The Fan

Has Shah Rukh Khan copied a Shah Rukh Khan lookalike?

01 May, 2016

[ 1 ]

ON 2 NOVEMBER 2014, Shah Rukh Khan’s forty-ninth birthday, a horde of his fans gathered outside the front gate of Mannat—the film star’s six-storey mansion on the Bandra seafront, in Mumbai. By early afternoon, many had been there for hours, hoping that Khan would make a brief appearance—so they could wave at him, and shout his name, if just for a few minutes.

Raju Rahikwar arrived at half past one. The crowd, stunned by the wait under a strong sun, stirred. Raju wore a shiny brown jacket and matching trousers, a red shirt and black sunglasses, with straight black hair parted down the middle and bangs covering his forehead—all meant to mimic the look of Khan himself. He looked convincing enough that many in the crowd, deprived of the real star, gravitated towards him. Some wanted to get pictures taken, so Raju smiled for their cameras. Some wanted autographs, so he signed their notepads. Some wanted to make small talk, so he chatted with them for a while.

All this time, helped by his entourage—his elder brother, his publicist, and two personal guards—Raju edged through the crowd towards the gate. With him, he brought a large gift-wrapped box, protecting it against the jostling of the mob. Inside it was a chocolate cake, which read: “Happy birthday Shah Rukh sir. From Raju.”

For Raju, this was—and is—an annual ritual. Like every year, he later told me, he had ordered the cake three days ago. Like every year, he had celebrated Khan’s birthday a day early, gathering friends and fellow lookalikes of Bollywood stars. And, like every year—like each of the last 11 years, to be precise—he was at Mannat on 2 November.

Once near the gate, having broken clear of the crowd, the 41-year-old headed forward with slow, confident steps. His plan was to show his gift to the guards at the entrance, and ask to be allowed to deliver it to Khan in person. Raju’s greatest hope was to get the star to give him just a few minutes of his time, so they could be filmed together side by side.

Hundreds of Shah Rukh Khan fans gather outside Mannat on the star’s birthday every year. Raju has joined them on every one of the last 13 years. KUNAL PATIL / HINDUSTAN TIMES / GETTY IMAGES

But just as he approached, one guard pushed him away, hard. “A thousand Shah Rukh Khans like you come here,” the man said.

Before Raju could recover from the shock, his brother was berating the guard. “You work for Shah Rukh Khan,” he said. “You should treat his lookalike with respect.”

“He’s not Shah Rukh Khan himself,” came the reply. “He’s just a duplicate.”

RAJU RAHIKWAR did not get any of Shah Rukh Khan’s time in 2014. Nor did he in 2015, nor this year. Aside for a few fleeting seconds in 2009, Raju has not gotten any of Khan’s time in almost a decade of trying.

All he asks for is “two minutes” with the star. Since 2007, to try and get them, he has pursued Khan at studios, hotels and shooting locations, called him over and over, and sent him over a hundred text messages. He messages Khan on Diwali, on Eid, on New Year’s Day, and on the star’s birthday. He messages Khan with his pictures, with videos of him imitating the star, and with his best wishes before the release of every one of Khan’s films. He has messaged him from Mumbai, from Ajmer, from Durban, and from Balharshah, his small hometown in eastern Maharashtra.

Raju showed me these messages in March, at the office of Time World Entertainment, in the Mumbai suburb of Andheri. The company, which Raju owns, produces events—“film star nights,” “laughter shows,” “ramp shows”—featuring Bollywood lookalikes. It is also branching out into cinema, and is soon to release its first film, Amir Salman Shahrukh, featuring Raju alongside lookalikes of Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. Three large bulletin boards occupied one each of the office’s four walls. One was covered with photographs of Bollywood lookalikes—of Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan, Johnny Lever. Another displayed film posters—for Meri Aashiqui, Amir Salman Shahrukh, Bipasha: The Black Beauty and Bawal. The third was dedicated to pictures of Raju posing as Khan. There was not one picture of Khan himself anywhere.

Raju scrolled through a list of his texts to Khan. I noticed that all the messages—short and long, recent and years old—were aligned to the right; there was not a single reply.

Once, Raju told me, he called Khan from a telephone booth in Dubai, thinking, “Arre, kahin se toh uthayega phone” (He must pick up his phone at some point). Khan didn’t.

But though he never, ever replies, Khan has given Raju more than just disappointment. Even the fact that Raju was in Dubai, he owed to the star. He had been flown there to imitate Khan in a stage show. Raju started mimicking Khan over 20 years ago, and for much of the time since he has made his living as a lookalike. Pretending to be Khan took him from Balharshah to Mumbai, and beyond. In places as small as Bhilai, Warora and Bareilly, and as large as New York, Johannesburg and Tokyo, Raju has stepped up on stage to recite Khan’s lines and dance to songs from Khan’s movies. He has impersonated Khan in film, ads and television shows—including Comedy Nights with Kapil, Boogie Woogie, India’s Got Talent and MTV Fully Faltoo. He’s done well enough to provide for a family, buy three flats in Mumbai, and, in November 2015, establish Time World Entertainment, alone. Today, often presenting himself as “Junior Shah Rukh Khan,” Raju is one of the most renowned lookalikes of the star in the world.

Raju, however, might have an imitator too. Many of Raju’s friends and followers think that Khan, whom Raju has spent half his life copying off screen, is now mimicking the lookalike on it. On 29 February, a friend of Raju’s on Facebook sent him a video link, with the words, “Please watch this trailer, sir.” The trailer was for Khan’s latest project, Fan­—which premiered on 15 April. Raju clicked on the link. What he saw left him stunned.

Fan tells the story of Aryan Khanna, a fictional movie star with many parallels to the real-life Khan, and Gaurav, a lookalike and obsessive fan who goes to desperate lengths to meet his idol. Khan plays both roles: Aryan in his natural guise, and Gaurav with the use of prosthetics and digital special effects that transform him into a young lookalike of himself.

Gaurav sports the same haircut Raju does—a throwback to Khan’s standard look earlier in his career. The trailer shows Aryan’s secretary receiving a text message from Gaurav on the star’s birthday, and features a reference to the lookalike as “Junior Aryan Khanna.” “Aap ki life ke paanch minute bhi nahi mil sakte hain mujhe?” (Can’t I get even five minutes of your life?) Gaurav asks Aryan when they come face-to-face. “Meri life hai, mera time hai. Tumhe paanch second bhi kyun doon?” (It’s my life, it’s my time. Why should I give you even five seconds?) Aryan replies.

Raju’s Facebook friend’s next message read: “Sir, this is your story. Whatever you’ve been struggling for years, Shah Rukh-bhai has put all that in Fan.”

[ 2 ]

IN 1989, Durga Rahikwar was studying at a boarding school in Nagpur. While playing “chor-police”—cops and robbers—at his hostel one day, a friend told him, “Woh Abhimanyu Rai ka character bilkul tere jaisa dikhta hai” (That Abhimanyu Rai character looks exactly like you). Abhimanyu Rai was the character Shah Rukh Khan played in his breakthrough role, in the hit television drama Fauji.

Durga was surprised, but didn’t think much about it. Soon afterwards, when he began performing poorly in exams—his parents had sent him to Nagpur in the hope that he would get a good education—he left Nagpur and went back home, to Balharshah.

In July 1992, Durga and a friend cycled 12 kilometres to a theatre in Chandrapur, to watch a new Hindi film, Deewana. It starred Rishi Kapoor and Divya Bharati, and a young actor making his Bollywood debut. Durga didn’t know his name, but knew him as the guy from Fauji. While leaving the theatre, Durga’s friend noticed a girl point to Durga and say, “Look, Shah Rukh Khan.”

Durga’s friend told him about this, and said, “She’s right. From behind, his hair looks like yours. You look like him from the side. When you stand, it looks like Shah Rukh Khan is standing.”

Chhod na yaar” (Let it go), Durga said. “Woh hero hai. Main kahan.” (He’s a hero. Who am I?)

Deewana released in Balharshah about a month later. Word started to spread about Durga’s resemblance to Khan. His friends wanted him to learn Khan’s lines, but Durga failed to understand why. When someone insisted that he at least learn to dance like Khan, however, Durga considered the suggestion. Within a few weeks, he was dancing to “Aisi Deewangi,” from the Deewana soundtrack, at local weddings and birthday parties.

Raju’s company, Time World Entertainment, specialises in stage shows featuring Bollywood lookalikes, and is now branching out into film too.

Balharshah now had a hero of its own. Strangers started approaching Durga to present him with photos of Khan. Vegetable vendors recognised Durga’s mother in the market: “Namaste, mummy. How can we take money from you? You are Shah Rukh Khan’s mother.” Whenever a new film starring Khan was released, Durga’s friends insisted on watching it with him, and paying for his ticket and snacks. Durga started dancing to Khan’s songs for small crowds at paan shops. He also performed in dance competitions—first in one at the district level, he recalled, where he came second out of 70 dancers, and then in another at state level, held in Nagpur, where he beat 267 other dancers to third place.

Meanwhile, Durga was trying to pass his class-ten exams. Every year, he’d turn up, write a few lines from Khan’s films on his answer sheets, and leave. After he flunked for the third consecutive year, he gave up. By then he was obsessed with Khan, and his ambition was focussed on building a career as a lookalike. Balharshah was too small, too remote a theatre for this dream. Only one city was big enough: Bombay.

But the journey to Bombay—from home to homelessness, from small-town fame to big-town anonymity, over a distance of 900 kilometres across the breadth of Maharashtra—was too great to make in one go. So Durga and a friend left for Nagpur first, to join a troupe of actors and dancers.

Durga’s first performance as Khan in Nagpur earned him Rs 50. After the show, audience members surrounded him backstage to ask for “autographs.” “Woh kya hota hai?” (What does that mean?) Durga whispered to his friend from back home. “Tell them you’re busy and send them to me,” the friend replied. Standing a few feet from Durga, he signed notepads, fragments of paper and anxious palms, with a confident scribble: “Junior Shah Rukh Khan.”

After eight months with the troupe, in early 1995, Durga headed to Bombay. The first few months in the big city were tough. He put up at a hostel in Colaba, sharing two rooms with about 20 other recent arrivals. Durga had to sleep on the floor in a corridor, using his trousers as a pillow. Slowly, he began getting offers to impersonate Khan in stage shows. Within six months, he was earning Rs 450 for every appearance.

After one show, a woman from the audience approached the lookalike and asked his name. “Durga,” he replied.

“Isn’t that a girl’s name?” she asked. “Why don’t you keep a simpler name?”

“Like what?” Durga said. “Shah Rukh Khan is already taken.”

Just at that moment, another audience member greeted him with, “Aur, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, kaisa hai?” (How are you, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman?) Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman was a 1992 hit, starring Khan as an ambitious newcomer to Mumbai.

Durga liked the sound of “Raju.” A few months later, in November 1995, Bombay was renamed Mumbai. By then, Durga Rahikwar had become Raju Rahikwar.

Stage shows kept Raju afloat for the next few years, but now he had a higher goal: impersonating Khan in films. With the help of some contacts, he landed a five-minute role as a Khan lookalike in the B-movie Khooni No. 1.

After that, though, work dried up. For months, he struggled to find gigs. There were no other offers to do films, either. Suddenly, Raju was on the streets, sleeping on the pavement outside Churchgate station, washing autorickshaws and taxis, working as a watchman in a gift store, making chapatis for a roadside eatery.

His luck turned when, at a show, he met Naeem Sayyed, a veteran lookalike of the comedic actor Mehmood Ali, who owned an events company specialising in shows featuring Bollywood lookalikes. Sayyed took Raju in, and in return Raju helped him with errands and chores. In 1998, he invited Raju to join the company for “All India Filmstar Night,” a 22-day, 25-performer tour of South Africa.

“At that time Shah Rukh-bhai was in form,” Raju recalled. “The songs of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had just been released, and they were received really well.” In South Africa, the “public was crazy. … Matlab itni izzat de ki admi ro de” (It showed so much respect that it could make you cry).

Raju earned Rs 315,000 for the tour. After that, he began getting regular offers from abroad, and earning “six to seven lakh” every year. He performed in around 60 shows outside India over the next five years. In 2003, he bought a one-bedroom flat near Andheri, where he still lives today. Mumbai had finally smiled upon him.

RAJU GOT MARRIED IN FEBRUARY 2005. About a year and a half later, the couple had their first child. They named her Mannat.

In February 2009, the family went to a theatre to see Billu, in which Khan had a cameo role. When the star appeared on screen, Mannat, seated in her mother’s lap, flinched with surprise and blurted out, “Papa!” Then she looked at her father, “Papa,” then back at the screen, “Papa,” and on and on.

Around the same time, Mannat began crying whenever she saw the climactic scene in Om Shanti Om, where Khan fights the film’s antagonist in a burning mansion. She was convinced that her father’s life was in danger.

Until about two years ago, Mannat used to tell her friends in school that her father was Shah Rukh Khan. To prove it, one day she brought in a picture of Raju performing in a television show. “But he’s a duplicate,” a friend of hers said. Mannat came home and asked her father, “Papa, are you a duplicate?”

Raju’s son, Aman, who is two years younger than Mannat, also confused Khan and his father in his first few years, and used to call Khan “Shah Rukh Papa.”

Slowly, Raju and his wife explained things to the children. “Woh Shah Rukh Papa bade papa hain, main unki copy karta hun” (Shah Rukh Papa is the big papa, and I copy him), Raju told them. Now, they understand.

[ 3 ]

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF 2007, when Raju was at home with his friends Sandy and Bhavesh Solanki, Bhavesh asked, “Raju-bhai, why don’t we make a documentary on your life?”

Woh kya item hota hai?” (What is that?) Raju said.

“Like, your life’s journey,” Bhavesh replied. “How you became Junior Shah Rukh Khan, how you came up in life—your biography. But we won’t show poverty. Instead, we’ll show that Raju Rahikwar is rich, travels by air, lives a royal life. And that he fulfilled his dream in Mumbai.”

Raju agreed. He, Sandy and a cameraman began working on the documentary about eight months later, and shot footage for it over 20 days. They filmed Raju in front of Dilip Talkies, the theatre in Chandrapur where his likeness to Khan was first noticed; friends, classmates and teachers from his hometown describing Raju’s persistence and struggle; and Raju’s father saying how proud he was of his son. They detailed Raju’s early struggle and eventual success; collected snippets of his television appearances; and filmed him making an offering and feeding the poor at the shrine of Haji Ali, in Mumbai. The footage also included snatches of Raju’s personal life: him cooking at home, working on a laptop late at night, boarding a flight in Nagpur airport, taking his family to the beach on a Sunday.

Afterwards, the project came to the notice of a close friend of Raju’s who works as a production manager. Impressed, he told Raju that the documentary should be more than just a pet project, and recommended a professional film-maker to edit it. That film-maker whittled the footage down to 24 minutes, and gave the film a name: Living in King Khan’s Shadow.

The documentary was now complete—except for one thing. Raju insisted that Khan appear in it, at the very end, for “just two minutes.” Without that, the film had no meaning for Raju, and he refused to release it.

“Who is Raju Rahikwar? No one knows him,” Raju told me. “I just wanted one word from Shah Rukh-bhai. I wanted him to say that, ‘From today you will not be known as Raju Rahikwar, but as Raju Shah Rukh,’ and that, ‘I honour you with this title.’”

RAJU'S QUEST for the two minutes began. With Ayush Jadeja—a lookalike of the actor Sanjay Dutt, and a close friend and trusted accomplice—he went to a studio where Khan was filming for My Name is Khan, carrying CDs of the almost-complete documentary. They were stopped by a guard at the gate of the set, and left the CDs with him, asking him to pass them on to the star.

A few days later, Raju, having sourced Khan’s personal number, called and messaged the star, but the actor did not answer. So Raju tracked down phone numbers for Khan’s associates and assistants. He called Khan’s secretary, and sent her text messages. He tried Khan’s manager, his make-up man, and his bodyguard. He never got any reply.

Then, a few months later, Raju was called to a studio, to stand in for Khan as a production crew prepared to shoot an Airtel ad. With Khan seated just feet away and staring intently at a monitor, Raju blocked the star’s scenes, playing with a cricket bat, a bail, a cricket ball.

Job done, Raju was dismissed. With about half a dozen friends and a video camera, he waited for Khan outside the studio, hoping to shoot the two minutes there and then.

As the star made his way out, Raju went up to him and touched his feet. “Bhai, you know my documentary,” he said.

“Yes, I know your documentary’s incomplete,” Raju recalled Khan saying. “I have your number. I’m busy for the next six–seven days. After that, I’ll work something out and give you a call.”

“Are you sure, bhai?” Raju said. “It’ll be a great help.”

“Don’t worry,” Khan told him, walking towards his car.

Raju waited for a week, but there was no call. After eight or nine days, he called Khan himself. No response. He put out a fresh round of messages and calls to the actor’s assistants. No response.

Raju was getting desperate. He decided to get his story into the press, in hopes of catching Khan’s attention. On 31 August 2009, the Mumbai Mirror published a short article titled “Duplicate Dilemma.” It quoted Raju saying, “I want exactly two minutes from him. I know if he knows it’s me, he will meet me.”

That October, Raju, with Jadeja and a camera in tow, headed to a hotel where Khan was to be appointed a goodwill ambassador of South Korea. Raju’s friend filmed as Khan accepted the honour and then briefly spoke to the media, with Raju in the shot at all times. As the star was leaving, scores of hands lunged out towards him. But, Raju recalled, only one hand touched Khan—his. And then the actor was gone.

On 14 February 2010, Raju paid Rs 125,000 to book a theatre in an Andheri multiplex for a morning screening of My Name is Khan. He offered free entry to the public, and covered popcorn and cola too. Raju invited several members of the film’s cast and crew to the screening, including Khan. The film’s director, Karan Johar, attended. Khan, however, was in London, and did not. A fortnight later, the Times of India ran a story on the event, its organiser and his unfinished documentary, titled “I’m Also Shah Rukh Khan!”

More than a year later, Raju was called to another ad shoot, again to be a stand-in for Khan. He arrived, and was in a vanity van preparing for the first shot when he was summoned by one of Khan’s assistants—a woman whom he remembered as “really sharp, beautiful and intimidating.” When she saw Raju, she asked the underling who had escorted him, “This guy is Raju Rahikwar? The same guy who’s been spreading bad publicity about SRK in newspapers?”

After she scanned him from “head to toe,” Raju remembered, he asked her if he could meet “bhaijaan.”

“No, you can’t meet SRK, he’s very busy,” she said. “And you especially can’t meet him.”

Raju was asked to wait in the vanity van. Some hours later, he got paid for the day. His services were no longer required. He stormed out, and into his car. On seeing Khan on the set a few feet away, he rolled down his windows, honked in anger, and drove away.

[ 4 ]

WHEN THE FAN TRAILER CAME OUT, it wasn’t just the one friend of Raju’s who noticed the similarities between Gaurav and him. Messages flowed in: “Why did he have to do this?”; “He’s copied the entire thing”; “Whatever you’ve done, he’s included that in the film”; and, “He’s made you the villain.” Raju’s friends and followers are convinced that the star has ripped off the lookalike—not just his appearance, but also his life’s story. What makes them particularly angry is that Gaurav—Raju, to their minds—is the film’s antagonist. That Khan could do this to such a loyal fan, they think, is a staggering betrayal.

Whatever Raju’s feelings on all this may be, he didn’t let on much in the weeks before the film’s release. “We have to be very careful about what we say about our star,” he said. “I earn because of him. I still give sadka for his wife and children. He’s my god. He’s my bhagwan.” Still, he did tell me that “Raju Rahikwar, Junior Shah Rukh Khan, who’s acted him out for the last 20 years, feels that the character in Fan is somewhat familiar.” And, it was clear, the fact that Gaurav is the villain of the piece makes him very uncomfortable.

There’s no telling for sure if Raju’s life was in any part the basis for Fan. He is, of course, not the only real-life Shah Rukh Khan lookalike who resembles the Shah Rukh Khan lookalike in the film, or who goes by “Junior Shah Rukh Khan.” In early April, I spoke to Prashant Walde, a Khan lookalike who has worked as a stand-in and body-double for the star in several films, including Fan, and has impersonated him on television plenty of times too. “They designed the look of Gaurav, ‘Junior Aryan Khanna’ in the movie, based on my look—right from my eyebrows, lips, nose, body to hairstyle, everything,” he told me. All that Khan himself has said on Fan’s provenance is that the idea for it was first put to him about a decade ago, by the late film-maker Yash Chopra. He has also credited a non-lookalike, real-life fan of his from Delhi with inspiring some of Gaurav’s accents and mannerisms.

For Raju, there is just one thought that puts him at ease. He told me that a writer friend of his, whom he didn’t want to name, had pointed out, “Bhai, you’ve copied him for 20 years, so what if he copied you once?”

ON THE MORNING OF 15 APRIL, the day of Fan’s release, Raju, with his elder brother and Jadeja, made his way to Fun Republic, a multiplex in Andheri. Raju bought about 80 tickets for a 1.20 pm screening, and, starting at noon, began giving them away.

Several television crews were present outside the theatre, and filmed Raju at work. “How did the idea of distributing free tickets come to you?” one reporter asked him. “This isn’t my money,” he said. “It belongs to Shah Rukh-sahab. I earn because of him, and then invest that back in him, by making his fans happy.”

Raju didn’t join the crowd heading into the theatre as the screening approached. He was just there to distribute tickets, he told me, and would watch the film later, with his family. But, through friends who had seen the film, he already knew the plot. (Spoiler alert: plot details in the next four paragraphs.)

On the day of Fan’s release, Raju handed out free tickets and spoke to the media outside an Andheri multiplex. “This isn’t my money,” he said. “It belongs to Shah Rukh-sahab. I earn because of him, and then invest that back in him, by making his fans happy.” COURTESY RAJU RAHIKWAR

He knew that, as the trailer had shown, Gaurav sends messages to Aryan, as Raju has to Khan, and that Gaurav desperately chases five minutes of the star’s time, as Raju has been chasing two minutes of Khan’s. He also knew the film shows Gaurav being pushed away by a guard outside Aryan’s home, much as he had been outside Mannat. And, to his surprise, Raju had learnt that he appears in the film for a few seconds, in a white shirt, black jacket and sunglasses, in candid footage of a crowd shot at Mannat on Khan’s birthday last year.

Raju also knew that, as the plot unfolds, Gaurav displeases Aryan, who gets him locked up in jail before summarily dismissing him. Gaurav, spurned, demands an apology, and vows to wreak his revenge until he gets one. After plenty of drama and high-speed chases, the film closes with Gaurav’s death.

“I’ve been playing that character for many years now,” Raju said, when I asked if he identified with Gaurav. He could understand the character’s reaction to being rejected by his idol. “If you love someone so much, and if he reacts like that, then he’s no longer a hero for you—he becomes a nobody.”

Raju wasn’t happy with the film’s ending. Gaurav, he said, “shouldn’t have died. He should’ve been alive. Shah Rukh should have apologised to him. He should have hugged him.”

“SEVEN YEARS IS A LONG, LONG TIME, SIR,” Raju told me in his office, with tired eyes, reflecting on his long pursuit of two minutes of Khan’s time. Then he turned his mind back further still. “I still look like he used to look in Deewana, I haven’t changed my look since.” Deewana came out more than 23 years ago. Raju turned 43 last year, eight days after Khan turned 50.

“I do shows, I meet people, I get pictures clicked with them, I give autographs,” he continued. “It makes them happy. They feel that a duplicate of Shah Rukh Khan is talking to them. They think that Shah Rukh Khan must be like Raju.”

Raju spoke unusually softly, with the air of an abandoned lover. Overhead, a ceiling fan, whirling at full speed, emitted a regular, incessant clicking. “Will Shah Rukh-sahab perform in Dharavi? Will he perform in Thane? In Gujarat, Baroda, Rajkot? No, he won’t. … Only I go to gullies and trash.

“I’ve done around 3,000 shows in the last 20 years, so I must have made around 50 lakh fans for him? So tell me this: Why does he not give me two minutes?”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly located Balharshah in western Maharashtra.

Tanul Thakur is a Mumbai-based film critic and independent journalist. He has written reviews, features and opinion pieces for, among other publications, GQFountain InkMan's World, Yahoo! India, the Wire, Firstpost, and OZY. In 2015, he received the National Film Award for Best Film Critic and the Mumbai Press Club Award for Best Lifestyle and Entertainment Story. He's on Twitter as @Plebeian42.