Actors · Short Takes

Happy 51st, Shah Rukh Khan


Happy Birthday, Shah Rukh Khan. The king of romance has always been open about his lack of love for romantic movies. Yet here he is, dancing his heart out on the top of a train in Chaiyya Chaiyya. No doubt he owes his blockbuster career to those films. His puppy dog eyes, endless energy and irreverent honesty may be a few other reasons his loyal fans have stuck around for more than two decades.

By the time SRK got to Dil Se in 1998, he had successfully performed varied lover boy roles, starting with his romantic debut in Deewana, the obsessive crazy villain in Darr, Baazigar and Anjaam, loser in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, conventional rebel in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and the creative maverick in Dil To Pagal Hai.

Dil Se released just two months before Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and though not as successful, his performance was critically acclaimed. It was Mani Ratnam’s third in the trilogy of terror films, after Roja and Bombay. I watched both movies multiple times but Dil Se was all heart and special. SRK played an AIR correspondent who falls hard for a mysterious terrorist (Manisha Koirala) with a single-minded passion only he is capable of displaying. The explosive climax was a subject of much controversy. But for his fans, the now-superstar had sealed the deal as an ultimate lover.

Chaiyya Chaiyya was their romantic fantasy served on wheels: SRK dancing amid a mountainous landscape on the top of a train, Malaika Arora’s oomph, A.R. Rahman’s racy music and Gulzar’s sumptuous lyrics.

Jinke sar ko ishq ki chhaon
Paaon ke neeche jannat hogi
Chal chaiyya chaiyya chaiyya chaiyya
Chal chaiyya chaiyya chaiyya chaiyya

In an international poll conducted by BBC in 2002, the song was voted ninth of top 10 songs from 7000 numbers chosen across the world. It also has a Wiki page devoted to it, in case one wished to question its cult status.

Shot on a moving Nilgiri Mountain Railway train, now marked by UNESCO, the challenging picturisation was completed in 4.5 days. As per Wikipedia, the ‘Nilgiri Passenger’ train covers a distance of 26 km (16.2 mi), travels through 208 curves, 16 tunnels, and across 250 bridges. The uphill journey takes around 290 minutes (4.8 hours), and the downhill journey takes 215 minutes (3.6 hours) It has the steepest track in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33%. Yep, all true.

Farah Khan’s evocative choreography and Santosh Sivan’s breathtaking cinematography were, of course, instrumental in its success. As Arora recalls, “Would you believe it? The song was shot exactly as you see it on the screen: No camera tricks, no back projection, no post-production special effects!”

She forgot to mention one effect which made Chaiyya Chaiyya what it is: the SRK effect.

Movie: Dil Se
Song: Chaiyya Chaiyya
Music: A.R. Rahman
Lyrics: Gulzar
Singer: Sukhwinder Singh, Sapna Awasthi
Cinematography: Santosh Sivan
Choreography: Farah Khan

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