Shah Rukh Khan turns 57; his early days on screen, from Fauji to DDLJ

Shah Rukh Khan turns 57; his early days on screen, from Fauji to DDLJ

A young actor with deep dimples, oozing an impish, boyish charm and a remarkable screen presence first caught the nation’s fancy in a 1989 Doordarshan TV serial on the Indian army, Fauji. It is in this 13-episode serial that follows a new set of recruits as they begin their training to become commandos in the Indian army that Bollywood badshah Shah Rukh Khan first became popular.

He was not even supposed to bag the role of the protagonist Abhimanyu Rai but the camera “loved him so much” that instead of doing an insignificant role “counting crows”, he went on to helm the series. Fauji, which was essentially a coming-of-age story, on happy-go-lucky, lanky boys being whipped into shape to defend the nation, turned out to be a wildly successfully Indian army show.

SRK’s character Abhimanyu Rai (supposedly based on the Lieutenant Colonel Sanjoy Bannerji of the Bombay Sappers, Indian Army), lit up the screen with his raw, boundless energy. He stood out from the others with his intensely vulnerable boy look. Amina Shervani, who wrote, cast and acted in the show, once told a prominent website, “Shah Rukh had this hair that he wouldn’t cut, he would keep smoking, and his mother was worried that nothing would come of his passion for theatre”.

In Fauji, the TV series that first got him national recognition

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She had pleaded with Shervani to help him because SRK did nothing, and just smoked cigarettes all day and did theatre. But, it is in this TV serial that SRK first tasted fame and got recognition as passerbys would call out to him on the streets as, ‘Hey Fauji!’

SRK was also seen in another Doordarshan serial, Circus, made by his mentors and father figures, the talented duo, Aziz Mizra and Kundan Shah. In this serial, he played a circus manager, who reluctantly takes over the management of the circus and slowly starts to connect with the people in the circus troupe.

In the TV serial Circus

After his TV stint, SRK moved to Bombay and got his first break in Bollywood with the romantic drama, Deewana opposite the late Divya Bharti, in 1992. In this film, his explosive energy and boyish persona helped him to play a passionate lover in a love triangle story, who gets the girl in the end. In Chamatkar which released the same year, SRK continued with his earnest, lover-boy image wooing Urmila Matondkar (who was yet to emerge in her glam avatar) in this fantasy, light-hearted comedy. Naseeruddin Shah played the friendly ghost who only SRK could see.

His mentor Aziz Mirza’s commercially hit film, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman followed next. It is here that SRK started to craft and cement his image as the vulnerable lover boy which endeared him to women so much. He was all heart when it came to loving his women, but he could also hurt them unwittingly with his childish callousness. But, that was all forgiven when he apologised to them with his impish, dimpled charm. There was nothing macho about this hero, women wanted to take him home and look after him.

In ‘Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman’, SRK played a vulnerable, passionate lover

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Juhi Chawla who went on to act in many films with SRK famously said when she was first introduced to her Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman star – “Is this the hero?” she asked scathingly, pointing to what she described as an ordinary-looking, lanky boy with an unruly mop of hair. But, soon, with fame, SRK started to shed his careless look and got suave.

His acting however got more visceral and packed with energy. According to Arnab Ray, who wrote in a newspaper, “Khan brought a new kind of acting as he was sliding down stairs on a slab of ice, cartwheeling, somersaulting, lips trembling, eyes trembling, bringing to the screen the kind of physical energy… visceral, intense, maniacal one moment and cloyingly boyish the next.”

SRK has admitted many times that his role in ‘Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naa’ is his favourite

Though SRK donned a truly, murderous and villainous cap in Darr and Baazigar in 1993, in 1994, he completely did a turnaround in Kundan Shah’s delightful slice-of-life film, Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naa. In this film, SRK plays an aspiring musician madly in love with a girl, (Suchitra Krishnamurthy), who sees him as a loser and is in love with another man (Deepak Tijori). But, the lover boy is not about to give up on his dreams and tries hard to create trouble between the lovers so that he could win over the girl’s heart. It is all done in an innocent, mischievous way but SRK was immensely spontaneous in the film acting straight from his heart.

The actor himself has said often that this is his most favourite role.

This role laid the ground for what was to come the next year. In 1995, SRK played a young NRI who falls deeply in love with an Indian girl on a trip across Europe and chases her back to India to marry her with her family’s approval. This time, he gets the girl. And, Raj in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge established him forever on the silver screen as the king of romance, who will go to any lengths to get his girl. In a good sanskari way.

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