It must be nice to be Shah Rukh Khan today. To wake up behind the high walls of his palatial residence Mannat in Mumbai. After a night of blissful sleep. At peace with himself. Undisturbed after a long while. And to know that Wednesday’s record-breaking-and-setting miracle of Pathaan’s first day collection was no fluke. Because yesterday, which was day two of the actor’s Republic Day release, the box office collection was crazier. And the weekend is coming when even people who don’t like Bollywood will venture out to the theatres to see what the film is all about. From around the world come echoes of praise for Pathaan. Which is strange, because the film is utterly farcical, the story beyond imagination, and if you can believe the superhuman feats SRK pulls off in Pathaan, then you may as well believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
But its thumping success tells me one thing. SRK’s real fans are the front-benchers. Not the sophisticates of the metro cities who will sniff and do a post-mortem of the film’s success over cocktails on the weekend. It is the front-benchers who live and breathe Shah Rukh Khan and would die for him. They bring the excitement to the theatres by whistling, applauding, dancing in the aisles, and returning again and again to see the film simply because they believe in the actor.
Which a lot of us stopped doing when Zero flopped miserably in 2018 and SRK went into hiding behind the same walls at Mannat. Disheartened and defeated. And when his son Aryan ran into trouble with the Narcotics Control Bureau and the Enforcement Directorate in 2021 and was incarcerated in Arthur Road Jail like in a scene from one of his father’s blockbusters, we tut-tutted in sympathy, and thought Shah Rukh Khan was going through the fires. The same people who said disparaging things about how this tragedy was waiting to happen, are today saying “Wah-wah!” about Pathaan’s success and SRK’s triumphant return.
Like the man could do no wrong. But I knew he would come back. Dimples, crooked smile, crinkling eyes, laconic humor in place. Because he is a great actor. And great actors can rise above non-existent scripts to deliver hits like he has done with ‘Pathaan’. Riding the crest of a boycott wave and showing the right wing that stronger than its ideologies was the people’s love for him. The film may have wiped out YRF’s losses over the years caused by a string of box office duds, but the success of Pathaan is not the film studio’s. It is SRK’s alone. He is ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Pathaan’ is him. And the film is a vindication of his fans’ faith in him. Not just for them, but for all of India, and for cinema itself, Shah Rukh Khan is the People’s Champion.