Shah Rukh's Decade Shah Rukh's Decade

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Shah Rukh's Decade

'The scary part is that the adulation will go away'

Shah Rukh Khan Shah Rukh Khan's hair needs a perm…

…Hema Malini's hairstylist is certain. Ms Malini is shooting Dil Aashna Hai, her directorial debut. She has signed Shah Rukh Khan, a new kid with a disobedient mop. The director is at her wit's end. Try what she might; his hair is never going to sit neatly enough.

It is 1991. The perm never happens. Dil Aashna Hai bombs.

Yet, 1992 is another story. Deewana is a hit. Shah Rukh and his still unmanageable hair have gained a reputation: A reputation that multibillion-rupee projects are betting on.

And it is not just the hair… The big bucks are essentially backing average height. Average looks. Fat nose. Tremendous nervous energy… Bursts of staccato, rapid-fire speech. Worse… flailing arms that are more interruptive than that wild mop of hair.

These are not what stars are made of. These are the shortcomings that a phenomenon transcends.

Year after year, through the nineties, Shah Rukh went on to grow from an actor into a star into a phenomenon: A phenomenon that made a virtue out of being plain.

As street-corner taporis will tell you, Shah Rukh is a zero-se-hero story.

The question is H-O-W?

Is it his acting? Or is it just his charm? Is it his personal equations within filmdom? Or is it his nose for business? Is it simply insights into the audience? Or is it all of the above? What!?

The answers to these questions will have to wait till the present becomes the past. Till the future takes us so far that the whole picture can be viewed with all its parts.

But one thing today is as certain as it has always been: Superstars are a product of their times...

Consider Amitabh Bachchan. His fans did not have the distractions of excessive television, music channels and Indypop icons. No pool tables. No bowling alleys. And no 56K modems. The Big B had the biggest advantage ever: In his time, entertainment equalled cinema.

He could afford the luxury of being a recluse. In fact, the off-screen enigma had become the real blockbuster.

Since then the landscape has changed dramatically. Today, Shah Rukh competes with not just non-film singing icons but with also those that sit on desktops. To be heard, he has to rise over the tweets of video games and the clatter of pool tables. In that sense it can be argued that, pound for pound, his stardom is far greater than that of all those before him.

The nameplate on his office door reads Superstar! Arrogant? No. Honest.

But even the severest honesty rests on context. The times are changing and Shah Rukh's stardom is besieged.

There is the threat of Hrithik Roshan. And that too in the disastrous aftermath of Shah Rukh's first production, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. So paranoid and severe is the hype about the Shah Rukh-Hrithik battle, that advertisers are cashing in and have them endorsing rival brands in the on-going cola war.

Now Josh is expected to decide Shah Rukh's scores against Hrithik. It has had a spectacular opening, giving the star a second lease of life and much accolades. And there's Mohabbatein, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Devdas, Boney Kapoor's next and his own production, Ashoka The Great.

But Shah Rukh is only buying time. The law of gravity is the strongest in Bollywood. His descent will begin, sooner or later.

Shah Rukh Khan And he has been preparing for it. Hence, Dreamz Unlimited. His production company in partnership with friend and costar Juhi Chawla and patron saint, director Aziz Mirza.

Will Shah Rukh reinvent himself to become an equally successful producer? Perhaps a director? One thing is evident; the man will continue to exert his influence in the world of cinema for a long time to come.

In this interview with, Shah Rukh Khan speaks of the inevitable loss of stardom, like the inevitable loss of life. He talks of acceptance, but also of newer hopes...

What do you expect Josh? to do for you?

I don't expect any of my films to do anything for me. For me, the process of working is more important. The end result is not. I also realise I am a means to an end. I am not the end all of everything. My being in a film and working very hard is not going to make it a success or failure.

I have worked hard in certain films like Koyla, Duplicate, Dil Se... I put my life on line there. I have done some dangerous stunts myself -- like dousing myself with fire, jumping from 40 floors... I really don't know why I do it.

I read a statement made by Jackie Chan somewhere that he does it because his audience expects it of him. My audience doesn't even expect it of me. And I don't do it for them either. I just do it because, at the end of it, if the film works, then it gives me an immense amount of satisfaction that I worked hard and I have achieved something. In Islam, it is called halal.

If my film fails, I don't feel guilty that I haven't done my best. I think the worst kind of situation to be in is when the film fails and you wish you had done a little more... I wish I had put in that one little effort that was important... And that guilt can kill you. But, for me, if a film fails, then it fails. Then I know my best wasn't good enough.

I have never gauged my success with the commercial success of my films. I know I have done my best for a film. I love most of my films that have flopped. In fact, my producers tell me that, if I love their films, it is sure to be a flop. When they know that I don't like a film, they heave a sigh of relief saying that the film will run.

You had so many people working on your first production. Was it because you wanted them to or did they offer to help out?

Actually, to be very honest, Aziz, Juhi and myself are not business-savvy. So the business angle has been looked after by Yash Johar. He is a regular producer and he has been in the industry for the last 30 years. We never had to get into the nitty-gritty of the whole thing.

I was telling Azizji and Juhi that we must get down and start learning because we won't have Mr Johar doing this for us every time. Because this was our first film and he is a close friend, he decided to help us. Jay Mehta looked after the whole legal part of the paperwork and also banks and things like that.

The two of them put it across to us in such a way that we just had to sign the papers, we never really looked into it. My involvement in the film was only creative. And taking some decisions, which I do normally as a star too -- like should we do the scene here or wait for the next location... I normally do a lot of post-production for my other films also, so a lot of producers and directors ask me about these things like location, sets or time constraints. One just extended that.

Shah Rukh Khan Very honestly, I don't know the business aspect of film-making at all. Whenever I wanted something, I went and got the money sanctioned from Azizji and Juhi and Yash Johar. Whenever I was going over-budget, they told me not to do it. Beyond that, I also tried to keep myself in check about budgets.

But you must have realised that producing a film is risky. Why did you not decide to direct instead?

I think you need a lot more experience to become a director. And when we say we are producers, it just means we got together under a banner to make a film. I did not become a producer to fulfill a goal. We just wanted to make a film which was ours. And it was Yash Johar who really made it happen. We just have our names there.

Besides that, there is no reason why I opted for production instead of direction. Actually, when you ask me why production, I might ask why not? My logic is, why shouldn't I produce a film? Why should anybody ask me why I wear a white shirt? Production is film-related and we wanted to bring in new technology, new equipment...

I can't ask my producer to spend money on a camera when he signs me. I can't ask my producer to develop his film in London because I think it is better quality. There were certain aspects to film-making that I wanted to see though this film. Aziz and Juhi also believed in it. We did not do it with an outside producer because we were not sure of the budget or how saleable we were. We could not ask an outside producer to spend more than his budget because we could not guarantee that he would get his money back. Here, we knew everything and we went ahead and did it.

You have directed a lot of promos for films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Duplicate. One also hears that you write very well.

Yeah, I do write. I have done a lot of promos for films -- Duplicate, Yes Boss... I have discussed some ideas like Dil To Pagal Hai and KKHH. I have only executed Duplicate and Yes Boss and, of course, my own film. Baadshah was a film that did not work out the way I had suggested. I should have done that promo as well.

Does this mean you will direct a film some day?

I was studying Masters to be a film-maker. I was doing my mass communication in film-making. But I don't think I'll do it right now. I would like to give it some more time, maybe five or six years more. I don't think I am a good scriptwriter. I just write for myself, that's all. I have ideas, but I can't pen them down. And I don't have an idea for a film. Maybe, sometime later, I will direct something.

One did notice you had most of the people you were closely associated with helping you with PBDHH.

Yash Johar is very close to Juhi and me. I have known him for a long time now. I have done two films -- Duplicate and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai -- with him. The Johars are like family. We have been friends for the last eight-nine years. And we meet everyday, in their homes or wherever, and if anybody has a problem, we all deal with it together.

Most of us who formed the core of this company are very close. Each one pooled in in some way. Karan (Johar) and Adi (Aditya Chopra) helped in their own ways. Jay Mehta did his bit for the company. Whoever knew us and was connected with the industry gave us the help of their expertise in whatever aspect of film-making they knew.

Shah Rukh Khan You must have a knack of making good friends then…

I have some very close friends. Not too many though. Most of my relationships start with business, but I guess the atmosphere that I create on the sets and the way we work with each other and relate to each other after the film is complete makes us very close friends.

Films are a very insecure business. Sometimes they go right and sometimes they go wrong. I stand by my films. That is something that makes the producer feel very comfortable with me and, slowly, that comfort turns into friendship.

Aziz Mirza, Juhi and her family, Yash Johar and Yash Chopra, Venus, Abbas-Mustan, Rajiv Mehra, these are the people who are very close to me. We meet each other regularly. We know each other very well. We get along well. We don't bullshit each other.

When I first met Karan and Adi, they were not directors. My relationship has been more of an encouraging colleague because they were younger than I was. With the guys who were older than me, the relationship was that I always listened to them. So, in this way, relationships develop and friendships begins.

Is that why you only do films with a select few in the industry?

I do four films a year and I am trying to reduce that figure to three films a year now. I am going to cut down on film assignments. I sort of rotate the people I know in these two or three films I do. I know most of the people I do films with.

I am very happy with the scripts they write for me and the films they make. So it does begin to look like I am only working with these people. But, in between, other films happen as well. Like Devdas, which I am doing with Sanjay Leela Bansali or Dil Se.., which I did with Mani Rathnam. And somebody else might come along.

One has started out with four directors and one has been successful with them. The relationship has developed and turned into friendship. We have formed a good team -- Yash Chopra and myself, Abbas-Mustan and myself, Aziz Mirza and myself... When they think of starting a film, since they are doing well commercially and I am doing well too, it seems natural that we should do the film together.

Does this not make them professional friends instead of personal ones?

No, some of them are close personal friends too. Like Karan and Adi. Aziz Mirza is like a father.

You seem to be caught in a rut lately. You are doing the same kind of roles. Have you stopped experimenting?

I think it is the shortsightedness of the media. The lack of information and lack of knowledge of what film-making and acting is all about. Like, I find that, when you write, all your articles seem the same. Why is that? Because I believe that must be your style. So, when you see film-makers like Martin Scorcese, James Cameron, Woody Allen, Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, there is an inherent style because of which they have become what they are today. And the style is something that doesn't go.

Like writing. For instance, you don't write like Khalid Mohammed, you have your own way of writing. In the same way, everybody has a way of doing sequences... scenes... according to their styles. They also say that directors never change their films. They keep on making the same films again and again, which I think is not necessarily true in every case. So, when you subtly change a character, people who don't know much about acting wouldn't notice the difference.

Shah Rukh Khan In the last 10 years, I have done 27 films, which means three films a year. And, every time, given the set parameters of commercial cinema, my films, I feel, have been different. Yes, as an actor, I might seem repetitive, boring, absolutely crap. But the logic here is that I do my job with a lot of diligence and hard work and there is a lot of thought that has gone into it. Would you like to see it? Good. If not, then switch off the television.

How do you enact the same kind of characters in different ways?

I don't believe in method acting. I don't believe in research. I do a role the way I like it. I hear a story and I normally see myself in that story. I do four films a year, so, broadly put, one of them is a comedy, one might be dramatic, one is an action film and the fourth, a romantic one. Now, in those four roles, I try and be as different as possible in the set parameters of commercial cinema.

You expect me to do parallel cinema, but I don't do that. I don't think any cinema which is not watched by the masses is good. I like to be watched by as many people as possible. I don't want my film to be made for a kitty party gathering or for up-market people sitting and discussing the nuances of a character when they don't even understand the film.

I just read the script and role. And I normally have 20 different ways of doing a role. I show it and the director chooses the best one. I have never done a historical character or a round, well-etched, completely-based-on-reality kind of character. I have created characters or, to frame it better, can I say hero types? It could be a Raj, an Ajay or a Vijay, it could be Monty, Vicky or Raju. I have just created hero types and I would be lying if I said I really sit down and approach a character based on research. I don't do that.

So, if you don't believe in method acting or research, wouldn't it be difficult for you to get into the skin of the character?

When I act, I am at ease with what I am doing. Because my theatre upbringing is such that I was taught to be easy with the space provided, which actors seldom do. So I am comfortable with the space I have. Space also means your co-actors, props, where you are standing, location of the scene in the script... So once I am easy with that, then there is no problem. I just go ahead and do it.

What comes across as easy here is not all that easy actually. I am very nervous about doing a take, I think a lot before I do a take. So many thoughts come to my mind because I don't believe that there is isolation of emotion in acting. That would be childish acting then. There have to be other things that have to work with one major emotion. Like anger has to be reflected in eyes and in other bodily actions. But I have always been like this. These things are necessary where I come from.

Since that is your approach to acting, how did you get along with Kamal Haasan who is reputed to be a very difficult director?

I think Mr Kamal Haasan gave me an immense amount of respect by asking me to do this special appearance in his film. And I had no difficulty in doing a film with him. He has been very nice to me. And it has been nice to be with him, next to him...

I sort of hope some of his acting talent rub off on me. I really think he is one of most wonderful actors in the world. And he is a very easy-going person. In fact, we even became friends by the end of the film. Like I said earlier, I form relationships. One of my new ones is with Mr Kamal Haasan.

Why did you accept Hey! Ram? Was it because of the character or because of Kamal Hassan?

I have chosen roles based on the people I was going to work with. Because, right now, the process of making a film is what I enjoy the most. The end result is also important because it does hurt when a film doesn't do well. But, for the last couple of years, I have been choosing films on the basis of who is directing it.

Are these interesting people? Educated? Are they good film-makers? Do they believe in cinema? I think there is no one who believes in cinema more than Kamal Haasan. So I didn't even hear what I was going to do in the film. I just told them I will do it. And this film is bilingual. So he made me learn Tamil, which I wouldn't have done for anybody else.

Shah Rukh Khan Did you ever imagine you would get this kind of adulation?

I know the job I am doing. I know a bit of the craft of what I am doing. I have done theatre for some time. I have been an avid watcher of Hindi films. I am not a good dancer. I am not a good fighter, neither am I a good looker. But I always thought I would be able to act out scenes in a different way. At this point of time, I think, in the last five years at least, I have been able to achieve at least 10 to 15 per cent of what I thought I could do.

I was quite popular when I did Fauji and other television serials, but this kind of adulation, especially in the last couple of years, is much beyond what I ever imagined or what I think I deserve. I think it is the goodness of the audience or blessings of God or my mother looking after me. It cannot be talent because there are more talented and hardworking people. But the kind of so-called superstardom I have had for the past three years -- I have been successful since I entered this industry -- the love and the adulation that the audience gave me, is much more than what I deserve. And that's honest.

How do you deal with it?

That doesn't happen every time. But the scary part of the adulation is that it will go away. Not the fact that your shirt is torn off you. Getting pushed or having people running after you is not scary. That all this will go away is. Dealing with this is simple because I never looked at myself as a star. I never expected it and I still don't believe that I have it. It's one of the philosophies I have always followed.

Once you learn to accept a truth or a lie, it ceases to exist. So, if I accept that I have a fat nose, it will stop bothering me. If I accept the fact that I am a big star, it will vanish. So I have been working just like that since I entered the industry and I haven't thought of anything.

Things have been happening too fast. I have no time for retrospect or nostalgia. I don't have time for thinking of the past or planning for the future. In the scheme of things right now, I don't even know how far I have travelled as a star or how far I am willing to go or how far I will go. I just keep on doing my job, that's all.

What do you make of the comparison between you and Amitabh Bachchan?

That kind of comparison is wrong and I am not being humble about this. Because the fact remains that he is still as popular as a younger person. For me, this could be just a fad or a fashion or plain lucky or fantastic or whatever reasons are attributed to my success. But, with him, he has been here for 30 years and that speaks volumes for the kind of legendary fame and the immense amount of talent he has.

I am working with him now and one gets to learn a lot by hearing about what he has gone through and the focus that he has. I don't think I have even half the focus that he has. At this age, to be focussed like that and that too after being the legend he is...! I think he is arguably the only legendary star. He is definitely my star. I don't think any kind of comparison is possible till I last that long.

Does stardom make you feel insecure?

So far I haven't been given any reason to feel insecure. I have been fortunate enough to be doing well and still going up and up. But one knows realistically that one has to go down and one also knows philosophically that success never lasts. But one also knows that, when this happens, one is shattered and one would like to avoid it.

Everyone knows we are going die, but we don't spend our lives thinking that we are going to die. This must be God's way of making you feel secure. Some things that are going to hurt you are always at the back of your mind. They don't ever come up front at all. Yes, I would be scared if I sat down and thought about it.

Shah Rukh Khan spoke to Sharmila Taliculam.

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