com with brilliant performances from the leads. Shah Rukh probably gave the most unique performance of his career in this film. It falls into the “romantic hero” template, but there’s something open and personal about it. He isn’t shackled by his usual mannerisms and tricks while doing versions of scenes that he has done a hundred times before. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s one of his best performances, period. The songs are great. I’ve been listening to them on a loop. It’s a great-looking movie. That said, after the 1 hour, 45-minute mark, it starts to deteriorate gradually, and Imtiaz Ali should take the blame for it. He tries to get existential, but the way he makes his actors express it all is too surface-level. Also, there’s the whole anti-immigrant chunk of the film. It ends on a good note, though. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that it’s not as bad as the most hardcore SRK fans say it is. Give it a try!

Zero (2018)

Nothing about this movie makes sense. Great VFX and CGI. Everything else is just a mess. I am sorry.

Final Thoughts

It’s common for every Bollywood superstar to go through this phase where they cannot come to terms with their age. So, they try to do everything they were synonymous with in the past while trying to cater to the younger audiences who are starting to discover them, thereby creating a mixed bag that doesn’t appeal to anyone. In Shah Rukh Khan’s case, though, even at his “worst,” he is better than his contemporaries. You have to be more than a superstar to deliver something like My Name Is Khan, Don 2, Fan, Raees, and JHMS as you are figuring out what you’re going to do with your career. You have to be a good actor who is still looking to expand their horizons. And that’s what Shah Rukh Khan has always done, and I hope that’s what he’ll continue to do. To be honest, I don’t want SRK to take another long break unless it’s for something really important. I want to enter every year looking forward to a new Shah Rukh Khan film. And if I have to wait longer than that, no worries; I’ll just press play on any of the movies from his extensive filmography and have a good time.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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