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When torn jeans, slight build made people question Shah Rukh Khan's choice – Birthday special

Filmmaker Umesh Mehra, son of the late FC Mehra, who produced Chamatkar, recalled an incident that happened at their Diwali party.

Keyur Seta

Hema Malini’s Dil Aashna Hai (1992) was the first film Shah Rukh Khan shot for. But his first release, which became his official debut, was Raj Kanwar’s Deewana (1992), which also starred Divya Bharti and Rishi Kapoor.

Before both these films were released, however, Shah Rukh Khan was signed for director Rajiv Mehra’s Chamatkar (1992), another important film in his career.

Khan's chemistry and antics with Naseeruddin Shah’s character Marco, a ghost, worked well for the film that was produced by veteran producer FC Mehra under his Eagle Films banner.

But, as Umesh Mehra, filmmaker son of the late producer and brother of Rajiv, revealed, no one who saw the slightly built Khan, who celebrates his 53rd birthday today, before the film was shot was convinced by the casting call.

Naseeruddin Shah and Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Chamatkar

Highlighting how the Eagle Films banner always encouraged new talent, Umesh Mehra said his father and brother saw a spark in the young actor. “I would like to give credit to, of course, my father to accept that this boy [Shah Rukh Khan] will be the hero. Otherwise the credit would go to my brother Rajiv because he was director of that film and felt that he should cast this boy,” he said.

Not everyone was convinced about the casting however, particularly when they saw Khan at a party thrown by the Mehras. This was at Diwali in 1991, before shooting for the film began.

“We used to have big Diwali parties those days,” Umesh Mehra recalled. “He [Khan] also came. He was dubla patla [very thin]. In those days, the fashion was to wear those torn jeans. And people [in the party] were saying, ‘This is going to be the hero of your next film? What’s the matter with you?' ”

Shah Rukh Khan with Urmila Matondkar in Chamatkar

But that didn’t deter Rajiv Mehra or his father. “See, you can’t make films if you keep worrying," Umesh Mehra said. "Once you have a gut feeling, you go with it. My father always encouraged new talent as long as they didn’t start crying ki humse yeh nahin hoga, woh nahin hoga [that we won’t be able to do this or that].”

Shah Rukh Khan married his girlfriend Gauri before the release of Chamatkar. Some reports said FC Mehra had urged Khan to postpone his wedding until after the film's release. But Umesh Mehra rubbished the claim. “Nobody looked at him as a great romantic hero in those days," he pointed out. "There was no question of [asking him to postpone his marriage].”