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'Indians by nature are very secular'

April 30, 2004 20:53 IST

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan spoke to the BBC's Asia Today programme in a wide-ranging interview about being a cult hero, the trappings and pressures of stardom, about joining politics and playing a larger role in society. He also spoke at length about communalism in the country and the role an educated, middle-class Indian can play in making the country a superpower. Excerpts from the interview, which is part of the Modern Indian Maharajas series:

On his remarkable story and being a self-made movie star, a cult hero from a middle-class family:

The cinema that I do or the work that I have done makes people feel that if he can do it, so can we. This is the way I am. It's genuinely the case that if I can do it, so can most of the people in the world. There is nothing special about me. That is what I have tried to keep in my films that I play. It is not special to be special, it's special to be ordinary.

On being an entertainer:

I am the monkey on the roads who dances for you and pleases you and that's the only importance that I attach to myself. In India they have this 'madari ka nautch', so I come and I dance and I make you feel happy, that's how important I am, and because I am so honest towards what I do, and I believe that's all I do, there is nothing more attached to it. I don't intellectualise it, I don't romanticise it, I am just a worker and it's a lot of hard work mentally and physically, it's not a good life. After you put on the makeup you look nice. Without the makeup, without the costume, without the lights, it's a very hard life.

On the pressure to perform and constantly deliver:

Everyone seems to know what acting is about: oh god! he was over the top, I hated it. It was depressing because as soon as the audience has paid money to come into the hall, they have already accepted that you are a good guy, you are a big guy. That is why they have paid money. Nobody pays money just to see people in any profession. So you become very, very responsible and they have all the right to completely turn it off, say no good. You spend a year-and-a-half of your life trying to make this one little product work for people and you get very disappointed not only because your product didn't work, you get very disappointed that it didn't work for the people who give you so much love.

On the trappings of stardom and not being able to enjoy it:

What happens in this work, especially what comes across, is the easy part of it. Hey, he looks good, he is dancing, he is romancing with the prettiest girls in the world, this must be good, he is getting well paid.

The strange part of it is that I have never enjoyed the payment I've got, I've not had the time to sit back and rest on my laurels. A lot rests on you, it's not a business that you have done well so you can settle back and relax. It's a business which depends on creating something new every time, every Friday, so to say. It can all be taken away from you, it's not a business where you can rest on your laurels.

There is an old saying, I think some big filmmaker said, you are only as good as your last film. There is a lot of pressure to keep on performing.

On India's booming economy:

I can make one very strong comment about our country. I think it's doing very well, monies are coming in, exports are happening, the economy is opening up. There are a lot of new industries that are springing up in our country, whether it's software or IT or entertainment, communications just now, which are opening up and I think doing very well for us. Plus because of our population, we are a huge market, so there are a lot of people who will be interested in coming into our country, like television just did. There is a lot of scope for us to use that to our benefit.

On communal disharmony in the country:

For India to be progressing faster, what it needs is to control any kind of communal disharmony, which I personally feel is in the hands of a few people who misuse it for their agendas. I think the educated middle-class Indian has to take a stand and understand and has to feel that the only thing which can stop India from being the greatest superpower in this world is the misuse of communalism, misuse of religion for very small benefits, very small, unimportant agendas.

On the possibility of playing a role to bridge the divide:

I am a walking-talking secular example. Like I said, I am an Islamic hero, my wife is Hindu, my children, I always say this openly, they will learn both religions, there is no difference at all. I would like to teach them Christianity too. I am very clear in my films, when I play a Hindu or a Muslim character, I say comments, say things. My new film, Main Hoon Na, is about India and Pakistan becoming friends.

I think Indians by nature right now are very secular, have been very secular, and the biggest case in point is that a Muslim guy is one of the top stars for the last 13 years, they have accepted me, nobody has ever questioned my (religion) for years it's been, we say this so it comes to your mind, otherwise nobody ever questions it.

But I just want to say this. Listen, our country has been misused at times by this communal disharmony thing. It will only take us backward. It's very sad for people who get affected, who get disturbed, whose lives are finished because of reasons like this. We should take a stand and we should talk against it. Even if we don't talk against it, we should feel completely against it. I think that's most important, that's my role in this country for that aspect.

On a larger public role:

I don't think so. I have another very strong belief, that you are made for certain kinds of work and suddenly you find that work one day. When you find it, it will be ungrateful, looking and searching for new things. Unless you get really bored with it, you just make the best of it and be the best at that. Because if each one keeps on doing what they are good at, the world will be a better place to live in.

It's a very compartmentalised thought, it's perhaps a very narrow way of thinking, but that's how I lead my life. I am made for making films, I am made to act, I am made to produce films -- this is what I will do and I still haven't achieved 10 percent of what I can, I think, in this field. If I start multi-tasking, if I start moving around thinking I will do this also, this also, just because lot of people claim oh, you are a public figure so why don't you do some public service? I will do public service in my way, from my field. I am not going to leave that...

On joining politics:

I am completely apolitical. I don't understand it. I think I am at this level , O level or A level of filmmaking, and I still have to go further. Leave all this politics, I don't understand it at all, so I am just going to do my job and my public service is to make sure that I can say thank you to a lot of people through my work, make a lot of people smile for two-and-a-half hours in a dark room. I want people to be entertained. I want people to say 'my life is troubling me, let's go and see a Shah Rukh Khan film.'

Reproduced with kind courtesy of the BBC

Image: Uday Kuckian