As a Shah Rukh Khan fan who can’t watch ‘Jawan’, I’m pissed off


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KARACHI: I am a shameless Shah Rukh Khan fan. Let’s just get that out of the way. My life-long dream is to be noticed by the superstar I’ve idolised since a ridiculously young age. Perhaps even become his best friend, potentially replacing the closest people in his life. Am I aiming too high? Not really. Aiming too high would be to aspire to be King Khan. And that title is already taken.

Now, you can understand the inner turmoil of an SRK fan when they watch the superstar release one film after another at a time when those offerings are inaccessible to us as Pakistanis. It’s not only heartbreaking – it’s simply unfair.

Scrolling through Elon Musk’s new playground, now called X (formerly Twitter), I was gathering reactions and reviews for an article on Jawan. The more I scrolled, the heavier my chest felt. Videos of cinemagoers dancing to the music of Jawan with a larger-than-life Shah Rukh on a gigantic screen in the background enveloped my line of sight. I wanted what they had. I wanted to experience the joy of witnessing the impact of Jawan. I wanted to be in a theatre filled with King Khan fans, grooving to absolute bangers as he lived out his action-hero dreams on the silver screen yet again.

But I could not.

I felt a similar way when I had to review Pathaan. One of my key takeaways from when I reviewed the film was that it was meant to be watched on the big screen. I watched SRK’s first offering from 2023, much later than most of the world, on a minuscule laptop screen that did absolutely nothing for the viewing experience, feeling desolate and dejected, fully fathoming that this would be my reality for the near future. Unless, you know, I suddenly struck gold and could afford casual trips to Dubai just to watch his films. That’d be crazy, right? Or would it?

Anyway, I knew exactly when the audience would have burst into applause while watching Pathaan. I anticipated the gasps, the oohs and aahs, and the instances where the audience would have swayed alongside the King. To have to do the same for Jawan and, perhaps, Dunki is a disservice and a heartwrenching reality as a Pakistani fan of the man now globally recognised as the last of the stars.

I couldn’t find a support group to cope with this monumental loss. However, after speaking to some avid SRK fans, I found solace in their answers. When asked about how it felt to see Jawan get rave reviews whilst not getting to watch it, student Ahmed Shafique told The Express Tribune, “It hurts. We have grown up watching these (Bollywood) stars. Jawan and Pathaan are the types of movies which give you a pure cinematic experience plus entertainment.”

Summaiya Kashif, a final-year media student, stated, “I am really sad about not being able to see Jawan. I follow SRK on X and love how he engages with his fans; I was particularly excited when he said it’s a movie about female empowerment. It would have been nice to see him on the big screen for such a role…I do believe I felt the same disappointment for not being able to see Pathaan as well as that was his big comeback, and even though it was an action movie, I know I would have been seated [in the] front row if I had the chance.” Entrepreneur Khawaja Jawad shared similar sentiments, stating, “It saddens me and gives me great FOMO (fear of missing out). I was actually more hyped for Pathaan, and I really wanted to witness his comeback movie.”

When asked about whether or not the ban on Indian films impacted them in any way, this rag-tag team of SRK fans did not hold back. “The last SRK movie I watched in the cinema was FAN, and the last Bollywood movie I watched was Simba. Then, the government banned Indian movies. I didn’t feel like going to the cinema after that. Just watched two or three Hollywood movies, that too on the insistence of friends,” shared Ahmed.

Rahul Gianchandani, a software engineer, said, “Personally, I used to go thrice a month to watch Indian movies in the theatres. However, now I just wait for a good Hollywood movie to screen. Most of my family members and friends rarely go to the cinema as they don’t watch English movies. So it has ruined our cinema-going experience as we can’t watch Indian movies, which we have been watching since childhood.” X user @gardenramsay_ echoed the sentiment. “Growing up a [Bollywood fanatic], I have often frequented the theatre to watch Bollywood movies, both SRK-starrers and otherwise. Since the ban, I’m mostly limited to one theatre visit a year on average.”

These Indian cinema enthusiasts also spoke up on whether they would like the current ban on films from across the border to be lifted. “I do genuinely believe that Indian films should be allowed to screen in Pakistan,” shared Summaiya. “I feel that the politics of the whole situation ruined the Bollywood experience for us and even hindered the chance for our films and actors to be appreciated there with the mutual ban. People here still pirate the movies or have streaming platforms where they watch the movies they want to.” Rahul said, “It’s 2023; banning movies does not work anyway, as everyone watches them online. So it’s better to let cinephiles enjoy movies on the big screen.”

Khawaja highlighted a fair point: “Art transcends borders, cultures, races and politics. However, to be fair, it should go both ways, and Pakistani films should also be allowed to be screened in India.” Ahmed agreed as well, sharing, “It will be beneficial for the Pakistani film industry as well. Many of our stars can get the opportunity to work in India.” @gardenramsay_  stated, “They should premiere Pakistani movies in India. My primary reasoning is that I love Bollywood and SRK, and I want to enjoy these movies how they’re meant to be. Secondly, stopping cultural exchange further diminishes any possibility of making relations better.”

It goes without saying that all of this comes with political baggage and necessary nuance in terms of who gets the better or worse end of the deal. Obviously, we should not be making politically motivated choices because some of us are SRK fans. That’s why I’m a journalist and not a politician or lawmaker. However, perhaps it is finally time to step back and evaluate whether a mutual lift on the ongoing ban is the need of the hour, especially as our stars and art become increasingly global. And if, say, someone like myself gets to watch Dunki in cinemas, we’ll just chalk that up to being a minor side win.

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