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American chat show host David Letterman, whose recent My Next Guest with Shah Rukh Khan is recently the talk of the town, was taken surprised by the Bollywood superstar’s mass popularity. “This is beyond anything we ever imagined,” he recovered. Sure enough, King Khan may be box-office poison these days but nobody can decline that he can still command an audience.

‘I am an employee of the myth of SRK’ — Shah Rukh Khan to David Letterman.

Shah Rukh Khan turns 54 today. It will be hard for his millions of fans to digest that. It was only yesterday that his young and wild NRI Raj in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was Euro-hopping, giving middle-class Indians their first (visceral) taste of exotic Swiss and English locales and who lastly returns home to India to win back his lady love Simran (Kajol) against Bauji’s (the late Amrish Puri) wishes. Besides the romantic Raj, he was also Bollywood’s beloved Rahul. As the man himself insisted in the blockbuster Dil To Pagal Hai, “Rahul, naam toh suna hoga.” That name, along with the image, stuck. “Hum ek baar jeete hain, ek baar marte hain, shaadi bhi ek baar hoti hai … aur pyaar bhi…” cooed Rahul in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. “Ek baar hi hota hai?” Anjali (Kajol) chipped well in time, to complete the famous line.

SRK magic dying?

In the past few years, the media and fans alike have surprised anxiously why the SRK magic is dying at the box-office. Is this the last gasp of a decline superstar and to dust shall the magic fame return? To start with, it’s just dumb luck that his films aren’t working. Every single SRK starrer since 2016’s Dear Zindagi and Fan has been as thoroughly different from each other as possible. Fan is probably the most interesting of the lot. In Dear Zindagi, he doubled up as a shrink to Alia Bhatt’s life and love complications — a role that might have resonated with him.  this is understand from most of his recent interviews, which, incidentally, are becoming more and more about ‘SRK as a parent’ than ‘SRK as a movie mogul.’

Next came his gangster turn in Raees with the famous ‘Ammi’ line followed by Jab Harry Met Sejal, a typical SRK rom-com that might have worked had it released, say, twenty years ago when he was in his heydays to pull off all the romantic stuff. That is not to say that he isn’t fit or peppy enough. In fact, at 54, he’s lean and sprightly and burns more energy than many younger stars.

What makes him a star

Here’s one simple example. David Letterman, who’s clearly not too wll-known with India, accompanied SRK to the terrace of his Bandra home and there they were, a huge crowd of adoring fans waiting to catch sight of Khan. When the star waved at them, they went into a frenzy chanting his name. This kind of fame is unimaginable in Hollywood. No wonder, Letterman was taken aback with what he saw. “This is beyond anything we ever imagined,” the talk show host exclaimed, in Netflix’s My Next Guest, while introducing Shah Rukh Khan who needs, as they say, no introduction. The duo shared a hearty laugh about the ‘introduction’ bit later on in the show.

After the Zero fiasco, Khan hasn’t signed on any film, yet. Stung by a string of failures of late, he may be weighing his options very, very carefully. He knows he’s in urgent need of a box-office hit, enormous enough to silence the naysayers and help him bounce back as a marquee king. These days, though, Khan, the doting dad to three, is spending time with his kids more than ever.

That might also be a great way to describe Khan’s own fame. It’s infused with unabashed innocence. That’s why kids love him. Young movie-goers adore him. So do women. He’s the kind of star who uses his fame in a gentle manner, as if never forgetting at every step of the way that he’s also a hero, an idol and a moral figure who’s being watched and followed by billions. Indeed, he lacks fellow Khans’ commercial clout. But he has entered the “hearts” of Bollywood lovers and it will be difficult to dislodge him from there. Candid as ever, he told Letterman, “I am not half as talented as I think I am and that made me realize that, listen, if I can’t do it with the skill and talent, then I better get into the hearts of people. And, if they are loving me, let me just be nice and good about it.”

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