What Comes After Zero, Mr Khan?


What Comes After Zero, Mr Khan?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“He says that it is good luck to rub the head of a dwarf,” said Haldon.

“Tell him that it is even better luck to suck on a dwarf’s cock,” said Tyrion.

George RR Martin, Game Of Thrones

I tried really hard not to think of these lines as I watched the trailer of Zero. For those who haven’t watched this coming together of one and a half Khans, here’s a primer: SRK,is meant to play a vertically challenged man… but ends up playing himself in an updated version of Jab Tak Hai Jaan. His co-actor is the Red Chillies VFX that dominates almost every frame of the trailer, accompanied by Anushka Sharma overacting in a role that has Stephen Hawking written all over it and Katrina Kaif not acting at all. 

Just a few months back, we’d also been bestowed with that teaser that started off with Shah Rukh, who is trying really hard to look midget-y, finding himself face-to-face with a hooting, cheering, clapping audience that he immediately assumes is for him. (Remember, this is a man who made a movie about being his own fan, obviously called Fan.)

Turns out the claps and cheers are for the only other Khan to answer Rakhee’s call to action in Karan Arjun. Salman Khan pops out from behind half-SRK and says, “Suna hai jiske peeche lag jaate ho, uski life bana dete ho?” alluding to the fabled luck dwarves can bring. The Little Khan is so thrilled to hear this that he jumps into Salman’s lap quicker than an Eastern European actress hoping to make it big in Bollywood.

Over the last decade or so, Bollywood seems to have forgotten about them, with TV being the last bastion of those below four feet.

But shitty trailer and teaser aside, the really important question is what exactly is SRK trying to prove still, after spending more than 25 years in the industry? Is it me or is there a pattern to SRK’s choice of characters. I’m a fucking good actor seems to be the gauntlet thrown at us time and again. I’m such a fucking good actor that I will convince you that I’m a creepy dude with a speech impediment, and then I will come back and play lead roles in romcoms with lilac sweaters slung carelessly over my shoulders and you will buy it. Not enough? Ok then I will convince you that not only am I a creep, but now I’m a creep who is deaf and mute in Koyla. Not enough? Ok then, autistic? Not enough? OK then a straight-up schizo super fan? The challenges to himself and us never seem to stop.

And now here we are, with SRK standing a foot or so below us, playing a dwarf. As he looks up at us with big innocent eyes popping out of a face that has been wiped clean of age lines in post-production, he is telling us, “I’m so fucking good (and so fucking big) and yet I can play a pint-sized man, and you will believe me.”

The dwarf is an interesting challenge for SRK to take up. In the world of cinema, dwarves have mostly served as tiny-fisted punchlines to much larger jokes. They’re the succour of hacky comedy writers everywhere who decide to include a dwarf at times, just for giggles. Other times, they are side characters with mundane lines who use physical humour often accompanied by a “boing” sound or some such. That’s it. Over the last decade or so, Bollywood seems to have forgotten about them, with TV being the last bastion of those below four feet. No movie star has till date played a dwarf with an interior life (Appu, aside), which is what I imagine was the pitch made by the director. And SRK probably thought, yeah I’ve played every normal- sized role imaginable, I guess we’re gonna have to cross over. Which is all very fine as long as we don’t have Bhai wannabes jostling to find a dwarf to carry around on their hip, just like they wear that massive turquoise bracelet to herald their fandom.

What’s next SRK? You’ve pretty much played ’em all from wannabe Iron Man in Ra.One to yourself in Fan. How do you top off this body of work? After Zero, maybe your next movie could be called Minus One?

Or since you are all about brotherhood these days, probably play the blackbuck Sallu “fed biscuits” too. The film could be called Blackbuck Down. And finally as the pièce de résistance of your acting career, how about playing yourself yet again in your biopic. If Sanju gets one, you would want one too, right? It could be called Khan’t Get Enough of Myself.  

From Zero, you can’t go any lower, can you? Well don’t lose heart. “Badein badein deshon mein aisi chhoti chhoti batein hoti rehte hain.”