Shah Rukh's fame is over now
By Devansh Patel
Aug 21, 2013
“I am indestructible. I am invincible". As for movie quotes, that's a blast. But that's not a movie quote. It is an arm's length away from the greatest superstar walking the planet - Shah Rukh Khan. He is exactly where he wants to be - in his library on the third floor of the Mannat annex, where he can find peace and quiet. One of the greatest creation stories in modern Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan is ego-free. He stands up and greets me with a smile. I've read about the actor since I was in school - in newspapers, magazines, saw him on TV, and met him several times in London and in Mannat in 2008. But what is it that I do not yet know about Shah Rukh? What is it that the actor has not yet known? He's already told his story, but it's worth retelling if only because it never really ends. The young icon from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge has disappeared. The reinvented Khan got a blockbuster with his new game Chennai Express. Once it was about skill, fame is now preference, and what sets one of the world's greatest entertainment names apart from its peers is not the grandeur of its ambition or the purity of its soul, but the fact that he appears like a good guy when you talk to him. And let me tell you one thing - the good guys are indestructible. You are invincible.
With more than two decades in the Hindi film industry, how are you holding up?
I'm indestructible, and indestructible things don't sustain themselves (Laughs). I am invincible. But I'll be honest - when you start looking at the outward recognition or peripheral aspects of your job as the main driving force behind your job, like - amount X of business or amount Y of critical appreciation, amount Z of gossip about newcomers, etc. it doesn't work. When you've been in a job twenty years you'll know what I'm getting at. But I'm talking about my relationship with acting. I'm self-deprecating, I joke about it, and I say it spontaneously, but apparently I could know something about it. This is me and my acting, and it's a secret. That's the only mysterious part of my job. I don't need to talk about how the shoe is made. Do you like it? Does it fit well? Is he comfortable? Does it last a long time? How I did it nobody needs to know. But that is the core and the essence of what I do. I don't know anything else. Everything else is secondary - my company is secondary, the business is peripheral, the critics are peripheral, and everything is added because I am acting. All of this comes from something I own that is indestructible. I know I have to keep doing what I do best and that's the acting - be it dancing up on the Maratha Mandir or playing the idiot on Chennai Express and making people laugh. As long as I play, I will keep myself and my films. I've been in business long enough to know that.
Every director must want a piece of you at the sight of the fate of Chennai Express.
I'm not saying I know the business one hundred percent, but I do know something. I've made films all the time for half of my life and then I think - I want to make films for the South Indian market, but this market can change, tastes can change. I want to make films for critics, but the critics and their understanding of a particular type of cinema can change. And then I make films because my heart tells it. Well, that doesn't change and has always evolved with me. I find a group of people that I really enjoy working with and that makes me happy. I'll give myself up to this person's demands as soon as I decide to make the film. Be it Aditya Chopra, Shimit Amin, Farah Khan or Rohit Shetty. I delight them in their world and I behave as they want me to. I change for her. But once the movie is over, these directors start to believe that this is where I always belonged. I'm moving on.
How do you see people analyzing you?
There's an afterthought analysis of the film - that's the facts, the numbers, and the trade. There is a preconceived analysis of the film - that is the critical assessment. They come with their ideas. However, the most important thing is the process, the people, and my understanding of the film I'm making. I just care. Every year I am buried alive and transported back. I am like the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sometimes I am a profitable commodity, at other times I am too old, in between I am sometimes in a mid-life crisis, some days I am too desperate, and sometimes I am the epitome of what India stands for. I don't believe in any of this. None of this is true and has nothing to do with my acting. I'll go and give a speech at Yale, I can speak at the India Today Conclave, I'll dance at someone's wedding. This is what i do I am an actor.
Let's get nostalgic. What else did the beautiful city of Mumbai give you besides the fame, fans and movies?
Mumbai has given me a lot of reasons to give something back. The city has given me a strange feeling of humility, gratitude, kindness and a desire to be eaten alive by people for giving me so much. If I were to sell myself personally, which I wouldn't even do for marketing reasons (laughs), I would give myself away to everyone. I want to be full of tokens of love, I want to be carried away to pieces, and I want someone's life to be touched by every part of my life. It gave me the importance of a job way beyond that. It has given me a family that is extremely stable and happy because I do. It gave me a place where my parents can see me from the sky I think. When so much has been given to you, all you worry about is how you will give it back. You can't ask for more. The ingratitude for asking for more has been taken from me by this city. I don't know how to ask. I don't pray to Allah and say - give me this! My mother used to say, "Zindagi my 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 ask have to.
A group of 700 seniors watching the Chennai Express in Ahmedabad and a four year old with his father, a worker, watched the film. Is that your new fan club's survey?
I never determined my fan base. Yes, as for those over 65, they must have been my old fan base when they were in their mid forties. The four year old is something new. I am quite surprised. However, over these many years there has been a persistence. The consistency is that I am exceedingly human when you see me in public and extremely characterized when you see me on Chak De, Chennai Express, Don, My Name is Khan, etc. But I know how my fan base is built. I am sure that the film must be a pleasure for her because it was a pleasure for me when I made it. My happiness is what I share with my fans. On the other hand, it's the consistency of being in public that I can't escape from. I said this a few years ago - I don't work with the goal of becoming a superstar or the number one actor or the highest income actor. This is secondary 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 from me, the more I will do, but I should be known as the person who did my best. I am not saying this arrogantly. Some movies hit, some don't, but whatever I do, I do for my fans.
But these fans expect you to make a film a la Chak De as well.
Yeah, I'll do that too. But it doesn't have to be the next step. When I signed for Chak De, my friends told me that I don't look good with a beard and that there are no songs from me in the film. But I made it. It worked for some, not for others. It does not matter. I did Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. After that, people just wanted to see me do movies like that. I told them - take it easy! I did one, I'll do it again. There is a time and a space for everything. I have two growing children and a baby that I have to spend time with. I have a lot of other things to take care of as well. In addition, the care system around me has grown. However, I do all of this with the serenity of someone who knows that I will eventually make it all. Whatever I can do until my last breath, as an actor, as a star, as an artist, as an entertainer, I will meet all the expectations of all my wonderful fans.
Film biographies create a very interesting cinematic experience. Whose shoes would you like to slip into?
Any of these, yaar! For six or seven years I've been telling my friends that I want to do a biography. Sometimes they think it's not interesting and sometimes they think I don't fit in well with this biography. Asoka is hardly a biographical film and Chak De India is based on someone I know, but it's not exactly a biographical film. But if you ask me about interesting characters, I'd like to play a Charles Shobhraj. I know it's not interesting to play (laughs). I would like to play the real Natwarlal, the impostor. These negative figures led interesting, unacceptable lives. I would like to play a sports personality. I would like to do a boxer film. I still want it. There may not be many well-known ones in the Indian context so it will be a difficult topic to implement. I would have made Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, but I didn't have the dedication and time to do it. Farhan took it to another level and I always knew that. I can play anything - from a philanthropist to an entrepreneur, I would physically and mentally transform myself to slip into them. I have the ability to do that. If I can do it for Dard-E-Disco, I can do it for anything. But it has to inspire me. Whoever does a biography of me, I'll have to tell that person to leave me alone for a month so I can get into the role. Even My Name is Khan spoke generically about a very serious problem. I couldn't do any mischief with it. I told Karan Johar to wait three months so I could finish all other work. I told him I was going to do the autism part properly and he didn't have to worry. I want to do a biopic with engagement. Rahul Dholakia has a biography that I am very interested in. I haven't made a commitment. Someone told me to do 'Dhyan Chand'. He was one of the greatest people my father talked about. He also talked about Mohammed Ali, so I would like to make a boxer film.
You got your first 200 crore film in twenty years. The next masterpiece will be the 300 crores. How much of the business do you think will change in the next five months and for you to achieve the next goal?
This calculation doesn't work out for me. I am an actor. When I am called to the Taj Lands End to speak on a serious subject, I prepare and speak that language. I can only speak in that language when the subject comes up. In this case the subject is a movie like Chennai Express. It speaks the language that people have spoken for the past four years. Now you know the answer. So it takes the burden off my shoulders and clears my head. This is a film that speaks the language when it comes to numbers. It is an entertainer and appears during the holidays. You cannot publish a My Name Is Khan and speak that language. They would be fighting a losing battle. Chennai Express is a very popular film from the most popular director in our country with the most popular heroine in the country and distributed through the most popular studio in our country. Red Chillies produced the biggest hit this country has ever seen. I'm proud of that and it's going to be very good for everyone. My choice of films will never be dictated by the language of numbers or the opinions of the guys who compliment films. When my heart tells me to make a movie, I believe that many other hearts will join it. Numbers will follow if it's that type of topic.
And which film comes to mind first that came from the heart and hit the box office?
It happens very rarely to any actor that a film comes along and all three are convincing - the work of the actor and director, the appreciation of the film and the numbers of the box office. I've had it at DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Chak De India, and now Chennai Express. All of these films came from the heart, especially Shimit's. There was this guy assisting my director in Darr, who was from America and wanted to make a movie about women's hockey. Yes, he also speaks with an accent (laughs). He also edited Asoka. That's why I knew him. It came from the heart. Swades was done the same way. I loved Jodhaa Akbar. Ashutosh Gowariker once told me, “My father says that after you create an important movie like Lagaan, people will rush to see your movie. Make a film that says something meaningful ”. I asked him if he had the potential and he said again, "Shah, my father would like". I immediately said 'yes' because a friend's father wanted to. I think that is the way decisions are made.
As a visionary, now that American TV shows are gaining popularity over their films, would you like to engage with Indian TV as you did with Fauji and Circus years ago?
I think it is a fantastic idea to get the best directors and actors and producers to do TV shows, but in India the business is personal. It's not just a business. Until people in India really start realizing the importance of business as a business, I don't think there are too many people who come together and do the jobs. It's sad. It is the sign of a busy developing nation. It has nothing to do with my personal relationships with anyone. I will give you an example. In Japan it is highly absurd that if you and I make the same product, there will be no discussion except when you buy it. Mushtaq Sheikh and Shah Rukh Khan are friends, but when we are doing business it is only about business. The Japanese make square watermelons because they are easier to transport and there was once a meeting after the price hike in Japan. A decision was made that changed the Japanese economy. They shared the transport, but that truck would contain products from three different companies. You will never get personal. In India, it's still personal. There are very few people like Ronnie Screwvala who, when they are at the table, will only talk about business. Peter Jackson goes to Steven Spielberg because the latter has the rights of Tin Tin. Peter Jackson says, "You're crazy about making it and I'm ready to make it." They both join hands and make one of the best films of the year. In India some studios know how to do business and just do business and so should you. There shouldn't be a clash of egos. I really want to do TV shows because there are certain stories that can't be told in two or three hours. Anil Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan started. I would love to produce it and be creative on some Indian TV series.
With the arrival of studio culture and the arrival of foreign studios, where do you see the Indian film business booming?
The speed at which Chennai Express has grossed more than 200 crore domestically shows that you are seeing $ 70 million to $ 80 million in business in India alone. More than 200 crores is about $ 50 million, to which you add another 8 to 10 crores from satellite rights and 2 to 4 crores from music. Five years ago we were shocked to find out that a Hollywood movie had grossed $ 100 million. With a little bit of diaspora in India, I didn't count overseas, we still do business for 70 to 80 million dollars.That means we can easily reach $ 100 million. We're taking organizations, the distribution network of these international people, making a movie a lot cheaper than they can do it, whether through our VFX and production line, making the Indian movies business bigger by giving them to these guys and saying, 'Now spread it in the world '. The whole ideology that Indian films can never make it big is soon going to be proven wrong. The day is not far off when you will soon be able to dominate the international market and the numbers will increase.
The VFX department of your company is the talk of the day in Bollywood.
Many Thanks! VFX is the future in cinema, and if I am able to support it or more than I do, with Harry and Ketan running it, developing and maintaining it, we will get quite a long way with these two and the two hundred employees, who work in the department. Another three to four years and it will work wonders. In the past decade, we've only made three superhero films - Ra.One, Krrish, and Krrish 3, which hasn't come out yet. Action hasn't reached this level that you suddenly see a movie like Bourne Identity or GI Joe etc. They know it's a niche market and yet we've been able to keep it going. I think if we can break even and keep it up for the next few years; we will be one of the best VFX companies in India and all of Asia. We are also the only ISO certified VFX unit in our country. I see a very bright future for Red Chillies, but you must be able to support it. Slowly but surely. We've made ten to twelve films in a decade, but I want twenty-five Red Chillies films to come out. It'll take a couple of years, but we'll make it happen. Now we have Chennai Express which is going to give us some money, we have big distributors like UTV and all the other companies, use them because they have great business acumen. What will happen is that business and creativity will be divided. I will respect you for the business you do for me and you will please respect my creativity! You have every right to tell me, "Listen, Shah, let's only get this movie out in thirty theaters". You know best buddy so do it. On the flight, I asked Sid Roy Kapur, "Don't you think 4,000 overseas copies is too much for Chennai Express?" He said, "You will be amazed how the business of this film will change things". I'm the king overseas, I've heard that for years. But all we've shown is rich boys and girls, rich locations, and so on. Everything on Chennai Express is Indian. It slowed down business. But it's Rohit Shetty - his point of view, his clarity, his appeal to a family-wide audience thanks to its purity is undisputed. You put two good stars in and voila! Chennai Express’s business today is unprecedented.
But they must have gotten some criticism for the film too.
People like to simplify things. They especially do this when they don't understand Rohit Shetty's talent. Is it that easy to crash two cars in midair? Try it! I did it in Ra.One too. But what's the point? Shah Rukh Khan will spread his hands, etc. That is simplifying things, to be honest. With my entry into the movie, Rohit got a little more romance than he usually brings in. I taught him a little love, and he taught me a lot of comedic timing, which he's so good at. It's not that old Shah Rukh is back, oh no! It's just that he respects the fact that there's an actor here who does that too. I appreciate the fact that Rohit brought me to a new world. I got some worries a few days before the Chennai Express release when I saw my poster in the white shirt with blood all over it. People thought it was an action movie and I told them it wasn't. Nonetheless, Rohit is an action director. He loves it and has a fan base. That's what matters. He knew what he was playing with this time and did well again. For him, it was a comedic love story for families and the families kept pouring in. You have the result in front of your eyes.
But still, the audience has become too critical of every film.
Look, it's very simple. The guy who buys the ticket for 200 rupees is not there to critically analyze your film or because he wants my film to make 100 crores. The fact is, he bought a card - he got the card because he likes the product (Chennai Express). It's one of the few products you can go and buy without looking through it. If you can't see it, then you can't buy it. This man saw the promos and posters and bought the card. When this man bought the card, he showed me that respect and all I can tell him is - enjoy! You know, when I go to see a movie, I never want it to be a great movie, nor do I want it to be a bad movie. I buy a card and sit down with my popcorn and just want to be happy and then come out wanting to have a Chinese meal. Just as an audience cannot predict a film, neither does the filmmaker know where it will take them. Just enjoy the performance!
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