Shah Rukh played the role of a second hero in the love triangle Deewana, with Rishi Kapoor in the lead, and the film turned out to be a blockbuster. Shah Rukh went on to lift the Filmfare Best Male Debut award (1992–93).

Around this time, Abbas and Mustan Burmawalla (more popularly known as Abbas–Mustan), the director siblings who had hit the bullseye with their suspense thriller Khiladi, were ready to launch their next. The film was inspired by a single scene in a Hollywood film, A Kiss Before Dying, that sent chills down the duo’s spine. In this film, the hero, while having a romantic conversation with his girlfriend, throws her off a terrace, killing her. This scene left such an impression on the directors that they wrote a film script to incorporate the scene. It was titled Baazigar.

The directors aspired to cast the top young Khans, Aamir and Salman, but unfortunately for them the script did not create a stir amongst the A-list actors.

Aamir could not identify with the character and let it pass. When Abbas–Mustan approached Salman, the actor asked Salim Khan for his inputs. The veteran writer felt that as it was a story about a negative character, they should add an angle of the protagonist’s mother to get the audience’s sympathy for the hero. The directors did not agree and Salman didn’t come on board. Much later, Salman said, ‘When I turned down the film, they went to Shah Rukh and then they added the mother angle!’

Anil Kapoor was the next one to reject the film because of the negative lead character. The directors panicked and went to the last remaining Khan. Shah Rukh was then a minor player in the industry and producer Ratan Jain, of Venus Records and Tapes, was not sure about casting him in the lead for Baazigar.

Shah Rukh had come to their office for another script narration, where he met the director duo by chance. The directors found something extremely striking in this Delhi boy’s aura, and they realized that he was the only one willing to gamble with his image. It was a long narration of over an hour, and at the end of it, Shah Rukh loved the idea of playing the bad guy. He could empathize with the humanization of the villain. He was going to be the Baazigar.

With Shah Rukh on board, the producers wanted to reinforce the saleability of the project and hence, wanted to cast big names such as Sridevi or Juhi Chawla in the lead. The directors felt differently. The Burmawallas were sure that only a fresh pairing would be apt for the film. They approached Kajol, who was then one-film old. Bekhudi had not created much of a stir, but Kajol had been noticed for her performance. Mustan recalls, ‘When we went to meet Kajol, she was so lively and jovial, we felt she might not be able to understand the script and her role. But she showed maturity and remained focused.’ Shilpa Shetty was the other heroine who was paired opposite Shah Rukh, and it was her debut.

Thanks to Salim Khan, now the crux of the plot lay in the emotional pulse of the mother-son angle and Rakhee Gulzar, who had been loved as the mother in Ram Lakhan, was the ideal choice to play the distressed lady. She readily agreed.

With a fresh pair of girls and a television star in the lead who had just played second lead to Rishi Kapoor, Baazigar rolled in December 1992. But the shoot hit a roadblock almost immediately. Babri Masjid had just been demolished and there were widespread riots all over the country.

Four months later, in March 1993, the film rolled again and Abbas–Mustan heaved a sigh of relief. However, they were not prepared for the phenomenon—Shah Rukh Khan.

Baazigar (1993).

During fight scenes, it was common practice that directors and fight masters tried their best to cheat the blow, so no one is harmed. Shah Rukh would not settle for that. Dalip Tahil, who had played Aamir’s father in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and was now playing the antagonist, and Shah Rukh’s father-in-law, in Baazigar, recalls a tricky incident at the shoot.

In a scene, Tahil was required to slap Shah Rukh hard. Abbas–Mustan, as per protocol, directed Tahil to cheat the blow, so as not to hurt Shah Rukh. But Shah Rukh assured the directors all would go well and then took Tahil aside. He told him, ‘Muhjhe jitna chaho thapad laga lo. Bas, scene kamaal ki honi chahiye (Slap me as much as you want. The scene should turn out perfectly).’ The scene remains one of the most memorable high points of the film.

Shah Rukh wasn’t afraid of not looking good in his close-ups. He was happy with blood streaming down his bashed-up face and would prod the directors to shoot one scene with four to five variations, till they were satisfied. For the scene in which he kills Shilpa Shetty’s friend (played by Resham Tipnis), Shah Rukh suggested he should tear her photo and put it in his mouth rather than keeping it in his pocket. It was one of the most dramatic and talked-about scenes in the film.

Shah Rukh went beyond being just an actor on the sets. For Baazigar, he helped acquire permissions for the shoot, especially in his hometown, Delhi. This habit of his carried on to the sets of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa too, where, when the production ran out of film stock in a late-night shift, Shah Rukh went to every shooting unit at Kamalistan Studio to ask for fresh stock, so that he could give a better take for his incomplete shot. When he failed to get it, he sat and wailed in despair.

Kajol, who went on to become an iconic hit pair with Shah Rukh, says, ‘I’ve never met a more hard-working man than Shah Rukh. He sleeps for three hours and wakes up thinking about what all he needs to do. There aren’t enough hours in a day for him. People overlook the fact that he has worked hard to reach where he is. It takes more than just luck to achieve so much.’

Excerpted with permission from Khantastic, Sanjukta Nandy, Rupa Publications.