For days I've been thinking about what I want to say about the man - the legend [that's a joke from my trip this summer, by the way, which you can read about here if you're curious] - on this, his forty-first birthday, and I still don't have it figured out. What do you say about someone that you adore even though the more artistically discriminating part of your brain raises an eyebrow in reproof and says "Really? That guy? The one pretending to rap to 'Pretty Woman'?" I even put him on my list of top five embarassing crushes last year. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was my first SRK movie and I very clearly remember thinking that Anjali must be out of her mind and then being a little relieved when Salman's Aman first came on the screen, as he was actually comprehensibly attractive, whereas that guy with the weird nose was so obnoxious and cheesey. I mean, I actually said to myself, "Ah, that's better" after Salman hit the dance floor. But after a few more - Chalte Chalte, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Devdas, and Mohabbatein - it was all over. I wish I could remember how it happened, or when, but somewhere in there I got it, like the light had been switched on. And by the time I got to Saathiya a few films later, I was ecstatic when SRK appeared in a not dissimilar winking, in-joke entrance.
After having seen twenty-five of his movies, I still can't explain it. I made an "introduction to Bollywood" handout for my Fulbright peers this summer, and about SRK I could only offer "to know him is to love him" as an evocative description. (And sure enough, one of my colleagues on the trip did fall for him, hard, and would gasp in delight if I pointed out one of his many, many billboards from the bus window; when I bought her a copy of Filmfare with him on the cover, she hugged me.) I'm a little ashamed to admit that some of his appeal to me might be his otherness - and I don't at all mean nationality. I mean that I have never encountered anyone, fictional or famous or known to me face-to-face, who could dance like that and cry like that and flirt like that and was so compelling to engage with. These things aren't necessarily inherently good, and lord knows he does not always use his talents to what I would consider to be their fullest or most appropriate potential. There are also the little things: he seems to enjoy himself, he seems to have a sense of how ridiculous some aspects of his on-screen work are, his arm-flings and nonverbals are so communicative.
But what it boils down to is this: no matter what he's doing, I want to watch it because I know I will have a good time. Even if it's little more than caricature, even if I've seen him do it before, the man can entertain like no one I've ever encountered.
And just when I think he's essentially an extremely talented one- or two-trick pony, here comes Swades and I'm sobbing, again, because of the heart he thrusts out on to the screen - and then within the same film, the man I usually expect to be the class clown has somehow, by just taking a few steps,
given me the mind-blowing revelation that the most meaningful relationships are the ones we choose because our hearts want to, because we are willing to try, because we want them and will work for them and treat them with such care and flexibility and laughter, and it's one year and sixty films later and I can't and wouldn't re-cast that role. (Thanks for the picture, Maja.) I liked him before Swades, but after that...woah. I would write a birthday salute to him based on that and Main Hoon Na alone; fortuantely, I don't have to. Long live the king.