Shah Rukh Khan gets combative caustic & reflective by turn
His blond streaks fly intermittently in the evening breeze as he sits back, nursing a cup of chai till it goes cold. His children squeal in the background, ayahs cast a careful eye, his wife strolls by. Can I have another chai please, he shouts. His son Aryan runs up, wants to race him. The cellphone rings, a conversation ensues. When are you coming, Aryan persists. And Shah Rukh Khan, framed by the sweep of his heritage bungalow and the Arabian Sea, says gravely, I'm just a middle-class boy who's had a dream run.
If you're looking for the hows and whys of it, take a look at the case for commerce as presented by the reigning king of the dream factory.
You've just wrapped up shooting for Swades. There's a lot of curiosity about the film, so tell us, what's it all about?
It's based on a social issue—the upliftment of our villages. Swades is not a patriotic film about fighting another country or about hamara desh, its patriotism is about looking inside our own country. It's about a middle-class boy, it addresses middle-class youngsters and says, if you're educated and have achieved a lot through your education, you should never ever overlook the fact that your country needs you. I think it's important to do films like this because you owe society something. Swades is a film that should have been made and I think it's quite commendable that Ashutosh (Gowariker) has. Now it's up to people to accept it or not.
From all we hear, this role will be quite a departure from your last few roles. Will this be the 'different' role that everyone seems to be clamouring for from you?
I don't understand different, I don't do different. I do the same sh*t, the same kind of love stories, the same safe films. They just make Rs 100 crores every time. Because I'm quite clear about what I want to do as an actor. I do roles that I do well, that I feel happy and comfortable doing.
I don't understand—when somebody asks me, how different is this role, which role are they using as a standard? Other actors' roles? Then, yes, it is different because I'm doing it. My own roles? No, because I'm doing it. So I say this with rudeness, not even with arrogance: You want different, go see someone else.
It sounds uneducated to me when an actor says, "Yeh role thoda different hai. I've never heard Robert de Niro say that. Or Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, or Michelle Pfeiffer. I've never heard Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Kumar say that.
There is nothing like different. These are Hindi film parameters; you can't be looking for different. If you are, it's a different kind of cinema which I don't do, don't adhere to and which I still haven't succumbed to. I don't have the thinking capacity to be that different and I don't do different films that run in two halls in the country.
Do you see that kind of film as taking too much of a chance?
Releasing a film in two cinema halls is not taking a chance at all. The films that people think are chancy are not, really. When the budget is a couple of crores, it's a safe film. Even a film like Asoka— it was a Rs 8 crore film, it was different and it couldn't lose money. It was safe.
Taking a chance is making a big budget film with me, given the parameters of Hindi commercial cinema, and then hoping we're able to do something different or invoke novelty in the audience. What is different, difficult and taking a chance is a Rs 30 crore film. I think Lakshya—a big film with a huge starcast, made with difficulty—is taking a chance. Swades will be taking a chance too; it's not a safe film.
Well, your films have delivered four hits in a row. Not much chance for worry there.
I've never calculated in terms of commerce. That's for others to calculate, to say, 'His films are doing well,' or 'He's over the hill and youngsters are taking his place.' Both 'Badshah of Bollywood' and 'King Khan bites the dust' are marginal for me. They're outside the margins of my writing, they don't form the main text of my life.
I'm working the way I have been for 13 years. There's no difference in my attitude towards my work, so there can't suddenly be a difference in my attitude to the results I'm getting.
As I see it, it's been a good 13 years. I see it in the long term and I see it in terms of, there have been good days. There have been painful days but overall it's been happy days.
So I don't know whether it has been a good year or bad year, but it has been a kind year, a strangely good year.
Because I've had so much commercial success but no awards. It means I'll have to sell myself more to commerce instead of trying to get awards.
If you didn't have to sell yourself to commerce, as you put it, what kind of films would you make? The sort you are making now?
I've never signed a film for the box office. No film has been made in my production company, or by me as an actor because I think it's going to be a commercially successful film. I've always made films to entertain people. Now, by logic, it follows that if a lot of people get entertained, it will earn lot of money too. It's a very fine line, but it's there.
In any case, I think it's very important to think of the commercial success of a film. I will always have to.
You see it as a responsibility?
For me, for everyone. And anyone who says otherwise is a fool. I don't live in a Utopian world, I live in a practical world where I work 600 days a year, 18 hours a day, put my blood and sweat into making a film. I don't live in La La land. I'm not living in sanyas. I can't make sanyasi films. I have to live another day to make another film.
Look, the business of films is a business. The word is industry. I don't know of any industry in which they make ceramics or machines for the love of it. Where they say, let's make a machine that is just beautiful and never mind if we lose money on it.
But making films is not about making machines. This is a creative art, like say, painting.
But I've never heard of Anjolie Ela Menon or M F Husain being part of the 'painting industry'. Films are an industry and I think it's time critics and those who work in it realise it's one. The government doesn't realise it's one because we don't. We think we're painters. But painters work in commercial art too. It's a choice you make and I'm in commercial art.
I know there's a whole artistic point of view to the industry, but I don't adhere to it. I cannot rightfully thopo my art on others and sacrifice commerce completely. There are enough of us doing that. If the industry doesn't survive, the artiste doesn't get food.
Out of every 200 films that are made, 10 are Utopian films. I don't think those 10 films help the industry survive. It's the other 190, which are crass, bad, ugly, vulgar, cheap, stupid, commercial, nonsensical and un-artistic which help the industry survive.
Ouch, okay! Let's move on; you're going to be taking a break for some months now. Any plans?
Yes, I won't be working for five months. I had a commitment to do Karan's film but that's got postponed. So, in the rightness of things, I think I'll do his film first, whenever he decides to start it.
But it's not as if I'm going to be sitting at home. I've got my ads to shoot, my live shows to do. I've got my own next production to think of. I've also got my book to finish.
How far are you done with your book? Is it an autobiography?
No, it's just a book about my experiences, it's a collection of selective memories. It's taken so long that I have to update it a little. My neck trouble happened, a few films happened, there was a chapter on my productions, which was only full of flops. So it needs to be updated.
Actually, it's a little formless. My book is going to be written exactly the way my life is—disorganised. It's not a novel, it doesn't have a linear graph. It's more like a Utopian book. If I don't finish it this time, then I won't write it. (laughs) I've been talking about it for so long, I had better. Or else, it will be, flop ho gaya, the production was shelved. Then it will be really Utopian!
A book set in La La Land?
Yes, because I'm not going to earn from it. It doesn't need to sell or even get printed.
But it was therapeutic because that was the only time I sat down to think about the years gone by.
You must be one of the most analysed people in India. Everyone has his own take on you. Are you going to do some self-analysis and end all the pop psychology profiles ?
I'm like a public issue; everyone has the right to comment on me. They can say it's gone up, it's gone down, they can analyse it. But when I try to analyse why I do what I do, I genuinely don't have a reason. And that is the truth.
Why me? Am I good? I don't know. Am I bad? Gifted? Talented, lucky, in the right place at the right time? I don't know.
They say, he was the face of the '90s when society was changing, when chocolate-box heroes were going out, when Amitabh Bachchan was on the wane, when youngsters were needed. Maybe. I don't know.
I hear IIM wants to do a whole study on Shah Rukh Khan as a business enterprise. Not what I do as a producer but what I am as an actor. They'll find a reason—he works because this happened in the interiors, that happened overseas, his hair is right... no, his dimples are good... no, he did negative roles... no, actually, the thing is he does safe films. Maybe they're all right; maybe they're all wrong.
But I've just put down what I've done. There is no heroic gesture or heroic doing in the book. You won't find a scene that goes, 'I was told I would never become a hero and that night, I swore I would.' I have not tried to mystify, glamorise or romanticise my 13 years.
You're going to demystify Shah Rukh Khan?
Demystify everything. You know, if I was a steel trader who had made it big, it wouldn't be like, arre yaar, what a success story. I've done well for myself like a lot of people have. But I'm not the first and won't be the last. So I've just put in the life I've led without hiding any goodness or badness, without sermonising or philosophising, without giving golden nuggets of advice. If you read it, it will sound like a very normal middle-class life. Anyone who's ordinary like I was and still am in my heart and mind, should say, 'Okay, is that it? There's nothing special that we need to do?' In fact, a lot of people will say, Arre yaar, bahut boring kahani thi.
You know, there's a song that goes something like,
This is for all the lonely people
Thinkin' that life has passed them by
Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup
Don't give up until you try.
My book is not for lonely people, but it's for people who think life or love or opportunity has passed them by.
Your book should be a best-seller; a lot of people think life and love have passed them by, don't they?
They haven't. They really haven't. Look, all of us are lonely in a strange way. I'm not trying to romanticise it by saying, I'm a star, I'm lonely at the top. It's just that all of us have our lonely moments. And I want to tell people, don't ever think things have passed you by. They're all there, waiting for you.
Of course, lots of people will say, "Oh, he can say that, he became a success. But I've been trying for so long."
The idea is not to feel you're trying hard. Just to do all it takes. Only lately have I been saying I work 18 hours a day, maybe because of my injuries. I've never felt I've worked hard, I've never thought, I'm a good actor. People think I'm arrogant because I say I'm the best, but I say it because I have to convince myself in the face of 89 million people who are better than me.
Will there be any fireworks or controversies in the book?
No, there's no controversy, no ill will, no deriding or demeaning anyone. Which does not mean it's a goody goody book. It's like when a child tells a fat guy he's a fat guy. You forgive the child because there's no malice.
My book has a bit which says, if this book is not good enough to read, it will come in handy to put in some rose petals, if nothing else. Many years from now, when you open the book, you will find a dried-up rose petal, which is beautiful. Even if you use it only for that purpose, it will be a good book. Good enough for me. I like my life and I like roses.
To rewind a little, you see yourself as essentially middle-class?
Absolutely. Because I am a middle-class boy. I still am. All my family is middle-class too. I know it's very difficult to believe that, sitting here, outside my bungalow. But if I weren't middle-class, I'd want an apartment in New York. But I just want a big house and a good car. It's been a dream run for a middle-class boy, nothing more.
And now when I think of doing anything more, genuinely, genuinely, it's to return all the goodness that this middle-class boy has received. Whether people believe it or not, that's how I feel. And my belief is very strongly based on capitalism; it has to have commerce attached to it. I want to build the best hospital in the world, the best studio in the world and I need money for it but I don't want it from a bank. I'll work 28 hours for it and do it on my own.
It's a middle-class boy's retail mentality—ek dukan se munafa kamaya, doosri dukan kholi. Magar abhi munafe ke liye nahin hai. (You open a shop, make money, then open another. But now it's not about profits.) Because, by giving hits, I'm not giving anyone anything, I'm just adding to my stature.
How did the middle-class boy enjoy the super-rich Mittal wedding? What was your experience like?
I didn't really attend the wedding. I went to the hotel, rehearsed my show and put it up. That was my job. I was present for the dinner that happened after I performed. They wanted me to stay and I would have, but I had to come back because Yashji (Yash Johar) was unwell. As far as the treatment given to me and my group goes, I think they're highly courteous, highly sweet, highly humble people. Very professional too.
What's your take on the opulence of it all?
To each their own. If Mittalsaab spent 30 million or whatever he spent, he's given employment to so many people, including me. And I'm sure the gentleman and his family worked their asses off to reach where they have. I mean, I couldn't get tickets to the show at the Palace of Versailles the last time I went to Paris and he had the whole palace for his function. I think it's outstanding.
Equally wonderful is the birthday party my make-up man, Subhash, has for his daughter. He lives in a one-bedroom house in a chawl, all the kids in the galli come, I go too, and I think it's absolutely outstanding. Subhash got my Main Hoon Na songs before they were released and played them for the kids. Mittalsaab had me dancing live. It's the same thing.
To move to matters less happy, you recently lost someone you loved dearly—Yash Johar. How have you been coping?
I thought of him as a surrogate father, like Aziz (Mirza), but I think I've grown old enough to accept that I can't fight death. I look at the positive side—that he was in his 70s, he's seen his son's success, he died without pain. My wish would be that he hadn't died, but now that he's expired, I try to rationalise it this way. I'm sure wherever he is, he's happy. And organising things for everyone else. He must be casting other people in his films and then I will come into his life again when I go there.
Right now, there are a lot of people waiting there for me saying, Arre bhai, aao to zara. I believe in Allah and I believe I will meet all of them again and start a production company as and when I get there.
Wow, your own production company in the sky.
Yeah, it's getting full of people I know. (smiles wryly) I've got a lot of good people there. I've got this country, this world and I'm creating my fan club up there too. So a good life is all ready and waiting for me up there. I've planned well and way ahead for my future