“I’m indestructible. I’m invincible”. As far as movie quotes go, it’s a doozy. But this isn’t a movie quote. It comes from an arm’s length away from the greatest superstar to walk the planet – Shah Rukh Khan. He is exactly where he wants to be – on his third floor library of Mannat Annexe, where he finds peace and tranquillity. One of the greatest creation stories of modern Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan is devoid of ego. He gets up and greets me with a smile. I’ve read about the actor since I was in school – in newspapers, magazines, seen him on television, and met him in London several times and in Mannat in 2008. But what is it that I still don’t know about Shah Rukh? What is it that the actor still hasn’t confessed about? He’s told his story before but it’s worth telling again, if only because it’s never really ended. Gone is the youthful icon of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. The reinvented Khan has gone blockbuster crazy with his new outing – Chennai Express. Once about licence, fame is now about virtue and what makes one of the world’s biggest name in entertainment different from his peers, however, is not the grandeur of his ambition or the purity of his soul but the fact that when you talk to him, he seems like a good guy. And let me tell you this – Good guys are indestructible. They are invincible.
In what goes down as the best interview of my career and a record breaking one too (1 hour with SRK) I present you Part 1 of the three part special on the man who is happy being human than calling himself a superstar. I present you Shah Rukh Khan as never heard before.
With over two decades in the Hindi Film Industry, how do you keep sustaining?
I’m indestructible and indestructible things don’t sustain themselves (laughs). I’m invincible. But I’ll be honest – if you start looking at the exterior appreciation or the peripheral aspects of your work as the main mover for your job, like – X amount of business or Y amount of critical appraisal, Z amount of chat about new comers, etc it’s not going to work. If you’ve been at a job for twenty years, you’ll know what I’m getting at. But I don’t talk about my relationship with acting. I’m self deprecating, I joke about it and I say it off the cuff, but obviously I may be knowing something about it. That’s me and my acting and it’s a secret. It’s the only enigmatic part of my job. There is no need for me to discuss how the shoe is made. Do you like it? Does it fit well? Is it comfortable? Does it last long? How I made is not for anyone to know. But that is the core and the essence of what I do. There is nothing else I know. Everything else is peripheral – my company is peripheral, the business is peripheral, the critics are peripheral, and all come along because I act. All this stems from something that I own and that is indestructible. I know I have to keep doing what I am best at and that is acting – be it dancing on top of Maratha Mandir or to go retarded in Chennai Express and make people laugh. As long as I act, I’ll sustain myself and my movies. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that.
Every director must be wanting a piece of you seeing the fate of Chennai Epxress.
I am not saying I know the business 100% but I do know something. Half my life I’ve kept doing movies and then I think – I want to make movies for the South Indian market but that market can change, taste can change. I want to make movies for critics but critics and their appreciation can change for a certain kind of cinema. And then I make movies because my heart says so. Now that doesn’t change and that has always been growing along with me. I find a set of people I really like working with and that makes me happy. I surrender myself to that person’s demand once I decide to do the movie. Be it Aditya Chopra, Shimit Amin, Farah Khan or Rohit Shetty. I please them in their world and I behave like how they want me to. I change for them. But till the film is over these directors start believing that I’ve always belonged here. I move on.
How do you look at how people analyse you?
There is a post analysis of the film – that is the facts, figures and trade. There is pre-conceived analysis of the film – that is the critical appraisal. They come with their set of ideas. But the process, the people and my understanding of the movie that I do is the most important. I care of only that. Every year I am buried alive and taken back. I am like the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sometimes I am a bankable commodity, other times I am too old, sometimes in between I am mid life, some days I am too desperate, I am also sometimes the epitome of what India stands for. I don’t believe in any of it. None of this is true and has nothing to do with my acting. I go and give a speech in Yale, I can speak in the India Today conclave, I go and dance at somebody’s wedding. That’s what I do. I am an actor.
Let’s get nostalgic. Besides the fame, the fans and the films, what else has this beautiful city of Mumbai given you?
Mumbai has given me a huge amount of reason to give back. It’s given me a strange sense of humility, gratefulness, graciousness, and a desire to be eaten alive by the people because they’ve given me so much. If I was to sell myself flesh wise, and that I don’t do even for marketing (laughs), I would give myself free to everyone. I want to be full of love bites, I want to be carried away in pieces and I want someone’s life to be touched by every part of my life. It’s given me meaning of a job much beyond that. It’s given me a family that’s extremely well settled and happy because I do this. It’s given me a space where I think my parents can see me from heaven. When so much has been given to you, you only worry about how you will return it. You can’t be asking for more. The ungratefulness of asking for more has been taken away by this city from me. I don’t know who to ask. I don’t pray to Allah and say – Give me this! My mother used to say, “Zindagi mein beta, har kaam karna, khush rehna, kaam ki hamesha izzat karna, koshish karna, kabhi mangna na pade.” This city has given me a fulfillment of my mother’s wishes that I will never have to ask.
A group of 700 senior citizens watching a Chennai Express in Ahmedabad and a four year old with his father who is a labour worker, they saw the film. Is this the rise of your new fan club?
I’ve never calculated my fan base. Yes, for the 65 year old plus, they must be my old fan base when they were in their mid forties. The four year old is something new. I am quite surprised. But through these many years, there has been a consistency. The consistency is that I am extremely human when you see me publicly and I am extremely characterized when you see me in Chak De, Chennai Express, Don, My Name is Khan, etc. But I know how my fan base is built. I’m sure the film must be happy for them because it was happy for me when I shot it. My happiness is what I share with my fans. On the other hand, it’s the consistency of being there in the public that I can’t avoid. I said this some years back – I don’t work towards becoming a superstar or the number one actor or the highest earner. They are peripherals and this process will continue. What I want to be is a feeling that cannot be denied. When you have a love affair, people expect a lot from you. The more you will expect of me, the more I will do it but I should be known as the person who tried his best. I am not saying this in arrogance. Some movies work, some don’t but whatever I do is for my fans.
But these fans expect you to do a Chak De kind of a movie too
Yes, I shall do that too. But it can’t be the next move. When I signed Chak De, my friends told me that I don’t look good in a beard and there are no songs featuring me in the film. But I did it. It worked for some, it didn’t for others. It doesn’t matter. I did Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. Post that people only want to see me do such movies. I tell them – Take it easy! I’ve done one, I’ll do it again. There is a time and space for everything. I have two grown up kids and a new born baby that I need to spend time with. I need to look after a lot of other things also. The support system around me has grown too. But I do all this with a calmness of someone who knows that I will manage everything at the end of it all. Whatever I can do till my last breath as an actor, as a star, as a performer, as an entertainer, all the expectations of all my lovely fans I will fulfil.
To be continued……
Watch this space for Part 2 of Shah Rukh Khan special!