Pathaan: How The Everlasting Charm Of SRK Defeated Hate & Bigotry

Pathaan/Justin Rao
Pathaan/Justin Rao Pathaan/Justin Rao

This feels like a personal victory.

Before Pathaan released, and when the advance booking numbers were on a rampage, I thought I'd show the world-and those who live on hate-who Shah Rukh Khan is, what Shah Rukh Khan can do.

I was happy, but angry.

I planned to put out the opening day numbers with middle fingers all over. A giant fuck you to the bigot factory that's conditioning people to hate.

But something happened after I finished Pathaan.

The euphoria, the hysteria felt while watching the film slowly morphed into... A strange, happy calmness. If pre-release I broke out of character by being angry, post Pathaan, Khan washed me over with love-as he always does.

Pathaan is now scripting history and Khan has scripted a fairytale comeback. The victory feels personal, because the hurt was personal too. The vicious attacks on him were personal too. The targeting of his family was personal too. The bigotry was personal too.

Shah Rukh Khan (Pathan)
Shah Rukh Khan (Pathan)The Indian Express

[Edit: This article excerpt had originally been written in 2017 to commemorate 22 years of DDLJ. The iconic Indian romance completed 28 years this year.]

“Jaa Simran jaa. Jee le apni zindagi!”

When I caught a screening of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at the famed Maratha Mandir, on a quiet Tuesday morning, one would hardly expect the audience to still scream along with the iconic “Ja Simran JAAAAA!” as the final scene unfolds. Yet, it seems time comes to a total standstill for all those who enter through the quiet, unassuming doors of Maratha Mandir.

After 25 years of daily screenings, it appears there’s no love lost among those who still come to watch. Hushed whispers of people reciting dialogues along with the characters, guffaws here and there as Shah Rukh Khan ambles across the screen with an antic or two, and of course, crowd encouragement is all part and parcel of your movie experience here.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Dilwale Dulhania Le JayengeThe Indian Express

Anaita Shroff who played Kajol’s friend Sheena and has been Vogue India’s former fashion director, spoke to us about DDLJ, “The film was made with so much love and pure intent that it transcended to the film. DDLJ was one of the most stress-free sets I have ever worked on. We all lived in a small Swiss cottage, hung out together, travelled together, had our meals together. We were like a big joint family! Much like the film. I think it resonates with so many people because it celebrates a universal ‘Indian-ness’. We never imagined that the film would leave such a legacy in Indian cinema!”

Released in 1995, the Bollywood film that stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol as Raj and Simran continues to make history right here in Mumbai, in 2018. Maratha Mandir has cancelled the show all of one time in its history of screening the movie over the past 25 years. As your eyes adjust to the dimly lit interiors, one notices that this 60-year-old art deco building is surprisingly still quite clean and well-maintained. If it weren’t for the towering Sai Baba statue at the foot of the theatre’s grand marble staircase, the surrounding reflecting glass and geometrical chandeliers transports one straight to the early 90s.

Raj and Simran hug each other amidst the audience’s applause and barely seconds later, the lights come on, stunning everyone back to reality as they hurriedly rush out the door. I quietly walked out through those very wooden doors that unknowingly hid a world of nostalgia within. It dawned on me that this theatre was truly no less of a legend than DDLJ itself. Back in 2017, when we had the chance of speaking with Rane, he had smiled serenely, aware of the magic we witnessed and had left us with prophetic words before he bade us goodbye, “I see DDLJ shows running on for at least 22 more years.”

If he was attempted to be silenced and humiliated in public, with heartbreaking visuals of him splashed all over, it's only fitting that his resounding return to the cinemas is documented, spoken and celebrated in broad day light, with people dancing in theatres, clapping and hooting. It's only fitting that hollow hate now stares at packed auditoriums.

Pathaan is a beautiful, timely reminder.

Hate can trend on Twitter, but when Khan spreads arms, there's only love. He's too big to be dragged in petty agendas; too loved to be brainwashed to hate.

He's Shah Rukh Khan, you can't break him with a hashtag.

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