Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Monday, June 17, 2013

Spotlight: Is Shahrukh Khan The 'Iron Man' Of Bollywood?

By Niloufer Khan / Mumbai

Two years ago, in the course of an interview with Shahrukh Khan, journalist Barkha Dutt asked, “Why don’t we (in India) have a desi equivalent of Superman, Ironman, or Batman?”

Shahrukh replied, “It’s very simple…our regular heroes are superheroes…if you believe in Hindi cinema, they don’t need to wear tights; there is no need for superpowers.”

In Bollywood, the leading man is almost always a hero. When watching a Hollywood movie — with its penchant for flawed and complicated characters who are mentally ill or emotionally flawed — my mother has only one question: “So, is he the hero?”
The Bollywood hero’s life is always epic. His fall from grace is harder than of mere mortals, and his subsequent rise more meteoric. He will love harder; hurt harder, pay much more for the consequences of his actions. The hero has conflict, whether inner or outer, and finding a resolution to this conflict is the basis of his existence.

Shahrukh Khan has come to personify the ultimate hero, both onscreen and off.

In his latest interview with The Telegraph, Khan admits that he feels alone, and that things don’t “touch him”. But he also accepts it as an inevitable consequence of the life he’s chosen. “My friends tell me what a sad place it is to be in (for me),” he says. “But I have chosen this life. I made the choice. This is who I wanted to be…it’s a strange place to be personally. I don’t wish my life upon these young stars.”

If we had to pick a superhero equivalent for Shahrukh Khan, it would be Ironman. There is the same blurring of identities. Not for Tony Stark the humble anonymity of a Peter Parker; Tony wants all the credit. He knows he’s the best. Similarly, Shahrukh Khan’s egoistic public persona has bled repeatedly into his film roles. He is the perfect family man and the face of secularism with his inter-religious family. He has the confidence of a hero – “I’m the best” stopped being an effective headline for Shahrukh interviews a long time ago because he repeats it so often.

The new installation of Ironman showed us a traumatised Tony Stark who has finally overplayed his hand. Having revealed his home address to the villain in a moment of hubris, Stark now risks losing everything he has. He is also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to recover from the trauma of saving the world, but being forced to be the superhero again and again for a world that he can never fail.

In his interviews over the past few years, Shahrukh sounds exhausted. He has spent twenty years not only living up to a persona onscreen, but also exuding the same charisma and intelligence off-screen. It’s a shocking admission to hear from one of the country’s most beloved stars. The perfect family, the beautiful children and the devotion of an entire country, and yet the slings hurt.

“They hold me responsible for things I have never done,” says Shahrukh in the Telegraph interview. “You will become desensitised, no?” Words like “midlife crisis” and “breakdown” have been bandied around for the star, but maybe a better choice is “alienated”.

All this is not to suggest that Shahrukh doesn’t value his stratospheric position in Bollywood. There have even been suggestions that he overvalues it – rumours have mentioned his newly jet-black hair, chiseled jay and fairer skin. Nor does it mean that his career is over. Bollywood values the young, but it also values the emotional pull of a star like Shahrukh for whom the audience will collectively shrug and say – sure, you’re a twenty-year-old in love. Whatever.

But alienation is the necessary feature of a superhero. He fights alone, despite the supportive girlfriends and doting grandparents. Shahrukh, who lost his parents at an early age, is the quintessential isolated figure. And at a stage when the fight itself seems meaningless – friends distanced, films flopped, affairs exposed and brawls filmed – maybe isolation is hitting hard. “I miss being real and normal, but it’s difficult to not be like me when you’ve spent the last few decades as I have,” he says in the interview.

So, to answer my mother’s question, who’s the hero? Shahrukh is, of course.
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