MUMBAI, India — Durga Rahikwar, a young man in his twenties from Ballarpur, a city in Chandrapur district in India’s western state of Maharashtra, decided to change his name to Raju in 1992.
“My friends told me my hairstyle and face resembles Shah Rukh Khan, whose films were becoming very popular then,” Rahikwar told Zenger News. Raju was the name of Khan’s character in the 1992 Hindi film “Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman”.
Rahikwar, now 45, had never imagined he would make a living as a lookalike actor — a popular trend in Bollywood — the Hindi film industry based out of Mumbai. But when his resemblance to SRK — as Khan is widely known — started bringing him money and fame, Rahikwar gladly slipped into the role of Junior SRK.
He has performed in shows across the world, including in the U.S., the U.K., Kenya, Dubai, Singapore, and other countries with large Indian-origin communities. It was not uncommon for him to earn INR 50,000 ($690) a month in the decades when SRK’s popularity soared.
Starting in the early 1990s, SRK established himself as a leading man with films such as “Baazigar” (1993), “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1995), and “Karan Arjun” (1995). While his films continued to perform well at the box office, SRK also earned critical acclaim and awards with his films such as “Swades” (2004), “Chak De! India” (2007), and “My Name Is Khan” (2010), which was shot almost entirely in the U.S.
SRK also ventured into film production with his companies Dreamz Unlimited and Red Chillies Entertainment, and in 2019, he starred in a David Letterman special My Next Guest Needs No Introduction for Netflix.
Now 55, SRK is not as prolific as he once used to be. His last released film was “Zero” (2018). Though it earned INR 191 crore ($26.53 million) worldwide, the actor’s performance as a person with growth impairment was panned by critics and audiences alike.
“If SRK does not work in films. I am out of work as well,” said Rahikwar.
“Since SRK’s visibility has gone down, no one wants me to perform either. Earlier, I would go to places where SRK could not and entertain people. Now, I have to keep asking event managers for possible shows.”
The pandemic has also affected Rahikwar’s work. “In October, I was supposed to fly to the U.S. for a show but could not because of travel restrictions,” he said.
The few jobs he still gets do not earn him enough.
“In September, when film shooting resumed, a friend needed some assistance and gave me work,” said Rahikwar.
“I went to Dubai for around a month and started selling lights and other materials,” Rahikwar told Zenger News. “One day in the market, I saw a jacket worth AED 15 ($4) and a laptop bag worth AED 45 ($12). I wanted to buy them for my kids, but I had no money. Before 2018, I could afford these things.”
Lookalike actors have been popular in Bollywood for decades. Among the more popular were Vijay Saxena (Junior Amitabh Bachchan), Kishore Bhanushali (Junior Dev Anand), and Navin Rathod (Junior Anil Kapoor).
They usually performed small, parodic roles or act in B-Grade films that did not have the budget to sign on the superstars. One of the most popular films starring lookalikes of superstars was “Ramgarh Ke Sholay” (1991), which was a parody of “Sholay”, a 1975 superhit.
The 2003 film “Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon” also starred several junior superstars and sensitively depicts the struggles of a young woman to become like her idol, popular actress Madhuri Dixit Nene.
But as superstars fall out of favor with fans or stop making films, the demand for lookalike superstars also wanes.
Like Rahikwar, Zaed Khan has also been finding it difficult to survive. Zaed Khan used to mimic popular actor Sunny Deol, who has almost quit films and joined politics.
Currently a member of the Indian parliament from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Deol’s last onscreen appearance was “Bhaiaji Superhit” in 2018.
“This (mimicking) is the only work that I have been doing for so many years,” Zaed Khan told Zenger News. “I don’t even know what else can I do for a living. Many people are dependent on my income. I hardly get to do any shows.”
During the 2019 elections, Zaed Khan did several roadshows for political parties — but this was a short-lived success.
“Now no one calls me for political rallies as elections are far away,” he said. Zaed Khan’s friends have been helping him financially, but this is not a sustainable solution.
He is planning to start a food stall to support his family of seven.
Over the years, the popularity of lookalike actors has diminished as superstars have become more accessible to fans over social media. The pandemic made matters worse.
India is one of the largest film-producing countries in the world. Of 1,500-2,000 films a year, 200-300 are produced by Bollywood. But the film segment is expected to contract by 67 percent this financial year, with revenue expected to drop from INR 18,300 crore (about $2.5 billion) to INR 6,100 crore (about $840 million), according to a KPMG report.
The industry has, however, tried to support those members who have been worst hit. For instance, superstar Salman Khan has helped out Zaed Khan.
“I got INR 3,000 from Being Human Foundation (a non-government organization run by Salman Khan),” Zaed Khan told Zenger News. “I also got a food coupon worth INR 1,500 for a few months from the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE). But now, that has stopped.”
The FWICE is an umbrella body of the film industry workers’ union in Mumbai. The All India Look Alike Association (AILAA), a union of lookalike actors, is affiliated with it.
“We need the industry to do something for us,” said Arif Khan, the president of AILAA. Arif Khan has worked for years as Junior Anil Kapoor.
Arif Khan has been praised earlier by Anil Kapoor, who wooed western audiences in “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). But he, too, does not have a lot of work coming his way.
“Thanks to social media, the audience today can connect to their stars directly,” he said. “They also get all the updates about their favorite stars. A lot has changed in the past few years.”
Several of them are waiting for their favorite stars to stage a comeback.
“I am sure SRK will come back with a bang and that will help me make a comeback too,” said Rahikwar.
SRK’s next film is “Pathan” is scheduled to release next year. It also stars Deepika Padukone, who made her Hollywood debut in 2017 with “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”.
(Edited by Uttaran Dasgupta and Amrita Das)
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