If one is searching for a star from India who is beloved and holds massive popularity not just within the nation but also on the global scale, it is none other than Shah Rukh Khan, also known as SRK. He can be termed the poster boy of the soft power of Cinema, especially after the 1991 economic reforms that made India a globalized economy. Furthermore, it remains quite a rare feat for a performer who makes a quick rise to stardom manages to hold his or her base even after a career spanning over 30 years. There are a multitude of films in which he’s acted and showcased various shades, from being a star and the flamboyant romantic hero (a role in which he’s always been highly popular), to those where he sheds his stardom and chooses to be the actor Shah Rukh Khan. So, it can be a massive task to choose a mere ten performances from the plethora of films he’s been in.
Interestingly, Shah Rukh has also managed to work with some of the finest and renowned directors, both in terms of mainstream appeal and critical acclaim in Indian Cinema. This is seen in collaborations starting with popular mainstream filmmakers to even legends such as Yash Chopra and contemporary directors like Rohit Shetty, Karan Johan, and Ashutosh Gowariker, along with some other great filmmakers from the Indian new wave and the so-called parallel cinema such as Ketan Mehta, Mani Kaul, Kundan Shah, etc. Furthermore, this list will be based on the merit of the acting performances rather than the iconic nature of the respective roles played in the films. So, here is a list of the top 10 Shah Rukh Khan performances (ranked):
10. Don (2006)
“Don” (2006) can be called more of an adaptation rather than a remake of the beloved 1978 film of the same name. It in itself becomes a huge task to fit into the shoes of the already popular character, one that’s been played by one of the most popular stars and reputable actors, Amitabh Bachchan, during his prime years. Shah Rukh Khan did not disappoint in his take on the dual role of Don and Vijay and gave a very distinct and stylized flavor to the previously rooted and grounded character. “Don” (2006) remains a very slick and impressive film in the mainstream action sphere, with a highly over-the-top portrayal from Shah Rukh that perfectly matches the tonality of the film that also has its fair share of surprises.
9. Dear Zindagi (2016)
This film features Shah Rukh Khan in a supporting role in his portrayal of a psychologist named Dr. Jehangir Khan. He brings a sense of warmth through his presence that perfectly acts like a healing touch of care and is one of his most soothing performances. Although “Dear Zindagi” (2016) falters in some aspects, it is majorly the performances that manage to elevate the film, especially through the brilliant chemistry between Alia Bhatt, who plays the lead, and Shah Rukh Khan. This film, although it does not have its major focus on SRK, remains one of his best as far as his recent films post-2010 are concerned.
8. Darr (1993)
The back-to-back success of “Darr” (1993), made by one of the biggest mainstream filmmakers in India, Yash Chopra, along with “Baazigar” (1993), helped in cementing the emergence of Shah Rukh Khan. Here, with a highly psychotic and obsessed lover named Rahul Mehra, Shah Rukh Khan perfectly emerged as one of the most terrifying yet impressive showcases of acting in the sphere of mainstream films, that too as an unsympathetic yet oddly compelling character. Even though he plays the supporting role, Shah Rukh completely overshadows Sunny Deol, who was one of the most popular stars during that period and also the “hero” of the film, with a show-stealing performance and made it one of his most memorable and path-breaking roles.
7. Baazigar (1993)
This film is a typical Abbas-Mastan film that has its pulpy feel along with some really fun twists, and acts perfectly in the domain of mainstream Hindi cinema with its masala thriller elements. Here, Shah Rukh Khan seems to dwell on the melodramatic style of acting, but the conviction remains spot on. He plays the role of Ajay Sharma, a youth who takes the alias of Vicky Malhotra, wanting to avenge his father’s death brought about by the main antagonist, Madan Chopra (played by Dalip Tahil). The film marks another anti-hero role of the actor as he carries out quite a murderous and violent venture through a morally dubious role. Every emotion, from jealousy, wrath, and the burden of trauma, is perfectly brought to the screen by Shah Rukh Khan in one of his breakthrough performances from his early acting years.
6. My Name Is Khan (2010)
During a climate where western Islamophobia was quite at its peak after the 9/11 attacks, Shah Rukh Khan, in collaboration with Karan Johar, set out to send a hard-hitting message of the portrayal of the religion and talked about humanity through his character of Rizwan Khan who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Shah Rukh takes a very different approach to this character and perfectly etches out some emotionally hard-hitting moments and scenarios, that too, without the use of his typical mannerisms, and remains kind of reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond in Rain Man (1989). Furthermore, it is the innocence through which Rizwan was displayed that made it something unique among the massive filmography of the actor. There remained some greatly acted scenes, such as during the song sequence of “Noor-e-Khuda” and especially during the confrontational scene with the people who use Islam as a tool of terror and destruction.
5. Dil Se (1998)
“Dil Se” (1998) marks the collaboration of Shah Rukh Khan with one of the best Indian filmmakers of all time, Mani Ratnam. This is where the actor is kind of in his most prominent zone, playing the role of a romantic hero, which was a mainstay of the nineties, but the major twist takes place with shifting focus into a very politically charged and anger-filled film. SRK plays the role of Amarkant Verma, who falls in love with a woman who is, politically speaking, from the opposite strata and whose character motivations reflect the legacy of the militancy in the northeast, sparked by the state’s misuse of various tools, such as the army, who were responsible for major human rights violations. Shah Rukh perfectly captures the essence and physicality of the character while maintaining a unique innocence, while at the same time carrying out the perfect portrayal reflecting upon the seven stages of love.
4. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994)
This role remains quite reminiscent of the iconic nineties romantic hero roles played by Shah Rukh Khan in films like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1996) and fall on this typical rom-com flavor unlike that of something serious like “Dil Se..” (1998). Here, the character of Samir portrayed by SRK is his best and most underrated romantic role, which sometimes seems to get overshadowed by the persona from other films, especially by the towering Rahul and Raj characters. The actor, in this interesting Kundan Shah directorial displayed the perfect sweetness and a kind of cheerful presence that makes the film one that will make one smile, it’s like a happy joyride with minor bumps here and there, and he comes across a highly lovable character that is almost difficult to hate. At the same time, it manages to be a fresh take on the boy-gets-girl trope quite prominent at the time.
3. Swades (2004)
Now that we are living in times where patriotism is being confused with blind nationalism and jingoism, this film is more relevant than ever. It is also due to the almost near-perfect performance by the actor Shah Rukh Khan as the NASA employed NRI returned to an Indian village character of Mohan Bhargav. Through this character, the film showcases what it really means to love one’s own nation and focuses on the various problems it faces related to the various kinds of discrimination on the basis of caste, gender, etc., without being too preachy. The emotions and the cultural shock that Mohan receives are perfectly etched out by the actor, and some scenes really stand out, especially the entire sequence when Mohan goes to a remote place to collect money from a debt-ridden, poverty-stricken farmer. When a majority of the films promote blind faith and nationalism towards one’s country, this film tries to keep its focus on the patriotic aspect of questioning, accepting, and rectifying the ills of society.
2. Hey Ram (2000)
This Kamal Haasan starrer and directorial is a film of epic proportions, taking an alternate historical perspective in relation to the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. Interestingly, this is not primarily a Hindi language film (although there is a dubbed version); rather, Shah Rukh Khan spoke Tamil, too, with his own voice rather than using a dubbing artist. Furthermore, the film boasts a star-studded ensemble of actors, and Shah Rukh Khan, with a minute screen presence, manages to deliver one of his finest and most poignant performances with his portrayal of the character of Amjad Ali Khan, a friend of the protagonist in the film. His performance adds to the humane nature of the film, which takes a strong stance against religious divides and fundamentalism, especially that of the Hindutva fanatics, and acts as a voice of unity.
1. Chak De! India (2007)
This Shimit Amin directorial can be considered one of the finest sports dramas in the history of Indian Cinema. Along with that, “Chak De! India” (2007) probably contains the finest performance to date displayed by Shah Rukh Khan, further cementing his position not only as a showman but as an actor. The actor perfectly sheds off some really popular factors that built his fandom and brings out a wide array of emotions on the screen, that too, with a very subtle approach through the on-screen character of Kabir Khan. His eyes tend to speak and showcase the various layers of the character and give a brilliant take on living in one’s own country and reflecting upon the bigotry one faces, especially due to their religious and cultural identity. Furthermore, there remain some of the most iconic acted scenes, like the “Sattar Minute” monologue and other impactful ones that tend to showcase the idea of India through its cultural and regional diversities.
As we mark the beginning of 2023 with the comeback of Shah Rukh Khan, that too after a gap of 4 years, this list tries to encapsulate the bests from his performance in the plethora of roles ranging from being the biggest star and also as an actor. This year definitely looks like a blast for him with three films on the go, the most recent marking his debut in the third sphere of Shah Rukh Khan’s acting canvas as he reinvents himself as an action hero, that too at the age of 57 with “Pathaan” (2023). Furthermore, there remains his collaboration with the popular filmmaker Atlee along with the highly acclaimed Rajkumar Hirani, with upcoming releases of “Jawan” (2023) and “Dunki” (2023). It remains quite a difficult task to choose, and hence this list may differ from person to person, with some people preferring one role over another. So, there may have been many iconic roles that may have missed their place on this list, so other than the abovementioned performances, here is a list of Special Mentions: “Maya Memsaab” (1993), “Anjaam” (1994), “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1995), “Veer-Zaara” (2004), “Paheli” (2005), “Don 2” (2011), “Raees” (2017), and “Pathaan” (2023).