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Being Shah Rukh Khan

...is being many things at the same time. A 'Dilli ka goonda'. A devoted father. A natural actor. And incidentally, the nation's biggest superstar. Poonam Saxena chats with the actor.

entertainment Updated: Nov 06, 2007 02:55 IST
Poonam Saxena

What’s it like being the country’s biggest movie star, the biggest brand, India’s heartthrob No 1? If you’re Shah Rukh Khan, the answer is unpredictable. There are no platitudes about “it’s the people’s love and affection and the grace of God and my hard work etc etc.”

Instead, he reflects on the question briefly and then replies: “I don’t know why I’m popular. I don’t know what I’m doing right. That’s why I’m mostly insecure. If I’m not popular some years down the line, I won’t know why. I’ll still be doing the same shit but it won’t work any more. So I don’t know what’s responsible for my stardom right now. Is it luck? Being in the right place at the right time? I have no idea. Is film ki kahani koi aur likh raha hai. I’m just an employee of the Shah Rukh Khan myth and I don’t even know who the boss is. It’s a scary place to be in.”

It is late evening. We are in Mumbai’s Mehboob Studio where Shah Rukh is doing a photo shoot for a Hyundai ad. The interview takes place over many hours, but not for a moment does Shah Rukh’s concentration or energy flag.



As Anupama Chopra, who has written a book on the superstar, says, "His energy is astounding. I remember doing an interview with him in Chandigarh when he was shooting for Veer Zara. It was three in the morning and I was wilting, but Shah Rukh was all there. He’s also fabulously funny and entertaining, even if there’s only one other person in the room. He always makes sure that the person sitting across him has a good time."



ALSO WATCH VIDEOS



1.SRK on Farah Khan's other self as a director



2.
SRK on his chemistry with Karan Johar



3.SRK on his forthcoming films



4.SRK on his KBC comeback



5. SRK on Chak De India!



6.Pre-release colly-wobbies



7.
Shah Rukh as a director



Opinion on a fast forward

8.Shah Rukh on Ashutosh Gowariker



9.Shah Rukh on Karan Johar

I certainly did.

Just before our interview, a young girl, who has been a passionate fan of Shah Rukh’s for over ten years, comes to meet him. She gives him a handwritten letter and two small gifts for his son Aryan and daughter Suhana. Shah Rukh, in turn, gives her a warm hug, poses for pictures and chats with her. She must have returned home ecstatic.

“I thought about it,” says Shah Rukh “I thought about her going home in a train, developing the pictures, showing them to her friends…”

This was just one fan. There are thousands more where she came from, desperate to get an autograph, a photograph, to talk to him, somehow get his attention. Is it a big power trip for him?

“Far from it,” says Shah Rukh. “I feel a great sense of sadness, that I affect so many people and I don’t even know them. I can’t feel the adulation. The insanity that gets created by my work doesn’t touch me. I think I could only be loved so much by my mother, who thought that I was like Dilip Kumar.”

But doesn’t he enjoy the trappings of stardom? “Where are the trappings?” asks Shah Rukh. “Yes, maybe I have an amazing amount of shoes and jeans. When I walk into a shop and see two things I like and can’t decide which one to buy, I take both. But otherwise… my family gets screwed up every Friday when my film releases – through no fault of theirs.”

This coming Friday, another Shah Rukh Khan film, his home production Om Shanti Om will hit the theatres. Shah Rukh has been in overdrive, promoting the Farah Khan-directed reincarnation drama with a vengeance. He must have given interviews to every single TV channel, magazine, newspaper and radio station in the country. He’ll stop at nothing to push his film – whether it’s showing off his newly acquired six pack abs, promoting his brand new heroine Deepika Padukone, or his own Seventies look in the film. And no, he doesn’t think there’s anything such as too much hype for a big commercial movie like Om Shanti Om.

“These days, one banks a lot on a great opening, on getting the maximum eyeballs,” he reasons. “This is a film everyone should see. No one should miss out on it. And let’s face it, it’s not just me creating the hype, the media is doing it too. Earlier, I would have to beg TV news channels to say something about my film, now you have to beg them to give news. Earlier I had to win an award to be on page one of a newspaper; today I just have to watch a Twenty20 match. But should we look down on it? Not at all. You have to move with the times.”

Regardless of how the film does at the box office, critics will have their own take on his performance. It is a bit of a cliché now to say that Shah Rukh Khan plays Shah Rukh Khan in every film.



“Well, who do I play then? Aamir Khan? Salman Khan?” he retorts. “I’m always Shah Rukh Khan playing someone else. I’m not a character playing Shah Rukh Khan. A character is my slave, he will do anything I make him do. I control him, I make him.” That’s why he has no patience with directors who tell him he must ‘live’ a character; that during the making of the film they will always refer to him by the character’s name.



“Bollocks!” he says shortly. (Though he’s had his share of ‘involved’ directors: “I’ve been told to touch my hair as if it’s a possibility,” he says with a grin. “Mani Kaul told me to act like the seventh wave. But those were my early days in movies and I was fresh from theatre, so I could take it.”)



Now he can’t. But the words ‘craft of acting’ and ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ aren’t really strangers to each other. Though Shah Rukh believes that a performance should appear effortless (“I’m an instinctive actor”), it’s not as if there’s no thought process behind his acting.



Two tenets of acting he holds close to his heart:


Tenet number one:

“I forget who said this – Cary Grant or Clark Gable – but he said that when you’re playing a lover, don’t plead for love, demand it. I’ve always kept this in mind when I’m doing romance.”



Case in point:

Devdas

. When Sanjay Leela Bhansali came to Shah Rukh with the project, he (Shah Rukh) wasn’t terribly excited. But Bhansali said if Shah Rukh refused, he wouldn’t make the film at all. Shah Rukh agreed – and decided to interpret the role in his own way. Rather than look at Devdas as a ‘romantic’ drunkard, he saw Devdas as a spineless man who couldn’t make a commitment.



“But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t macho,” explains Shah Rukh. “Emotions can’t be isolated. You can be three or four things at the same time.” There was an underlying layer of cruelty in Shah Rukh’s

Devdas

. Many of the lines he said to Paro (Aishwarya Rai) and Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) would have been complete if he had added the words, “You bitch!” at the end. He obviously couldn’t but the tone and manner in which the lines were delivered on screen simmered with hostility.



Tenet number two

(and this is probably one of the keys to Shah Rukh’s megastardom): “Michael Caine said that people come to a cinema hall to see you because they know you’re very special. But once they’re there, you show them themselves.”



In other words, they must see themselves on screen. Shah Rukh gives the example of his character Dev in

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

, “There was so much anger in him; yet he was so helpless when he fell in love. I know there were many Devs in the audience, people who are failures, filled with bitterness. I know there’s a guy in the audience like me.”



Without ever making a big deal about it, Shah Rukh has always brought little touches of his own to his performances. In the song

Main hoon Don

, for example, he knew he had to dance but he didn’t really want to. “You can’t make a cold, calculated killer like Don dance. So I did my movements as if I was on Ecstasy.”

Off screen, of course, Shah Rukh doesn’t need any drug to drive himself. He’s a self-confessed workaholic. At the same time, paradoxically, he’s content to do barely a couple of films a year. After

Om Shanti Om

, he has no film on the floors.



“I’m unemployed,” is what he’s been announcing to everyone who’s interviewed him. Two films –

Robot

with Sankar (who made Sivaji with Rajnikanth) and an untitled one with the Vidhu Vinod Chopra-Rajkumar Hirani team – have fallen through. He’s just got

My Name Is Khan

with Karan Johar and that will take off only next year, around August. But Shah Rukh is full of ideas. “I want to make a superhero film for my kids,” he says enthusiastically.



Ah, his kids. Anyone who knows Shah Rukh Khan will tell you that his world revolves around his family. “I can play with my kids round the clock,” he says. “They don’t tire me, I tire them out. I never get angry with them. My parents never hit me and I can never dream of doing that to my children.”



The more time he spends with his kids, the happier he feels when he gets back to acting. Most actors say they take time out for family; Shah Rukh says he takes time out for work.



No matter where in the world he’s shooting, if he gets a break of three or four days, he rushes back to be with his kids. When he was shooting for Swades at a location three-and-a-half hours from Mumbai, he would drive back at night, see them off to school in the morning and then return to the location.



“I’m in no hurry to sign a new film,” he says. “I’m happy to just sit around for seven months and be with my kids. I get both of them to play sports. I do magic tricks with them. Every night I tell them stories. I want them to learn. I want them to know that they have this standard of living only because their father is a movie star. I believe I’m an easygoing, modern, secular Indian. They can be whatever they want when they grow up. But I want them to learn whatever they can from me.”



After a moment he adds, “There’s only one special thing I want to give them -- I want to be around for them longer than my parents were for me. When I see Aryan with my father-in-law, I wish my own father was around and could be with him too.”

So what’s it really like being Shah Rukh Khan? Coming into Bollywood without knowing a soul and going on to become a superstar?
“I gave my first shot on the 26th June, 1991,” says Shah Rukh. “That was 17 years ago, but believe me, it doesn’t seem so long. I’m 42 years old now but I still feel the same. Maybe I’ve softened and mellowed a bit…”

Shah Rukh says he used to have a very bad temper. “I’m a Dilli ka goonda,” he laughs. “I’ve beaten up people, I’ve broken people’s teeth, I’ve been in knife fights. I’m a Pathan, so I had to live up to my reputation!”

But because he’s also a mature, cultured, well-mannered man, he feels bad about getting angry. Even today, when he’s mobbed and someone in the crowd makes a nasty comment or taunts him, he says he feels like breaking that person’s teeth. But he controls himself. “The other day, I was ready to hit someone, but before I could hit him, I found myself saying sorry! I’ve become soft over the years.”

It can’t be easy being Shah Rukh Khan. And difficult as it may be to believe, he says he’s actually a shy, awkward, unsocial person. He goes out only when he has to because of professional commitments or because his wife and kids want him to.



“Earlier, when the camera was on I knew I was acting,” he reveals. “When it was off I knew I wasn’t acting. Now I don’t know when I’m acting and when I’m not acting. Only when I’m with my family and close friends am I myself.”



But of course it’s worth it.



“It’s better being called king Khan than slave Khan isn’t it?”


SRK The Winner
Chak De! India didn’t need the kind of promotion Om Shanti Om needs. It was the kind of film that would work on word of mouth publicity. It was not your regular big summer or Christmas release. It was a concept film, about a group of women, about hockey, with a Muslim angle. I’m totally overwhelmed by its success. I was in London when the film released. I woke up in the morning – three shows had already taken place in India – and I found 138 messages on my phone!

Before the release of the film, everyone was iffy about it. Adi (Aditya Chopra) asked me, ‘Kya lagta hai?’ And I said, ‘It’ll be a big hit.’ We wanted our own Lagaan and we got it. There was no heroine, there were no songs, but I was always convinced about the film.

There’s a lot of me in Kabir Khan. Shimit (Amin) told me, ‘Don’t act. Just be yourself.’ In fact, when my son saw the film, he said, ‘You’re not acting. You’re just like that when you’re teaching us. Fun yet strict.’ But Kabir Khan is the only character I’ve played in 17 years for whom I don’t have an ending. I haven’t finished with him.”

SRK The Producer
“I think I’ve done well. Yes, we lost money on Asoka. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani was a disaster. Juhi (Chawla), Aziz (Mirza) and I cried together. But I didn’t lose money on Paheli. Main Hoon Na did well. Hopefully Om Shanti Om will do even better. I would say I’m one of the top ten producers of the country. I want to make very big films, earn from them, and then use the money to make small films. I want to get youngsters to direct films for my production house.

I never borrow money to make my films. I use my own money. I used all my KBC money to make Om Shanti Om. I have an executive producer, I have a core team of 14 people. I don’t fix schedules, I don’t negotiate. I haven’t been to my office for a year. I don’t even sign cheques. I stopped because I kept signing cheques as ‘Love, Shah Rukh.’

Recently the only cheque I sent out personally was to Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) for Paheli. He sent it back with a very sweet letter, saying he was refusing the cheque for two reasons. One was that he believed in a film like Paheli which was about the empowerment of women. And the second reason: he said I hadn’t signed the cheque!”

ALSO WATCH VIDEOS



1.SRK on Farah Khan's other self as a director



2.
SRK on his chemistry with Karan Johar



3.SRK on his forthcoming films



4.SRK on his KBC comeback



5. SRK on Chak De India!



6.Pre-release colly-wobbies



7.
Shah Rukh as a director



Opinion on a fast forward

8.Shah Rukh on Ashutosh Gowariker



9.Shah Rukh on Karan Johar

SRK The Endorser


"I won’t act for money. I’m very clear about that. I have to like the film. But I do ads for money. I think I single-handedly created this whole endorsement thing. People warned me, they said I’d be over-exposing myself. But I went ahead. I do stand for quality though. I use the products myself.



Now I’ve been with brands like Pepsi, Hyundai and Airtel for so long that we’ve become friends and business has taken a backseat. I’m hoping to find new people to fleece!"

SRK The Stage Performer
“This is when I come in touch with people, I can go down on my knees and say thank you. I do my stage shows with a lot of energy and passion. I give full value for money. I don’t come on in the end for half an hour. I’m there on stage for a full three hours. I plan each and every part of the show.

I dance at weddings when I’m broke, in times of trouble. But I never perform with people sitting around drinking and eating. It’s a proper, professional show in a hall, with a 60x30 stage, an auditorium. They have to set it up for me. I’m expensive. That’s why only Laxmi Mittal can afford me!

I joke a lot when I’m on stage. At award functions I’ve made jokes about Preity (Zinta) and Jadu (she takes him to a dark room and he can’t perform – remember he needs sunlight?), I’ve made jokes about Hrithik, Abhishek, I’ve cracked gay jokes about Saif and me. Come on. At the Oscars they take the mickey out of everyone. When I made that crack about Amar Singh, I thought he would take the joke. And he did. Only later on – people must have said something to him – he took it personally.”