Variety

Will Shah Rukh's Ra.One be No. 1?

Shashi Baliga | Updated on November 12, 2017

Superhuman effort: Shah Rukh Khan in Ra.One

For Shah Rukh Khan, it is not just the big investment, but his very reputation as the Badshah of Bollywood that's at stake.

If film-making is nothing short of a gamble, Shah Rukh Khan is the Great Gambler of the year.

Ra.One, at an estimated Rs 150 crore, will probably be Bollywood's most expensive movie ever. “Gawd, I am making a film beyond my means,” he tweeted (even if he's not telling us what his budget is). But the ante goes far beyond the mere financials with this movie for the Badshah of Bollywood.

What's at stake, beside the big money invested in Ra.One, is a dream, his once-unchallenged supremacy as the reigning deity of Bollywood, and that intangible called reputation. SRK has invested so much of his personal reputation in his dream project, and stuck his neck out so far with this one that nothing short of mega-success will do.

Bollywood's history is littered with the shards of many dreams; the smaller ones are crushed underfoot and forgotten quickly, the bigger, more ambitious ones serve as cautionary tales. Shah Rukh himself has tasted a fair amount of financial and creative defeat as a producer — big-time with Asoka and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani; to a lesser degree with Paheli and Billu.

But cinematic history also has its glorious triumphs. Like Mughal-e-Azam, the result of K. Asif's magnificent and extravagant passion. Or the more recent Devdas, which often survived merely on Sanjay Leela Bhansali's determination and passion (but also turned out to be his biggest hit).

But then, there's more to Ra.One than the money. The Badshah of Bollywood has been a little battered of late, with his throne under attack, mainly from the other two mega-Khans, Aamir and Salman.

Aamir has been near-infallible over the last few years with a string of record-breaking mainstream films as actor ( Rang de Basanti, Ghajini, 3 Idiots) and more offbeat movies as producer ( Taare Zameen Par, Peepli [Live], Delhi Belly, Mumbai Diaries). All of them have delivered profits. Aamir has delivered both quality and box-office collections — the Holy Grail, in short.

Salman has had four blockbusters to his name in recent times — Wanted, Dabangg, Ready and Bodyguard — and conquered the box office with over Rs 500 crore business. But quality? Class? Uh-oh. Dabangg had a quirky stylised feel, with Salman's performance so tongue-in-cheek as to border on self-caricature, but he carried it off. However, Wanted, Ready and Bodyguard simply don't fall into that category: money-spinners, yes; memorable, no.

Meanwhile, Shah Rukh has had a relatively quieter time onscreen in the same period. His last big hits were My Name is Khan in 2010 and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi in 2008. Both did well but didn't quite bust the box office. What with health problems, IPL controversies, much-publicised tiffs, including one with Salman, and a fallout of sorts with Farah Khan, the Badshah has not protected his supremacy too well.

For a star who openly declares he loves his stardom and never wants to let go of it, he has been careless about it. But then, he's a man of many contradictions — and that's what makes him fascinating.

Here is a star who can be instinctively humble and arrogant in equal measure, who can be genuinely uncaring about money and openly chase it, who can claim he's not being pompous (a much-used word with him) even as he is being just that, who can toast you with real warmth and freeze you with chilling sarcasm.

Every time I did an interview with him and sat down to transcribe his pronouncements, it was amusing to see how he would contradict himself any number of times in the space of that one interview. So one had to choose: which Shah Rukh did one project in that particular article?

However, there are some things that never change, are never self-contradicted. One of them is how incredibly hard he works. Shah Rukh never jokes about that because it is far too precious to him. He is very proud (as he should be) about the fact that his superstardom has come after a long, hard journey, one full of uncalculated risks.

When a star reaches what seem like unassailable heights or gets trapped in the creative sandpit that success often brings with it, it is easy to forget that he got there by taking not one, but a series of risks — some based on instinct, some on pure emotion and a few on solid groundwork.

It is true of most stars and especially so with Shah Rukh Khan. Let's skip the fact that becoming an actor and trying to break into Bollywood is itself a huge leap of faith that's common to most aspirants.

Take Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, now the longest running one in Hindi cinema, a cult film, and so on. But when Shah Rukh put his faith in the film's first-time director, Aditya Chopra was not the force he now is, nor was Yash Raj Films the monolith it is. Adi (as he is known) was the son of the legendary Yash Chopra and had assisted him on some movies, but that need not necessarily have translated into much, as many other heirs and assistants have shown. But SRK signed on. It was pretty much the same story with Karan Johar. On the sets of DDLJ, Shah Rukh promised Johar — more as a friend than actor — that if he ever made a film, he would star in it. That film turned out to be Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and one of Shah Rukh's biggest hits, but the promise he made to Johar could well have led him nowhere. You can repeat the story once again with Farah Khan and Main Hoon Na.

What's it with you — do you have a great script sense, I once asked SRK. “I have no script sense at all!” he told me breezily. “These are all emotional decisions.”

Ra.One is one of those emotional decisions for SRK, because it is a film he is making as much for himself as his son, Aryan. And it doesn't get bigger than his children for SRK. But the film is also an educated gamble. It has not been made with the impetuousness of youth but the risk appetite of an actor who has learned to hedge his bets and, more importantly, has far more at stake than he did in his early days.

Nobody is more aware of that than the superstar himself. You can see that he is promoting his film with desperation. It will pay off — Ra.One has already made quite a bit of money in pre-release deals. But the problem is that SRK needs it to be nothing short of a mega-hit. And as any gambler will tell you, you've got to bet big to win big.

>shashibaliga@gmail.com

Published on October 20, 2011

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