The public adores him. They stand in droves outside his house everyday and they come in hundreds to visit him on his birthday. He is also the golden boy of the industry; they too visit him in droves every time there is a crisis in his life like his recent surgery and attend his parties with much gusto.
He is Shah Rukh Khan.
He is a man who has every reason to smile and make merry. Why then does he confide more in his computer than in his family and why does he only work within a very small circle?
As he stays at home for two months after his anthroscopy, it is time to introspect.
The list of actors he has estranged grows each time he opens his mouth. From the Bachchans to the three contenders for the throne, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar, they all hate him despite the photo-op displays of camaraderie. Amitabh Bachchan has had a bone to pick with him ever since he followed in Big B's illustrious footsteps and signed Kaun Banega Crorepati. Salman Khan and he had a very public fight reportedly over an old flame of Salman's but that was only the last straw. Despite SRK's visits to the Salman Khan home, there had been animosity brewing between them for a long time.
Aamir Khan of course cannot stand anyone who says anything even marginally negative about him whether it is critics, co-actors or rivals. SRK's digs at Aamir have not gone unnoticed leading Aamir to blog the famous sentence about his dog called Shah Rukh.
With Akshay the open rivalry is relatively new. Till last year they were on the point of announcing a film together, today they barely greet each other civilly when they meet. While SRK's camp pray that every film of Akshay should bite the dust, Akshay's coterie send out SMSes when an SRK film hits the theatres saying that the film is not doing too well, even when the collections are respectable.
One very successful actor was even overheard saying that from now on every time SRK made a crack at his expense, he would respond in kind. Obviously SRK's somewhat wacky sense of humour, which can be funny when directed at himself but hurtful when directed at others, has not gone down well with his rivals. After his stint as compere of last year's Filmfare awards during which he and Saif Ali Khan made fun of everyone and everything, this is even more obvious.
Things are no better with directors. Mani Ratnam, for example, who loves to repeat the actors he is comfortable with has not repeated SRK after Dil Se. Vishal Bharadwaj has been peeved with him ever since SRK offered suggestions on a Vishal script that Vishal was keen on making with him. The 'I know everything' director took offence to it and started criticizing some of SRK's past work. SRK did to take this lying down and returned all this criticism with interest. The Omkara director was shocked and later realised the gravity of the situation and wanted to mend things with SRK. He approached Gulzar to mediate between the two of them. Gulzar tried his best to pacify SRK but SRK declined the offer to work with Vishal anymore.
Mahesh Bhatt though, who last directed him in Duplicate, and has not gone back to him for a film, thinks SRK is more grounded than most. He says, "I only see a wiser and quieter man, somebody who is very clear and sorted. He read out some extracts of his autobiography to me, they were heart-breakingly true. Here is a man whose humanity is still intact. He is one of the few people who has his feet firmly planted on the ground."
On the other hand SRK can be the staunchest and most loyal of friends. His friendship with Juhi Chawla has stood the test of time and even today he is a regular visitor to her house when he is in town. In fact during his one day recent stay at hospital, his food came from the Juhi household.
SRK now works with only a very select group of people which includes Yash and Aditya Chopra (and the films they produce), Farah Khan and Karan Johar. Most of the time he is not even available to listen to a narration by other makers. This definitely limits his choices.
Mushtaq Sheikh, an ex journalist and close friend of ShahRukh who has documented SRK's life in his book Still Reading Khan says, "Why does it become a wrong choice? You don't question the decision of the biggest star that India can ever know. The decision has worked for him. He is a man for whom friends are his world. His comfort zone is important to him. He worships his work, and if you worship your work, you obviously want to do it with the people you are comfortable with; people whom you feel are on your same wavelength with you. That's exactly why SRK is able to pull off film after film for more than a decade now. It doesn't get bigger than Karan and Adi does it? SRK has the best and the biggest. Maybe Bollywood will have to wait if they want to be friends with him or respect his space if they want to work with him."
Brave words these, defensive too but also very revealing. SRK has painted himself into a corner and hurt or annoyed most of the film industry. While he and his friends may like to pretend that this is all very well and so long as the public love him all is fine with his world, the fact is that at 43 he has limited choices. The old adage which says you need to be careful of who you offend while on the way up, because these are the same people you will meet on your way down, will come back to haunt Shah Rukh Khan, once the darling of the industry but today the most detested.