In an essay in The Atlantic, Megan Garber elaborates on the history of the word stars used to describe film actors. She writes that the first reference to a star of the stage came in 1751, when a theater announced, “You may Shine the brightest Theatric Star, that ever enliven’d of charm’d an Audience.” Around the same time, in 1761, the book Historical Theatres of London & Dublin noted of an actor named Garrick as “That Luminary soon after became a Star of the first Magnitude.” By the 1800s, it was common to refer to actors as stars primarily for marketing. British actors were often promoted as stars for their tours in the US to ensure that large audiences would come to watch their performances. In Indian cinema, too, it is now quite common to address film actors as film stars. However, there is the term superstar, which is reserved for a limited set of people. Every generation has had its superstars who have charmed the audience. These superstars might not necessarily be the best performers or good humans, but they have the charisma that helps them connect with the audience. One of the superstars for the nineties generation is Shah Rukh Khan. I was re-watching various parts of his filmography, and it struck me that many of his films talk about the stars and the moon in different contexts and meanings. It is quite fitting that a superstar’s body of work comprises these shining celestial objects. So, on his birthday, I document some of those instances.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai gave one of the most popular and memorable scenes of Shah Rukh with the shooting stars. Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) explains to his college best friend Anjali (Kajol) that if one makes a wish while watching a shooting star, that wish is fulfilled. Later, Rahul falls in love with Tina (Rani Mukerji) and marries her, while Anjali, who is secretly in love with Rahul, moves away from his life. Years later, Rahul and Anjali meet again in a summer camp, and a shooting star passes, reminding them of their days in college. The falling star makes an appearance again in the film’s final moments when Anjali is getting married to Aman (Salman Khan). She looks hopefully at the sky. As it so happens, a shooting star passes by in the sky in the next moment. And, Rahul enters her room at that very moment, looking for his daughter Anjali. Eventually, the shooting star fulfilled Anjali’s wish to get married to the love of her life Rahul, even if she had to wait almost a decade.
The aforementioned scene with a similar theme was also shown in one of the earliest films of Shah Rukh Khan. In Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, the hopeless romantic Sunil (Shah Rukh Khan) is in love with Anna (Suchitra Krishanmoorthi), who is the only subject he is interested in life. Early on, Sunil rides his bike to the station to pick up Ann as she arrives by train. He sings Deewana Dil Deewana, where he talks about his long wait to see her. In one of the most beautiful lines of the song, he mentions shooting stars. He says when he saw a falling star, he only wished for her from God. If all the stars in the world fall off, even then, he will pray for the same wish from God. In his words, “Toota sitara toh, maaga tha raab se tujh ko hi jaane wafa, jo toot jaye taare taman mangu wohi ek dua.” Fate, however, had other plans. Anna chooses to marry Chris (Deepak Tijori), leaving Sunil heartbroken. In the film’s final moments, Sunil runs into a girl (Juhi Chawla), where they again see a falling star. He tells her that shooting stars are pretty standard in their area. The film ends when he tells her the legend of wishes associated with falling stars, and they walk into oblivion.
Shah Rukh Khan gives us a message of national integration using stars and constellations in Swades. Mohan Bhargava (Shah Rukh Khan) propagates to the villagers that all countrymen are like the stars. If they can come together, despite their differences, they can become a shining constellation in the sky. In the fantastic Yeh Tara Woh Tara, he talks about the stars and further adds that there would be no rainbow if there were no different colors. He also shows them the constellation of the Big Dipper, which looks like a farmer’s hal, which means not only a farmer’s plow but also a solution.
Tumne dekhi hai dhanak to,
bolo rang kitne hain,
saat rang kahne ko,
phir bhi sang kitne hain
samjho sabse pahle to,
rang hote akele to
indradhanush banta hi nahin.
If you have seen the rainbow,
tell me how many colors are there in it?
as such they are seven,
but how closely attached they are.
had they been alone,
there would be no rainbow.
The most fascinating use of the stars in a Shah Rukh Khan film is the one in Zero. Shah Rukh plays Bauua Singh, an egoistic dwarf who can move the stars with his hands. He elopes on his wedding day, leaving behind his scientist bride Aafia (Anushka Sharma), at the altar. He moves to Bombay, working for an actress Babita Kumari (Katrina Kaif). At a party, Bauua tries to show the magic of making the stars move with his hands. However, he could not move them even one bit. Maybe it was the horrible way he treated Aafia that led to him losing his magic. It is only towards the end when he meets Aafia again and tries to apologize for the horrible behavior that he regains the ability to move the stars. The said scene at the party also provides a meta-commentary on the career of Shah Rukh Khan. Many of the actresses who have worked with him in his films make an appearance with him in this scene. There is Karisma Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Kajol, Rani Mukerji, Sridevi, Alia Bhatt, and Deepika Padukone. He talks about shooting stars and showing his magic to the ‘ladies’.
The moon, too, has also appeared a lot in Shah Rukh Khan’s filmography. One such film is Dilwale Dulahniya Le Jayenge whereRaj (Shah Rukh Khan) meets Simran (Kajol) on a trip to Europe. After he returns from the trip, he realizes that he has fallen in love with her. At one stage, he is sitting by himself and trying to see Simran’s face in the moon. His father (Anupam Kher) observes him and asks about the face that he is searching for. After learning about Simran, he exhorts Raj to fight for his love. “Hum unme se hai jo chand ko dekhte nahi, chand ko utha kar ghar par le aate hain,” he tells his son. Later in the film, there is the festival of Karva Chauth, where Simran keeps a fast for Raj. She could only eat food when the moon came out. At one point, Raj tells her that the moon has appeared and points to the mirror that has Simran’s image. It is a charming moment that leaves Simran blushing. Raj was trying to see her face in the moon earlier; now, she is the moon.
The Karva Chauth and the moon was seen in another Shah Rukh film, Yes Boss. Shah Rukh played the struggler and hustler Rahul, who, at one point, philosophically talks about the beauty of the moon. He remarks to his pretend-wife Seema (Juhi Chawla), “Kitni ajeeb baat hai. Humse meelon door rehne wale chand ki pooja toh hum kar lete hain. Lekin jo paas hai, kareeb hai, usko pehchante tak nahi.” We worship the moon, which is miles away from us. But the one that’s so close, so near, isn’t even recognized. The moon keeps appearing at a few other points in Yes Boss. Early in the film, Rahul sang about his larger-than-life dreams where he says that he wants to break off the stars and the moon. Chand taare tod layun. During the song’s picturization, Rahul drives past a house that would later become Shah Rukh’s real-life home Mannat. Later in the film, he meets another struggler Seema where they both talk about dreams. He jokes that if one makes a wish on a full-moon night, it always comes true. At another stage in the film, a philosophical Seema questions him about the moon. “Yeh chand hamara kya lagta hai, hamare liye saari raat kyun jaagta hai?” With these questions, she segues to ask Rahul why he cares for her when they don’t have any formal relationship.
The moon as a symbol of aspiration was also mentioned in Om Shanti Om, another story of the strugglers in the film world. Om Prakash Makhija (Shah Rukh Khan) goes to the premiere show of Dreamy Girl, starring his dream girl Shanti Priya (Deepika Padukone). He not only meets her but also touches her. After a drunken night with his friend, he comes home to his mother and shows her the moon. He tells her, “Tu hamesha kehti hai yeh jo chand hai, chand nahi khwaab hai, jo tune mere liye dekha hai. Aaj main uss khwaab ko choo kar aa raha hun.” Like you always say that the moon in the sky, it’s a dream you have seen for me. Tonight I’ve touched that dream with these very hands. It was like his dream came true.
In Dil To Pagal Hai, the moon is bizarrely associated with Valentine’s Day. A dancer Pooja (Madhuri Dixit), reveals to her friend that the day that celebrates love is occurring on the full-moon night after many years. She thinks that those who believe in soulmates will find their special person on that particular day. Her potential suitor is a playwright Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), who is agnostic about the concept of soulmates. At a Valentine’s Day party, he is asked to sing. He pauses briefly. Moments later, the moonlight shines brightly on him as if the moon is trying to communicate something to him. Pooja, who is in her room, also sees the moonlight and gets the moon’s message. “Chand ne kuch kaha,” they both sing together. The moon asks them to fall in love. And, they did. The moon even conspired to make them speak with each other before it departed.
In Devdas, Shah Rukh compares the beauty of his lover to the moon. When Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) meets Paro (Aishwarya Rai) after years, she does not show her face and tells him she is like the moon. Dev tells her that even the moon is not as vain about its beauty as she is. She replies to him that it is because the moon has scars, and she is flawless. In a spectacular scene later, Dev is stunned to see Paro’s face juxtaposed with the full moon, leaving no doubt that Paro is as celestial as the moon. He takes some soot from the burning diya next to her and puts it on her lips, giving her a nazar ka teeka. The song Woh Chand Jaisi Ladki is based on these scenes, where the lover is comparing his beloved to the moon and is waiting for one glimpse of hers to give succor to his torturous soul Dev’s other worshipper, Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit), is also related to the moon as she is named after the moon itself. In Main Hoon Na as well, Shah Rukh’s lover is named after the moon. Major Ram (Shah Rukh Khan) hears violins and saxophones whenever he sees Chandni (Sushmita Sen). The first time he sees her, he cannot stop himself and starts singing Chand Mera Dil from Hum Kisise Kum Naheen.
There is the intriguing Fan where Shah Rukh Khan played the role of an actor named Aryan and a fan of the actor named Gaurav at the same time. In the film’s poster, there is the face of a young Gaurav (Shah Rukh Khan), shining in a light similar to that of the sun (or fire, or something warm). Next to him lies the face of Aryan, shining in the light similar to that of the moon (or water or something cold). Gaurav Chandna has the name ‘Chand,’ which means the moon. Aryan Khanna has ‘Aryan,’ which means someone related to the sun. Aryan is the superstar, and the sun is also called the largest star (superstar). The moon has no light of its own, but its light is a reflection of the light of the sun. The moon is dependent on the sun for its light. Likewise, we see this dependent relation in the film’s poster where Gaurav is like the sun, while Aryan is like the moon, quite the opposite of the words in their names. In another poster, the light color on the two of them is reversed, matching their names (Aryan in the sun and Gaurav in the moon), signifying the interdependent relationship. A fan needs a superstar, but a superstar also needs a fan. Main hun to tu hai. The film later shows us that the individual entities cannot survive without the two. This is also seen at many other points in the film. When Gaurav is in prison, a constant shift between the moonlight and the sunlight falls on his face. In another brilliant touch, when Gaurav falls to his death, there is a set of lights that fall with him, and the color of those lights is again yellow and blue, like the sun and the moon. There are no other lights that fall with Gaurav. Midway through his fall, the lights went off, perhaps, as a reminder of the life lost. A superstar lost a fan, and a fan lost a superstar. Both Aryan and Gaurav lost.
There have been many other films of Shah Rukh Khan where the moon and stars are mentioned but primarily in the lyrics. It is not surprising as these celestial objects are familiar tropes lyricists use in their poetry. In Kyon Hawa from Veer Zaara, Veer (Shah Rukh Khan) wonders as to why the moonlight appears during that day as he sings, “Chandni din me kyun chaa rahi hai.” In Tumhi Dekho Na from Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) and Maya (Rani Mukerji) bring up something similar again when they sing, “Ke din me hui kaise chandni.” Love makes them see the moonlight in the day. In the dream song Suraj Hua Maddham from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) and Anjali (Kajol) sing about the feeling of first love where the moon rises in the sky and the sun sets, “Suraj hua maddham, chand jalne laga, aasmaan yeh haaye, kyun pighalne laga.” When the song ends, Anjali comes out of her reverie and she realizes the differences in the social standing between her and Rahul. She reverses the lyrics of the songs and says to herself, “Jalta rahe suraj, chand rahe madham, yeh khwaab hai mushkil, na mil sakenge hum.” Let the sun continue to burn, let the moon stay dimmed, this dream is difficult, so we won’t be united. It is very beautifully done.
Shah Rukh has been going through a lean phase in his career as many of his recent films have not had huge success. He is trying different things with different directors, but somehow, he has not found his zone. Just as Amitabh Bachchan took some time to find his niche, I hope Shah Rukh Khan finds his as well soon and starts shining again. Because as Megan Garber also wrote splendidly in her essay, “At their heights, those people inspire the rest of us. They shine, larger than life, above us, and around us. They suggest, in their insistent omnipresence, a certain order to the world. To see the stars—or, more specifically, to believe in them, taxonomically—is to endorse a notion that the people before us on our screens, far from us and yet so close, exist, as the author Jeanine Basinger puts it, “on some plane between ours and that of the gods.”
[Read more of the author’s work on his blog here]