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Shah Rukh Khan has never allowed his politics to be silenced on screen; Jawan and Pathaan are the start of a new era | Bollywood News


Assuming Dunki ends up being what most people think it’ll be about – a man helping stranded Indians return to their home country – it’ll mark the third Shah Rukh Khan film of the year to tackle the theme of patriotism, after the one-two punch of Pathaan and Jawan. Released in quick succession, these movies presented an angrier Shah Rukh, for a post-pandemic (and post Aryan’s arrest) world. But while both Pathaan and Jawan featured the superstar in especially (but not unusually) angsty roles, they were able to comfortably fit into a filmography that has never been as passively apolitical as many have been led to believe.

In Pathaan, Shah Rukh played a secret agent who points out the flaws in India’s militaristic approach to conflicts, romances a Pakistani agent, and tells a disgraced Army officer to ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ In Jawan, Shah Rukh broke the fourth wall and in a quivering voice demanded that Indian citizens behave more responsibly when it comes to voting governments in power. It’s a massive responsibility, he said, at no point blaming them for the state of the nation.

And despite the fine line that actors of his stature often have to straddle in our country, Shah Rukh hasn’t played it as safe as some of his contemporaries. For starters, before taking on the romantic roles that would come to define him, he played anti-heroes. This year, he returned to his roots.

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The themes that both Pathaan and Jawan touched were tackled by Shah Rukh over two and a half decades ago, in the film Dil Se… directed by Mani Ratnam. The movie dealt with insurgency in Assam, and took a critical stance at the Indian government’s handling of the situation. Dil Se… remains topical to this day, considering what has been unfolding in Manipur this year. Similarly, the 2000 film Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani unpacked the nexus between the government and the TV news media, which sounds like the premise for a movie made in 2023. If Jawan could be considered a companion piece to the Ravish Kumar documentary While We Watched, so can Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

srk Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

In the mid-2000s, Shah Rukh took a softer, inward-gazing look at politics. A person’s ideologies, his movies from this period seemed to suggest, stem from their character and not the chaos around them. During this time, he starred in Swades, Chak De India! and then My Name is Khan. Each of them was produced on a large budget and distributed by big banners. While Swades dealt with many themes, it remains topical for the never-ending debate around the role of NRIs in daily discourse about the country’s affairs. Chak De and My Name is Khan, on the other hand, spotlighted Indian Muslims at a time when society, in real time, is reconsidering how it perceives them. And then there’s Raees, arguably Shah Rukh’s most political movie prior to Jawan – it drew parallels to the 2002 riots in Gujarat, and didn’t make the titular character’s Muslim identity ambiguous – but also one that he was too afraid to describe as a ‘gangster film’ prior to its release.

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Raees Raees released in 2017.

The Raees situation proved two things: first, Shah Rukh can never risk alienating his audience, and two, the resolve that he might sometimes lack in real life, he is able to summon on the screen. Hounded constantly by the left to raise his voice against intolerance, and chastised by the right for not stepping in line, Shah Rukh has always found himself between a rock and a hard place. But if there’s one thing that everyone says about him, it’s this: he takes his cinema seriously. He can be shackled in real life, but on the big screen, he is free. Come to think of it, that signature pose makes complete sense.

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