There is a certain immaculate grace in the manner in which Shah Rukh Khan treats women. Be it a journalist or reporter that comes across as pesky or pushy, or a mature conversationalist from the media interviewing him, King Khan always treats women politely and gently. So when he states that he doesn’t judge anyone based on his or her looks, calling it an honest statement, his comment rings true. Despite the fact that he is probably the most hyper-marketed movie star in India now or ever, Shah Rukh Khan, erudite and quick on retorts, still comes across as someone who is not afraid to speak his mind.
Which is why, his statement made during an interview with the Times of India at the Kolkata Film Festival felt a bit strange. When asked about his criticized choice to endorse fairness products, Shah Rukh said that he doesn’t judge anyone based on their looks or other superficial factors. He went on to state that his daughter is dusky, but to him, she is the most beautiful girl in the world. While it is indeed unavoidable that anything he would have stated on this matter would make for a headline, and get his reactions from people online, Shah Rukh Khan has navigated through this tricky matter- that of physical appearance- smartly and honestly.
One needs to view the superstar’s track record over time to understand his fair and equitable treatment towards women. SRK was the first Indian bonafide star that decided to put the leading lady’s name ahead of his own in all his productions. While this move seems merely symbolic in the era of #MeToo, his decision- made during the making of Chennai Express- was smart and a success with female audiences. It is also a progressive move.
The author recalls her various interactions with Shah Rukh Khan as an interviewer over time to conclude that despite his reservations about a person, he lets his gentlemanly public self take over in all his interactions with women. For an actor that I have respected for intelligence and uncanny ability to stay on top of his game despite certain artistic shortcomings, I have always found speaking to him a delight. Never once does that sharp intellect slip up — be it while discussing old films and costumes, or important home productions that have money riding on them. He also has the knack of avoiding uncomfortable personal questions, sidestepping the awkward moments with wit and humor. I believe he never quite liked my hands off approach to conducting an interview with him, given that more often that not, journalists tend to be blinded by his charm. Yet his penchant for respecting an equal professional always comes through in his responses, leaving little room to complain or draw incorrect inferences from.
Shah Rukh Khan’s respect for women also comes across as real and heartfelt. Few know that his elder sister Lala Rukh, who suffers from an illness, was an early inspiration in his life. At a time when his mother was struggling financially, and he was doing his best to perform well at college, his sister was a source of support and encouragement. He collaborated with co-star of many films, Juhi Chawla ,to form Red Chilies Entertainment, their production banner early on. He treated her as an equal while floating a business, as he continues to do while running their IPL team, KKR. His ability to collaborate with women is evident in his successful outings as producer and star with filmmaker Farah Khan and more recently, Gauri Shinde. Additionally, few know that Shah Rukh Khan depends heavily on his erstwhile manager and now senior executive in his production company, Karuna and a coterie of super efficient female staff for the running of his company and life. As he stated while launching a book once, “My life has been completely shaped by women, starting from my grandmother to my daughter now and in between my wife, aunts, didis in colonies, my leading ladies and women directors that I worked with. They helped me achieve 100 percent of what I am today. I wouldn’t be half a man without them.”
In his case, he actually means it. His gratitude towards his mother and the pain that he felt with her untimely death has been a crucial corner stone of his life. It does boggle the mind, that he let his young daughter pose for a Vogue cover before she had actually achieved anything on her own. For a man as refined and intelligent, this can only be put down to indulgence and affection. Logic doesn’t’ make the cut here. As for his decision to call his daughter dusky in print, he wasn’t making a subconscious discriminatory remark here. If anything, his honesty will stand out here. Apart from endorsing a fairness product, there are a lot of random products that he has endorsed over the years to pull in the moolah. But his decision to call Suhana dusky and his definition of beauty reflects pure, unconditional love of a father who will let his daughter fly and choose her destiny. That’s as future forward as it gets.