Why do people love Shah Rukh Khan? 

Why do people love Shah Rukh Khan? 

For the 3.5 billion people, the love for SRK belongs to a realm of willing suspension of disbelief.

"Do I have the number right? 3.5 billion?", asked a curious David Letterman. 

Replied the star who is never shy to brag about his stardom, "I think it was the Time Magazine or Newsweek. One of them mentioned it like that. And they also mentioned that I am the Tom Cruise equivalent of India." 

People are showering heaps of praise on Shah Rukh Khan for his interview with David Letterman in the latter's show, My Next Guest. All the rave reviews and the spurt of admiration came at a time when the actor is probably going through one of the most arduous phases of his career. 

Since today is his birthday, we can sit back and wonder while watching the crowds throng outside 'Mannat' (his house), jostling to get a view of the man coming to the rooftop and blowing kisses: Why do people love him so much? 

Shah Rukh Khan's rise happened at a time when Indian society was going through a paradigm shift and the changing dynamics had a pervading effect on the lifestyle of the common people. His rise coincided with the evolution of a nation. The two biggest superstars of the 90s probably defined the changing society. One was SRK (as he is fondly called), the other was Sachin Tendulkar. They propelled towards stardom at a time when globalisation made us look at the wonders of the West with amazement, when Pepsi was dominating the soft drink market, when blue jeans and changing wardrobes become our styles. When the bewildered were trying to find their identity, in came SRK. 

The young man in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) stopped his bike and looked back. He lowered his sunglasses and winked. An entire nation went berserk. 

SRK personified almost every youth's imagination: Charming, witty, and smiling. In DDLJ, he crafted the genre of an NRI romantic hero who would travel across the globe to woo his girl, who would stand at the railway station and beckon his love with dreamy eyes, "Palat" (the Hindi word for "look back"). Then he would change himself into a struggling singer in faraway USA who would come to India and fall in love with a girl (Pardesi), much to the delight of the audience who made a mental note of SRK's every on-screen move, probably to experiment on someone else later. Or they would dance to his tunes in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, basking in the youthful glory of college days, forever chanting, "Pyaar Dosti Hai" ("Love is friendship"). 

SRK became the quintessential romantic hero of Bollywood. A hero unlike the angry young man of Amitabh Bachchan, the rebellious Sunny Deol or the humourous Govinda. He struck a chord with the young generation, who grew up marveling at the leaning posture, with arms spread wide and a dimpled smile. His on-screen persona infused with unending energy had the fans swooning over him. 

And his off-screen wit. A sense of humour that keeps the audience on the edge of the seats with a broad grin on their faces. When David Letterman asked, "Let's talk about your mother's influence early in getting you to see a movie. It involved a lot of bribery on your mother's part," he slyly replied, "Yes. It is like this in a lot of places in India." Never shy of making fun of himself, he will mock his films and even his physical appearance. Moments later, he will proclaim, "I am genuinely a dream come true".

Reasons can be unearthed, analyses can be made. But for the 3.5 billion people, the love for SRK belongs to a realm of willing suspension of disbelief. They laugh, cry, smile with their beloved star and defend every criticism with the fierceness of a gladiator. It's a realm where Raj plays the mandolin and the words, "Rahul. Naam to suna hi hoga," have gained immortality.

As Gaurav said in the film Fan, "Wo sirf star nehi hai, Duniya hai meri" ("He's not just a star, he's my world").

(Disclaimer: The writing is not fictional and is true for 3.5 billion people, more or less. If you find any similarities, it is not at all coincidental)