What could compare to the joy of watching Shah Rukh Khan on the big screen after almost half a decade?

The answer: absolutely nothing.
02 Nov, 2023

It was unreal. Big Movies, a theatre in the heart of Kathmandu, was packed on what ordinarily would be a quiet Thursday night. I was there with some 200 or so other patrons, a gloriously excited crowd, to see one man — Shah Rukh Khan.

The enthusiasm was palpable. No one cared about the popcorn, boba tea or other enticements available. Instead, all of us were queued up at the mouth of the cinema hall, eager to barge inside. Desperate but in unison, we demanded the doors be opened.

It was surreal — how I felt at home amid all these strangers who lived over 1,400 kilometres away from me. And, it would be hours after the movie ended that I would find out that amid those anxious calls outside the theatre, my voice was the loudest. After a painstaking 10 minutes, the doors opened and everyone rushed inside. Thanks to the sneakers I cleverly thought to wear, I was one of the people to rush in.

 The empty snack counter at the cinema
The empty snack counter at the cinema

The next few seconds were spent fighting for my encroached upon seat. When I finally sat down, a strange feeling crept up in my stomach. It finally began to sink in that I would be watching SRK on the big screen after nearly half a decade.

In 2019, the Pakistan’s Cinema Exhibitors Association boycotted Indian content. Like cricket, cinema has also been a victim of political tensions between the neighbouring countries, leaving people like me — who have grown up swooning over SRK’s boyish charm, twinkling eyes and dimpled smile — at the mercy of torrents.

Therefore, when Jawan — played by SRK — appeared on the wide multiplex screen in Kathmandu, I shamelessly joined in on the whistles and screams from my fellow moviegoers. The moment was treasured simultaneously, an exhilarating common experience, which is exactly what a movie house is supposed to deliver.

For all of us sitting in the H row of the cinema hall, watching our dimpled hero on the big screen was special for several reasons. But, the fact that SRK was back in the theatres after a four-year hiatus united us all. We had all missed him, his signature pose, his soft eyes and oh that heart-melting smile!

Over the course of the two-hour-45-minute movie, I would realise that the man before me — who comforted me in Kal Ho Na Ho after my very first heartbreak, who made me fall in love with falling in love in Veer Zara, who taught me determination in Chak De! India — was a changed person.

In place of the romance king was a man with multiple facets. In Jawan, he plays a soldier, a cop, a son, and a father, who is packaged in a muscled body and performs logic-defying stunts. His wit and charisma remains intact, though.

Vikram Rathore — played by Khan — is a patriotic cop who sacrificed his life for his country and soldiers. Rathore’s son — also played by Shah Rukh — is fighting for justice against the corrupt system with a team of five women.

He is talking about indebted farmers, hospitals in dire conditions, and, most importantly, the elections. Just before its climax, Jawan shows Khan in a monologue, breaking the third wall, directly addressing his audience and talking about voting — in a country that is gearing up to head to the polls.

Indian critic Rahul Desai, in an interview with BBC, describes this as: “The difference now is that films like Pathaan and Jawan fictionalise his identity and opinions as a person (celebrity, father, lover, patriot), and his relationship with the country in the current climate.

“This year’s blockbusters have understood and designed Khan’s comeback not just as an actor but as a Muslim superstar in a country governed by a Hindu-majoritarian party,” he added.

In the cinema hall, the crowd welcomed Khan with unparalleled enthusiasm, breaking into applause at every kick, hurling praises at every emotional dialogue, laughing along at every punchline and dancing to every song. It was a party and everyone was invited.

And that is exactly who Shah Rukh Khan is. In a loveless world, he reignites your belief in love, he teaches you to hope despite hopeless circumstances, he teaches you to love and he knows his smile just makes everything better.

I come from a line of women who have loved Shah Rukh Khan for decades. It was Darr for my grandmother, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge for my mother and My Name is Khan for me. So my admiration for King Khan, irrespective of his movies, is perpetual.

But in that cinema in Kathmandu that day, seated next to Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalis, it dawned on me that what made films great was the ambience, the people, the crowd.

I would have never found the courage to scream at the top of my lungs and dance to ‘Chaleya’ if it were not for my Indian colleagues, who, unlike other Pakistanis in the cinema, didn’t feel ashamed of displaying their volcanic excitement. In my long conversations with them before the show started, I felt that all of us came from the same place; one of fantasy, dreams and pure bliss — cinema. A medium far beyond colonial borders and political differences.

Throughout our long history, we have always been polarised, divided and alienated. But what made movies matter is that they reflect this condition in a way nothing else could. The theatre and its communal embrace provides us a liberating anonymity. And, in the end, it didn’t matter whether you liked the movie or not. What mattered is that we’d seen it together.