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The Legacy of Bollywood’s Baadshah: Shah Rukh Khan

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Born into a middle-class family in New Delhi, India, Shah Rukh Khan, known by his initials SRK, was an academically brilliant child and had envisioned himself working in a STEM-related field or becoming a sportsman when he grew up. Troubled and broken with the world crumbling around him after losing both his parents, Shah Rukh Khan thought his story was over. However, fate had something else in mind for him.

SRK decided that in order to move forward, he needed to put some distance between himself and Delhi. He tried theater in college and thought about trying his hand at acting. He moved to Mumbai with the plan of trying out acting for about a year or so then finding a stable job to support his extended family. He auditioned for all forms of entertainment formats ranging from movies to daily soaps to theater and received minor roles that were just enough to support himself in the metropolis of Mumbai. However, life as a struggling actor was not easy and he was planning to leave this career path just before he got his big break.

Yash Raj Films, a major studio and film production house, had seen SRK’s previous work and cast him in a romantic comedy “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” in 1995. Little did the studio and SRK know that the film would become an instant success and a cult classic that still has massive appeal over 30 years later. Not only was this movie the first major success for SRK, but it also served as the basis of his acting style and the kind of actor he would be seen as for the majority of his career: a charming star that ruled over the hearts of the audience through his childlike innocence, witty dialogues and endearing personality.

SRK continued to act in popular romantic comedies and family dramas such as “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” the latter of which he starred alongside Bollywood veteran superstar Amitabh Bachchan. His appeal and stardom skyrocketed in the early 2000s when he came out with a series of super-hit movies including “Main Hoon Na” and “Kal Ho Naa Ho.”

However, after playing similar kinds of roles for almost 15 years, SRK wanted to branch out and break the casting stereotype. He collaborated with close friend and director-actor Farhan Akhtar, SRK played the title character in “Don.” What set him apart from other actors who had played similar roles was that he played the character with such charm and persona that the audience could not help but like him and root for him even though he was essentially the villain in the movie.

At the peak of his career by the mid to late 2000s, SRK had established himself as an actor that all directors and producers wanted to work with and was awarded titles of “King Khan” and “Baadshah of Bollywood” by the public and media. He created his own film production house, Red Chillies Entertainment, and began to work with specific directors to make movies that pushed the boundaries of Bollywood and Indian cinema. His film “My Name Is Khan” shed light on the challenges faced by an autistic Muslim man in post-9/11 America. Another movie of his that pushed the envelope was a superhero-based movie “Ra.One,” which had the most VFX and CGI-based effects in a Bollywood movie at the time. Although applauded by most for its vision and ambition, both critics and audiences could not connect with the movie’s narrative. Seemingly phased by this, SRK decided to play it safe and came out with mass-audience-based popcorn flicks for the next few years. 

However, this was now the 2010s and Hollywood movies had completely proliferated in Indian cinema with massive successes such as “Avatar” and “The Avengers.” Young audiences wanted  movies with both substance and style. Days of romantic comedies and dramas seemed to be in the past. The majority of SRK’s movies released in the 2010s were poorly received with only one stand-out movie, “Dear Zindagi”, a creative piece that beautifully yet gracefully presents the importance of mental health. Although SRK still maintained his major stardom and widespread appeal, making cameos in many popular films of other actors, his own movies continued to perform poorly with “Zero” resulting to massively negative reactions in 2018.

After realizing that something was not right anda major recalibration was required, SRK took a break from acting for about five years. This period coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic during which SRK planned his comeback to the industry. He realized that in order to make an impact and reclaim his position as the “King of Bollywood,” he needed to outperform in both quantity and quality. 

He created three films simultaneously, spreading them out to release throughout 2023. The first of these was an action-spy thriller “Pathaan” that was released earlier this year in January and made history by becoming the highest-grossing Hindi movie of all time. This movie had both over-the-top action and visual effects with a strong story. However, it was SRK’s signature charisma that made the movie so successful. 

SRK now has two more upcoming movies set to release later this year, “Jawan” in September, and “Dunki” in December. The hype and anticipation for these movies are high given the success of “Pathaan” and the King seems to be back to continue building upon his legacy.

Shah Rukh Khan has ruled over the Bollywood film industry for the majority of his 30-year film career. He has shown his versatility as an actor by acting in different kinds of roles but has owned each character in such a way that it’s difficult to imagine someone else playing them. Although he has stumbled a bit in recent years, he seems to be back to doing what he does best: entertaining audiences and bringing a smile to their faces.

Ishan Varshney is an Arts & Entertainment Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. He can be reached at