From DDLJ (1995) to Swades (2004), here are the most iconic Shah Rukh Khan movies/performances.
A recent viral tweet from a fan read, “Bollywood didn’t make him famous. He made Bollywood famous.” That pretty much sums up the influence India’s biggest star wields both on his homeground and overseas. In 2004, he was the third Indian actor to feature on the Time magazine cover. In 2014, Shah Rukh Khan was making more money than Tom Cruise, according to a Forbes report. For fans overseas, his name is synonymous with Hindi cinema. SRK, as he’s fondly known here, is one of the few actors (after Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan) who’s put Bollywood on the global map.
From the small screen charmer (Fauji, Circus) who went on to sign five films in a day (in 1991) to reigning the silver screen for 3 decades and eventually becoming a global icon, Shah Rukh’s journey from the ‘actor’ to the ‘star’ is noteworthy. He didn’t come from a film dynasty or have any connections with the gatekeepers of Bollywood. (Trivia: Did you know his father ran a canteen at the prestigious National School of Drama, which served as his first introduction to the world of movies?)
Growing up, becoming an actor was never on his mind. Sports fascinated him. He played cricket and hockey. He did watch a lot of his films but didn’t think about becoming an actor until he saw Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The rest, as they say, is history!
Very quickly then, here are some of the best and most memorable Shah Rukh Khan films.
1. Swades (2004)
Gowariker started writing Swades at the same time as Lagaan. The latter released first and obviously left the critics and audiences wondering ‘What after Lagaan?’ One of the most defining films of our times, Lagaan had altered the course of modern Indian cinema. Gowariker’s answer was down pat. Nothing better could have followed. It may have taken time for the audience to accept and embrace the film but Swades is inarguably, one of the best Hindi films of our times.
As Mohan Bharghava, Shah Rukh Khan shone in one of the career’s best performances. After a string of hits in the 90s decade, where Shah Rukh wowed us as the ‘romantic hero,’ his subtle, understated style in Swades was a delightful break. A cult classic, the film is treasured not just for its impeccable performances but its subject that struck a chord. Its old-world charm and simple narrative held us right through the end (despite the three and a half hour runtime).
Where to Watch: Netflix
2. Chak de! India (2007)
Chak de! India was another milestone in Shah Rukh Khan’s career. The plot and the film itself would want you to believe he’s been sidestepped and removed from all the real action. But the experienced actor that he is, is able to shine through that situation as well. His headspace and emotional musings have us more hooked than the action in the hockey field. Emotions overwhelm as we are taken on a cathartic ride of sorrow and eventual triumph.
In a Shahrukh Khan show all the way, director Shimit Amin made sure the girls have their own space to shine. Even bit players like Krishnaji (Vibha Chibber) and Sukhlal (Javed Khan) became memorable characters. Amin delivers a progressive storyline with a technical finesse, making it one of the best Shah Rukh Khan movies ever.
Watch Chak De on Amazon Prime
3. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994)
Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa is not the story of a ‘hero.’ Sunil, far more close to real-life and relatable, undoes the definition of a Hindi film ‘hero,’ one scene at a time. He’s one of us. This is probably what didn’t sit too well with the audience back then. But that’s exactly what set it apart from its contemporaries and makes this Kundan Shah film a modern classic. Shah Rukh endears in a heartwarming, heartbreaking performance in one of his most underrated films.
4. Dil Se.. (1998)
Dil Se was the better one among Mani Ratnam’s unofficial ‘terrorism’ (or political) trilogy. The usual simplification of the sociopolitical backdrop wasn’t so bothersome in Dil Se.
It’s a great love story at heart with career-best performances from both Khan and Manisha Koirala. As Amar, Shah Rukh gives a layered performance, transforming from a carefree youngster to a desperate adult. There’s a scene when Manisha tries to cry but her frozen emotional state doesn’t bring out the tears. Such endearing moments prove why she is one of the best actresses in Indian cinema. Visually, Dil Se is among Ratnam’s top three works. Santosh Sivan’s majestic portrayal of Ladakh will stay forever in our minds.
Shah Rukh Khan’s portrayal is powerful, his desires are fiery and dilemmas morally compelling.
Watch Dil Se on Amazon
5. DDLJ (1995)
When Aditya Chopra directed his first film at 26, little would he have known of the success that was to follow. The film that established Shah Rukh Khan (there’s a poster in Aditya Chopra’s office signed by the actor that reads, ‘Thank you for making me the star that I am today’) was also a turning point for Hindi cinema.
To say that SRK headlined the 90s is an understatement. He redefined Hindi cinema. He redefined romance. He rewrote the rules of the mainstream Indian ‘hero.’
The ultimate rulebook of romance, DDLJ became the longest running film in the history of Indian cinema (surpassing the action classic Sholay). No other Indian film has ever come close to the overwhelming success DDLJ has enjoyed over these years. Aditya Chopra’s debut film gave us memorable screen characters in Raj and Simran, that epitomised love. At 29, Shah Rukh gave us a record-breaking cult film that set benchmarks for romantic dramas to come.
Watch DDLJ on Amazon Prime
6. Fan (2016)
Like any other critical fan, I’ve been disappointed in some of his bad choices in the recent past – Chennai Express, Happy New Year, Dilwale. Fan dusted off those memories. For all its flaws, the film doesn’t take away from what can be called Shah Rukh’s best performance, till date. “There’s a personal me, there’s an actor me and there’s a star me,” Shah Rukh Khan once said in an interview. Fan brings together all of that. First shot onward, where we’re taken through a montage of vintage Shah Rukh Khan, Fan ceases to be a film. It’s a phenomenon. A celebration of a superstar!
Watch Fan on Amazon Prime
7. Hey Ram (2000)
Kamal Haasan’s controversial historical fiction Hey Ram explored a taboo subject in Indian cinema. The violence of the partition. At the time of its release, the visual imagery was too complex for an average Tamil/Indian movie viewer. Today, the film is considered one of our most brave and unique works. Hey Ram tells Saketh Ram’s story, an archaeologist caught in Kolkata’s pre-partition communal violence. The collective madness of the nation deeply traumatizes Ram’s psyche. He chooses a path of fanaticism. And his personal journey takes us closer to the dark, bloody chapters of Indian independence.
Hey Ram featured two of my favorite actors — Shah Rukh Khan and Kamal Hassan. The historical-political drama boasts a fantastic storyline and execution. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Hey Ram is right up there with the classics. Shah Rukh Khan is at his best with a bone-chilling performance that tends to deliver the true meaning of brotherhood and secularism. His struggles against a society — rigid, ruthless and ready to kill those that don’t conform to their ideals are awe-inspiring.
Watch Hey Ram on Amazon Prime
8. Dear Zindagi (2016)
Shah Rukh’s performance in Dear Zindagi is a gentle, nudging reminder why he’s still hailed King Khan. He’s always said in his interviews: it’s easy to do subtle, restrained roles, it’s the roles where I have to entertain that I find more challenging. Jehangir Khan comes across as one of his easier roles. Or maybe it’s just Shah Rukh who makes it look effortless. Nevertheless, as Dr. Khan points out in Dear Zindagi, “It’s okay to choose easy sometimes.”
Where to Watch: Netflix
9. Darr/Baazigar (1993)
After his first hit Deewana (1992), Shah Rukh played dark, negative characters, a risk few actors would undertake at that stage of their careers. In Darr, the pivotal character was an anti-hero and Shah Rukh astutely essays the obsessive, psychopathic stalker. In Baazigar and Anjaam, we saw shades of both the romantic and the vengeful hero. Interestingly, Abbas-Mustan’s Baazigar was turned down by Akshay Kumar, Arbaaz Khan, Anil Kapoor and Salman Khan before Shah Rukh Khan took it up. It was hard to convince ‘heroes’ to play a villain.
Fortunately, for Shah Rukh, the risk paid off. The defining film of his career, Baazigar was not only well received critically but also became the fourth highest grosser of 1993. And with that, he broke stereotypes and confines of the image of a Bollywood ‘hero.’
Watch Darr on Amazon Prime
10. My Name Is Khan (2010)
My Name Is Khan was among his most chilling, heart-rending performances. Shah Rukh plays an autistic character with subdued charm and confidence. The film is one of the most moving portrayals of the plight of those stuck between the hate and suspicion of the masses. The actor embodies the tragic figure with unflinching grace. At no moment in the film does his act feel pretentious, and remarkably brings alive the true melancholy that shrouds the world. How he traverses from one scene to the next is a joy to behold. He immediately endears us to the character and his journey.
11. Devdas (2002)
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bengali novel so far has been adapted for screen over 20 times in seven languages. While Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s adaptation starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai wasn’t close to the immortal classics – P C Barua (1935) or Bimal Roy’s (1956) Devdas, it didn’t disappoint. The soap opera-ish retelling of the tragedy could’ve done away with songs that didn’t aid the narrative, cue Dola Re Dola but the film of sumptuous production values, stands tall on the performances of its leads and supporting actors. Shah Rukh perfectly embodies the tragedy of the character. His performance is powerful and moving at the same time.
There we are then! These are, arguably, the best Shah Rukh Khan movies/performances of all time. Some very obvious, popular choices didn’t make it to the list for their genres/roles being similar to those already on the list. That, in no way, takes away from any of his performances, in his 30-year long career spanning 70 films. Pardes. Yes Boss. Kal Ho Naa Ho. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Dil Toh Pagal Hai. Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Veer Zara. Zero. His every role, every character is memorable. One of the most adorable moments in Aamir Khan’s recently released Lal Singh Chaddha was his brief appearance in the film. Shah Rukh will next be seen in Pathan in 2023 and in a brief role in Brahmastra.
He may have made a few bad choices in the last couple of years but then again who else would’ve risked a role like Zero? The film may not have found favour with the audiences but the actor didn’t fail to impress.
Over to you now! Which are your favourite Shah Rukh films? Let’s talk in the comments below.