Sometime in my late teens, I decided Hindi films were beneath my notice. Not an easy pretence to maintain for someone who knew the lyrics to every tune ever set to jhankaar beats. My mom, a film buff, was having none of it and dragged me along to watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). Both times, I met the force of Shah Rukh Khan’s lover-boy charm with adolescent scorn. This goofball, this is our king of romance?
Then I watched Devdas (2002) with an SRK fan. It was like a contagion; there is no other way to explain what happened. As she sighed over his bloodshot eyes brimming with florid dialogue, I suddenly saw it. This man could make you feel like you were a woman worth debasing himself over. At an age when I wanted to be cool, above all else, Shah Rukh showed me that love is a kind of indignity, a desperate grasping. It wasn’t a role he was playing, either. Like most SRK fans, I loved him as much for his interviews as his films. He once confessed to being so terrified of loneliness, he would hold his dog’s paw as he slept. Such an embarrassing thing to admit, but it took my breath away.
The social cred you lose when you own up to being a Shah Rukh fan is a love offering. It was richly repaid with films like Swades, and also made it easier to sit through Asoka. But sometime after Ra.One and well before Chennai Express, the fever broke. A giant edifice of CGI, marketing and six-pack abs had obscured the man whose main allure had always been his unintimidating size. I’d like to think that, as a self-respecting 30-something, I outgrew my infatuation with a movie star. But SRK had taught me well: love doesn’t care about looking stupid. I didn’t change, he did. He went from being a lover to being a brand.
Now, all these years later, I’m tempted to buy a ticket again. It’s fitting that the film to rekindle the flame should be about an unwieldy kind of love, the kind a face in the crowd feels for the presence on stage. The kind that hallucinates a connection with an identity that is mass-produced. The kind you see illuminating his eyes as he stares up in adoration. He’s only looking at himself, but a girl can dream.
Fan is out in theatres on April 15, 2016