How Shah Rukh Khan Defines Modern-Day Masculinity
Is Shah Rukh Khan The Modern-Day Manly Man?

Wit, charisma and talent only scratch the surface

I remember the guys at my school gushing over a pirated DVD of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s The Scorpion King. Who can blame them? Prepubescent boys have always idolised big, bulky muscle-y men who could beat up a dozen men. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t one of them. But somehow, I never quite understood the hype. Instead, I always found myself gravitating more towards Major Ram. It didn’t make any sense. Bollywood movies never had the same action budget as Hollywood blockbusters. SRK definitely didn’t have the same muscle mass as Mr Rock (he had hair but I doubt that was what was stopping me). At the time it baffled me why I liked one over the other and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.


Today, Shah Rukh Khan is celebrating his 57th birthday, and has given fans what they’ve been waiting for in the form of the first teaser for Pathaan. As I watched the teaser for the high-octane spy thriller that marks the King’s return to the silver screen after three hard years, I found myself overwhelmed with feelings that I experienced when Major Ram pulled off his badly CGI-ed Rickshaw stunt in unparalleled style. But something clicked this time, which reaffirmed what I had felt all those years ago.

But before I sound like a fanboi, let me start by saying that celebrity worship is a facade. There’s always a big PR machinery in works when it comes to a famous personality, and more often than not, the person behind the image gets buried under a marketable brand.     

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But today as I see thousands of tweets gushing over SRK, a feat the best of PR companies only could dream of achieving, I get why he is the last star of our times. Let me explain.


It is my theory that SRK has always been an antithesis of how men see other men but a perfect example of how others would like to see a man. Yes, he’s thrown bad guys 10-ft in the air and yes, he has Dard-e-discoed with six-pack abs. He’s done everything which should be defined as a “manly” man. Yet somehow, SRK was never looked at through the same Macho lens as his contemporaries.

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As a man (or a boy), I was expected to like explosive things, like Tom Cruise doing impossible missions or Akshay Kumar being an International Khiladi. I wasn’t “supposed” to like SRK flinging his arms open, or ugly crying while reading a fake letter to Naina. No, that was the “girly” stuff. Yet I kept watching SRK movies and feeling more and more embarrassed as time went on. What I didn’t know back then was that SRK wasn’t making “girly” movies, he was redefining my definition of being a man.


Now that I look back at his career, I remember him not for his action stunts, but as a loving father in Kuch Kuch Hota Hair. I remember him as the subdued coach who let his all-women team beat up a pervert as he bit into a burger. I remember him as a NASA engineer yearning for his home. I remember him as Dr Jehangir Khan giving life lessons which I’ve still carried to this day.

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But his resume isn’t the only thing which makes people flock to the cult of SRK. No matter how great an actor is, sometimes the line between their reel and real persona gets blurred. In today’s world of heroes flicking an actual tiger on the baddies, there was SRK and his roles which touched a part of every man’s life, which many are scared to admit – vulnerability. Despite having the world at his feet, Khan has always been open about his shortcomings.


Take this quote from an interview with Mid-Day for instance, “Let me tell you something: I am the most under-confident, nervous, insecure man who keeps asking himself if he’s got it right. I know it is difficult to believe because I don’t come across like that.” Or this quote from an episode of KWK, “I’m scared of attachments because I believe every attachment that I’ve will finally break my heart or leave me.”

The same tenderness is reflected in how he treats people around him. There are numerous stories which date back to the 90s describing how polite Khan is not only towards his peers but others as well, which is evidently more true when it comes to his heroines. Back in 2013, SRK pledged that the names of the leading actresses would appear before him. Similarly, In an interview with Simi Garewal, the actor said, “I think I have a lot of women in me.”


Kajol remarked on what it is like working with SRK, saying, “what’s immensely amazing about him is the fact that no point in time has he ever in any way, in any of his films, ever done, said or even looked in with disrespect towards a woman. And a woman always knows that. She always knows when there’s a lech in front of you and when there isn’t.”    

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Now that I edge closer towards my 30s, I finally have an answer. I have often struggled with my masculinity. I am not very athletic or handy. The opposite of a conventional “manly” man, if you will. But somehow SRK made me feel that it is okay not to be one. I have learned far greater lessons from a person I’ve never met than from the people I’ve known for decades, and everyone has been better for it. And isn’t that what an ideal man should be? Someone who makes others feel safe, despite being vulnerable himself? At least I think so.    


Image credits: YRF, Instagram  

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