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Shah Rukh Khan's connection with INA hero Shah Nawaz Khan

The late Indian soldier and politician was like a father figure to the superstar's mother Lateef Fatima.

Shah Rukh Khan and Shah Nawaz Khan

Mayur Lookhar

Come 28 July, Indian audiences will open their eyes to the heroics of three largely forgotten heroes in Tigmanshu Dhulia's next, Raag Desh. The film is based on the 1945 Red Fort trials of three soldiers of the Indian National Army (INA) — Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Prem Kumar Sahgal and Shah Nawaz Khan.

This chapter of the history of India's freedom struggle has remained largely unexplored. But there is another great story attached to the late Major General Shah Nawaz Khan.

Apart from being a great soldier, patriot and, later, accomplished politician, Shah Nawaz Khan was a father figure to Lateef Fatima, mother of Shah Rukh Khan. Some reports have claimed he had adopted her, but that remains unconfirmed.

Not much is known about Shah Rukh Khan’s early childhood except that he was born to Meer Taj Mohammed Khan, a freedom fighter hailing from Peshawar, now in Pakistan, and Lateef Fatima. The couple was married in Delhi in 1959 and Shah Rukh Khan was born in 1965. Meer Taj Mohammed Khan had stayed on in Delhi after Partition.

Gen Khan had developed a great bond with Fatima and her family. Gen Khan, son of Captain Sardar Tikka Khan, had studied at the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College, Dehradun, and was commissioned as an officer in the British Indian Army. He was captured during World War II by the Japanese and interned in Singapore. There, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose encouraged him to join the Azad Hind Fauj to fight the British.

Gen Khan had three sons — the late Mehmood Nawaz, Akbar Nawaz and Ajmal Nawaz — and two daughters, Mumtaz and Fehmida, but he treated Fatima like his own daughter, too.

A source close to one of Shah Nawaz Khan's descendants in Delhi explained how Gen Khan happened to meet Fatima. “This must have been in the late 1940s," the source said. "Fatimaji had met with a road accident in New Delhi while travelling with her parents and sister. Gen Khan happened to be around and took her and the family to hospital. That is how a bond formed between the families. She was a pretty and warm person. Gen Khan was known to go out of his way to help people. He considered Fatima his own daughter. In fact, Taj Mohammad and Fatima's marriage took place at Gen Khan's bungalow."

Growing up, Shah Rukh Khan is said to have been close to Gen Khan and his family. The source continued, "Even after marriage, Fatimaji remained close to the family. Shah Rukh and his sister Shahnaz Lalarukh used to visit the household, especially on Eid."

After the Red Fort trials, Gen Khan had left the army and begun his political career. He won the first Lok Sabha election in 1952 from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh and went on to have a long career in Parliament and government during which he headed different ministries like agriculture, steel and mines, and labour between 1965 and 1977. He died on 9 December 1983.

Two years earlier, Shah Rukh Khan's father had died of cancer. His mother died in 1991, shortly before he made his Hindi cinema debut. After her death, the families just drifted apart, according to the source.