A dear friend complained bitterly about the fact that Shah Rukh Khan finally broke his no-lip-contact rule in Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Khan’s busker-turned-bomb defuser Samar plants quite a few kisses on the mouth of Katrina Kaif’s Meera, but since Ms Kaif seemed unmoved by his ministrations, he might as well have been pecking away at an iceberg. Some of us didn’t mind this grown-up Khan, who had been locked away since Maya Memsaab, but the friend pointed out that the superstar’s refusal to get intimate with his co-stars had lent him enigma for years. Now, it appears, he is just like the rest of the regular blokes.
Jab Tak Hai Jaan is never going to be able to live down its title, and not only because it turned out to be the last movie of its director, Yash Chopra, before his demise. Unkind Khan watchers are predicting that the title also applies to the career graph of its 47-year-old leading man, who, they claim, is too old to be playing such roles, It didn’t help that he was paired with said iceberg and an adolescent-looking anorexic. Could the movie title also apply to the end of a kind of romantic movie that Chopra specialized in and took very seriously? Perhaps it is time to declare a moratorium on the idea that true love happens only once and that God plays cupid. Khan does need to go back to playing baddies. He seems to have more fun with the ladies that way.
Khan has built his stardom by focusing his considerable energy on the depiction of ardour. He has gazed into the eyes of so many women now that it’s not surprising that he looks knackered these days. Few movie stars can bring alive a romantic song better than Khan, who seems to put his whole life and soul into the expression of love. With the exception of Hrithik Roshan, most other leading men fall behind in this department. Salman Khan appears petrified of intimacy—he seems embarrassed by the idea of falling in love, and his biceps get in the way of a whole-hearted embrace. Aamir Khan hasn’t played a romantic without a care in the world since Rangeela. Saif Ali Khan always gives the impression that he is going to break into a grin any minute.
The new, younger romantic hero is a wee bit more complicated than his ageing predecessors. He is a lover with a purpose, and is best epitomized by Ranbir Kapoor, who combines old-fashioned ardour with new-fangled anxiety. Ayan Mukherjee’s occasionally soporific Wake Up Sid has Kapoor embark on a journey of self-discovery, while Imtiaz Ali’s failed epic romance Rockstar sees him straining at the leash wrapped around him by the cockamamie screenplay. He fares better in Barfi!, where he falls in love twice. His career is beginning to take off only now, but his screen self is already troubled by the vicissitudes of love. Welcome to the new world.