You may be forgiven if you are an American who has never heard of Shah Rukh Khan. We live in a bubble, and we discover every day how very small,and insulated it is. In late September, 2015, I watched an Indian film (Khabi Khushi Khabie Gham, which has just left Netflix) that opened a door into a world outside that bubble. Another democracy, also troubled with tribal divisions and economic challenges, and also blessed with rich cultural diversity and a history many times longer than our own.
There is one actor who represents Indian cinema today and that is Shah Rukh Khan. Mercurial and multifaceted, he has been the face of India for nearly twenty-five years. The paradox is that as a Muslim, he is also not a "typical" Indian, in the same way that Denzel Washington is not a "typical" American. (And, yes, as a professor of American Studies I know how complicated and contradictory that statement is) In the last year and a half I have learned about India through his films. I have seen all of them.
So here is my ode of thanks to Shah Rukh Khan, whose work has made my life bearable through unbearable times
Thank you for Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, which gave me glimpses into the history of Hindi film.
Thank you for Ra.One, that showed that western mythology isn't the only basis for storytelling.
Thank you for Chak De! India and Swades, that showed us that national pride can be constructive.
Thank you for Devdas and Fan; world-class acting that transcends national boundaries.
Thank you for Yes, Boss and Om Shanti Om, when all the soul needs is a smile and a happy ending.
Thank you for Raees and Ram Jaane, because sometimes sad endings are inevitable.
Thank you for never, ever "phoning it in", no matter how stupid the plot or how inane the dialogue. Your energy is an inspiration.
Thank you, most of all for "My name is Khan", for so many reasons. A film for our time. Our sad, terrible times.