Khan’s kingly quips

Khan’s kingly quips

Along the journey

After over 26 years since his debut film Deewana, Shah Rukh Khan may have nothing left to prove, but he would rather think of all accomplishments as milestones in his journey. His latest film, Zero, directed by Aanand L Rai, seeks to be one.

Pragmatic about his future work, he says, “When I started out, most journalists thought I was rude or arrogant. I would say, ‘I am not junk food, I want to be tandoori chicken!’ or ‘I want to rule, not be ruled!’ When I look back now, I realise that though it sounded rude or arrogant to many of you, I said such things because I knew very little then about the art and craft of acting. Today, I know much more, and so I know how much more there is to know!” he smiles.

“I can find a billion things to do in the forthcoming films I take up,” he adds with quite an emphasis. “There is no dearth of wanting to do new things within the formats of commercial cinema. And, I do not even know if I have the talent, capability, time or stardom to do them!”

A key assignment is his biopic on astronaut Rakesh Sharma. “I do want to bring dignity to the role as needed,” he says. “But I also think of how to approach the role — do I copy him, mimic him and show how he displays his emotions? Or play him differently with his permission?”

Right now, however, it is all about Zero, which, he says, “Is a number that is at once nothing yet complete by itself!” Explaining the film’s core, he says, “We all spend most our lives wishing we could be happier or like someone else. Today, more than ever, there are so many people making us aware how we are not up to perfection or completeness in some manner. But nobody’s perfect — emotionally, physically or mentally. We therefore waste time while life passes us by. This film gives the message that we should enjoy this one life, and that our incompleteness is our uniqueness.”

‘Zero’ talks

Zero talks about three kinds of incompleteness. As he puts it, “My character is physically challenged, Anushka Sharma’s is brilliant but has no motor control, which is what cerebral palsy is all about, and Katrina Kaif is this most beautiful woman in the world, who seems to have everything, but is emotionally incomplete. We have followed certain points: at no point do any of us ask for sympathy, either from the other characters or from the audience. We just want equality, love, friendship and happiness, like all of us. And we do not change for anyone else’s happiness, even in the end.”

In this era of technology, it was relatively simpler for Shah Rukh to play a vertically challenged man. “Yes, we had to go slow because of everything we had to do,” he admits. “We needed 200 days to shoot unlike the normal 140 to 150. We did some innovations, some of them expensive. We designed Zero as a cosy, emotional film.”

Among the difficulties the actor experienced, some were in the technical aspects, as for most of the film he had to stand in a pit while the VFX team managed the rest. “They reassured us, but there were small details, like I could not walk with my normal long stride, and I could not dance the way I do normally.”

Would he say that the technology here would be a game changer? “Technology already is a game changer,” he answers. “We say that we are the biggest industry in the world and make the largest number of films, and we assume we are the best! But today’s kids, who are now seven or eight years old, will not be forgiving about their cinematic audiovisual experience. I honestly think that our generation is the last to overlook tackiness in movies by saying that ‘Hindi cinema mein yeh sab chalta hai’ (All this is okay in Hindi cinema)! We are also entering the era when they will watch dubbed films in all languages.”

Reliance on tech

He points out his own experience. “Fifteen years ago, the first multiplexes came up. Today, I am so used to such movie halls, the reclining seats and the ambiance that I cannot go back to the old kind of theatres. We now need VFX not just for a Baahubali but also for the smallest films, in the matter of lighting, speed, cuts and camera movements. In short, we need technology for better storytelling.”

What are Shah Rukh’s expectations from this film? He grins wryly... “You get so tired doing a film that there is no feeling left by the time it is ready! Yes, I want my film to be liked by a lot of people. But then, sometimes people like films you don’t think are great, and vice-versa. I can’t analyse how a film should be, because the audience that spends money decides that.”

Today, having been in the field for as long as he has, Shah Rukh finds that specifics become less important. “I realise that the business part is completely dependent on the story, so, day by day I am becoming less and less expert on a film. I am not looking for an end. I just love doing films. In any case, I have never planned — either for hits, money, awards, or anything else.”

As an artiste, at the same time, Shah Rukh finds himself very incomplete. “Why would I like to work every morning otherwise?” He reasons. “I want to do something new in commercial cinema in whichever capacity. I do not want to play safe, which also does not work each time. So, I am restless, and if I feel complete, then it will be boring, over and done with, as if the finish line has come, not just a milestone. There is an old saying that the journey is everything. There is a need to tell new stories. If my story can touch your heart, or a chord somewhere, it will work.”

A small point: why do the posters read in reverse order of seniority: ‘Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, Shah Rukh Khan’? Feigning ignorance and professing indifference, he quips, “Maybe they thought it should be in alphabetical order!” 

When will be see his daughter Suhana make her acting debut? With a smile, he replies, “Study formalises things when you want to be an actor. In India, we don’t learn acting; we assume we have talent! But I have told her that she should have more grounding in acting. Suhana now wants to act in plays and does theatre in London, and will then go to the US. She also spent time for ground experience with people like Gurinder Chadha. When she came here, I wanted her to be an AD on Zero so that she could experience working with actors like Katrina and Anushka. But they put her in charge of getting me on the sets on time!” Finally, with which director would he like to work next? “I would love to work with Anand again, but preferably in an action film — I think we’ll do good work together, and Rajkumar Hirani — among those I have never worked.” He then quips, “Who else is famous now?”

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