He's still the king

He's still the king

His 'khan'dom

He's still the king
Entertainment has been Shah Rukh Khan’s keyword in his career, which started, essentially, 30 years ago when he went to drop a female friend at an audition for a television serial, but got selected himself. However, Shah Rukh always wanted to be an actor, and had already done theatre.

Much water has flown under the bridge since, and Shah Rukh is now 51, a superstar who leads overseas in commercial clout among Indian actors, and someone who completes 25 years in his film career this year. In that sense, he is a real-life raees (wealthy man), but he insists that the fame,  money, luxuries, and the good life are all incidental.

“My only ambition in life is that I want to entertain lot of people,” he says. “When I came in, I thought of entertaining a hundred people, but too many people have given too much love, so I need to entertain all of them. When you struggle, you hope you get everything, and by God’s will, I have everything to enjoy a good life. But for me, it is all about ‘can I make you enjoy with my film’? My family and friends know this well. As an actor, a creative ‘unfinishedness’ is always there.”

The pros of being a co-producer

Speaking of his latest film, Raees, we ask him about the creative advantages of co-producing films, like he has done quite frequently in the last decade or so with Kaal, My Name Is Khan, Don 2 and Dear Zindagi, and is again involved in the forthcoming Imtiaz Ali film.

“I come in only if somebody expresses that I become a co-producer when I individually take a film on,” he replies. “I was not a co-producer on Fan, for example.  Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar of Excel Entertainment are friends, and after Don 2, they asked me to come in here again. Similarly, Karan Johar asked me to come together on Dear Zindagi as we have not done anything for a long time. But then, let me tell you that this is a co-production, not a star co-production, like other actors do.”

So what is the creative side of this? “If you mean scripting and all that, well, Farhan himself is a brilliant writer and director. He and Rahul (Dholakia) had already worked on the script before they came to me. In this case, Excel looked after the on-ground production, while I was involved in the marketing and selling of the film.”

He adds a valid point: “Rahul is not a commercial film guy but felt that this subject needed a wider audience, which is always better than a niche film. He thought that he could jump over with my commercial sensibility to make such a film with substance. I could be a guide on sets as well. An offbeat subject with a big star gets more expensive, so it obviously was nicer that someone like me, who had been in the zone before, was with him.”

Musing a bit, he adds, “If you think of it, I think I am the only commercial element in it. Zeeshan Ayyub, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and others — none of them are from the commercial side.”

Terming Raees a reality- and research-based film on bootlegging, which was prevalent in Gujarat in the 80s and 90s, Shah Rukh calls the film “earthy” and not urban, which is his predominant image. “My films with different sensibilities have been quite limited, like Chak De! India, Swades or Paheli, and most have not done well,” he points out.

Is there anything during the making of the film that stands out in his memory? “I remember that there was this phase when I used to sit alone and find that no one was talking to me on the sets,” he recalls. “I wondered why. After almost 25 days, I came to know the answer: my make-up had made me look very serious and mean, and everyone thought that I did not like to talk to people, as the entire team was new for me. So I had to tell them, ‘Hey! I am not this serious, unfriendly guy. I am quite cool!’”

When under fire

Of late, Shah Rukh and many other stars have been picked upon for whatever they say or even their social media posts. What does he think of this and is there anything he has learnt from the disproportionate attention he gets? “Whether I like it or not, I am a public figure,” replies the actor. “And public figures will be nullified, vilified and glorified. We will be held responsible for what we say, do, don’t say or don’t do. So if eight nice things are said about me, there will be two things that are not nice. And I do not think that I am as nice as those eight things, and I am not as bad as the other two either, but somewhere in-between, like most regular people.”

He goes on, “So if on my birthday, 5,000 people are waiting outside my house to greet me, there will be 500 to say bad things as well. It’s a path I have chosen. I do not gloat over the praises and do not fret on the brickbats either. When my IPL team did not do well in the first three years, brickbats came my way. But when they won in the next two years, I did not gloat.”

And Shah Rukh rounds off this point with, “I may have been a scientist who discovered God’s particle and won the Nobel Prize, but people would not have even known me. But as a star, I like being recognised, I like working for people, and hoping that a lot of people come to watch my films.”

He admits, however, that stars should be judicious about what platforms they choose to say specific things on, and how they say it. “I once told a journalist that before I became a star, I was often stopped by cops for breaking signals and so on. Their headline was: ‘Shah Rukh stopped by Delhi cops’. Social media has made it worse. Everyone is a writer, many write headlines better than you guys, and you  have got competition from six billion people on Twitter, whereas we only have to compete with other actors,” he says with wry humour.

What turns Shah Rukh Khan as an actor after 25 years in the industry? “Well, I do know the craft better now, but when I was struggling, I thought that I knew a lot,” he says. “Then the more I acted, I realised that I knew less, as there were more ways to do a scene or a role. There was also this stage when I thought that I had killed and nailed the character. Then I realised the meaning of what Picasso, after getting all his fame, said, ‘I want to paint like a child’! I too would like to get back the rawness of my first film, which we lose on the way. So now I want to present the love story in Imtiaz Ali’s film or my character of a dwarf in Aanand L Rai’s movie differently.”

Behind all the glamorous front lies a thinking actor, we say. “Oh, yes, I am an extremely serious actor. My dimples screw it up, you know. If I did not have them, I would look like Nawazuddin Siddiqui,” he grins. And in 25 years in cinema, who does he feel are his real friends? “Aryan, Suhana and AbRam — they are my best friends,” he says succinctly.