CW: mental and physical abuse, stalkers, predators, mental health.
If you open the wardrobes in my childhood home, there you would find posters of my greatest loves. On one door, you see Daniel Johns from Silverchair, shredding a guitar, covered in sweat, open mouthed, glaring into the distance, and alongside him, a topless Gavin Rossdale, oozing sex through the camera lens to my young loins. But if you turned your attention to the other door, you would find one face looking back at you and that was of my first love: Shah Rukh Khan.
I remember the first time I went to see Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, it was at a screening in Chandigarh. After spending the day sitting with my mum and a selection of aunties I've never seen before in random clothing stores, they treated us to the cinema.
Wait, let's rewind.
I first saw Shah Rukh in Maya Memsaab - if you haven't seen it, I implore you to take that plunge into the dark world of sex, infidelity and death. Out of all the films I could have watched at the tender age of 10, I would never have thought it'd be this. The film is mediocre, the songs weird, acting confusing, but the SEX SCENES. I remember wondering if all Bollywood films will be like this from now, because I didn't know if I liked it. Listening out for footsteps from mother as she comes bursting into the room screaming 'HAI, YEH KE BESHARAM HAI HAI HAI' as I fumbled for the remote and scream 'NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING' back at her.
This was my introduction to the power of man's forceful insistence on a woman's sexual vitality. Darr romanticised stalkers and sexual predators, as SRK became the disturbed, frightening yet charming villain we all pined for. We weren't as fearful of him as the film maybe hoped - I found myself wondering if he'd feel better if I just dated him. At the tender age of 10, I was already forming an attachment to 'damaged guys', as I would put it. This would eventually lead to an emotionally abusive relationship.
Dil Se brought back SRK's forceful nature - unable to take no for an answer, always hounding and stalking his love interests. I re-watched the film recently and there was a scene that really resonated with me - SRK wouldn't let go of Manisha Koirala, leading to her suffering from a full fledged panic attack. I felt my anxiety flare up accompanied by very specific flashbacks.
How dare he cause a woman's panic attack and put it down to 'obsessive love'? Now, I'm angry and upset. The realisation that many of these scenes would cause viewers anxieties to multiply dawned on me. But, younger me was either enamoured by his misogyny or panicked over his forceful nature, and either way, he had me hooked.
In Duplicate, (one of my favourite soundtracks, but one of the most ridiculous films I've ever seen), sees SRK play two roles: a villain and mummy's boy. Young eyes make the decision to go for either of them, never suggesting that neither is ideal. On one hand, you get murderous evil and the other, a mother-dependant imbecile.
In both Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil To Pagal Hai, SRK is the enigmatic hero who has two women fighting over him. In typical Shah Rukh style, he completely ignores one and chooses the other, allowing the concept of women's rivalry. He's always spoilt for choice.
'So, men are supposed to choose you after you spend a few months flirting intensely while they bat you away?' My teen years were spent with me trying to be the ideal girl, so a man could 'choose' me. I would think other girls were my competition and my only goal in life was to get a boyfriend.
Shah Rukh Khan had essentially warped my mind so much with an obsession to be loved, that I had years of disappointment and bad choices ahead of me.
Back in Chandigarh, I'm being treated to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. I'm seated at the back, given some chai and faced with a flurry of fairy lights surrounding the screen, full of colour and sound. The film had already started and I was hooked. I immediately told everyone to shut up, my SRK was about to come on screen and I had to be fully immersed, so I can imagine myself in each scene with him.
There were 3 powercuts, but that could never ruin the moment for me. I fell in love with the cheeky, persistent, manipulative, stalker that was laid out in front of me. A few years later I'd meet him in real life and he would ruin 3 years of my life.
He was the Shah Rukh I thought I wanted, but didn't deserve. I eventually learnt who I deserved, who I wanted and indeed, who I didn't need.