Shah Rukh Khan on the right way to achieve success, his favourite characters from his own films, handling calls from gangsters and the SRK biopic
Happy New Year is being touted as a celebration of Hindi cinema, but for you it’s also a renewal of your friendship with Farah Khan, isn’t it?
I would have worked with Farah whenever she would have asked, but this is the way it was supposed to happen. A few years ago, Farah had a story about five young boys in a basti. I felt I was a bit old. Then she changed the story. I haven’t worked for a film about dance other than ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’, but it was interesting to add the heist angle. It’s like Ocean’s Eleven meets The Full Monty. As a producer, making difficult films is my thing, so I did it.
When choosing a film, what is easier for you — saying yes or no?
I take a long time to say no. I feel bad whenever I have to refuse a film. I avoid the conversation, make excuses not to meet or call the person, and then read the script a few more times. Saying yes is pretty much instinctive, but I explain to the filmmaker that I can start the film a year late. For me, choosing a film is to choose a state of mind that I want to be in. I do films that make me happy. I don’t understand when actors say they did a film because it was “challenging” or “exciting”. Those are heavy words. I like to be simple — I want to be happy.
Do you feel the pressure to do a particular kind of film that the audience likes to watch you in?
I’ve doled out a lot of different stuff and the audience has always loved me. ‘Swades’ may not be so huge commercially, but it was loved. Ditto with Chak De! India, even Ra.One. As a superhero film, it didn’t have that big a market, but my audience loved it. In my 25 years in the industry, I’ve always brought a certain integrity to my work and the audience love that. I do a film because I need to do it. I’m the happiest while working. We have been travelling like crazy for ‘Happy New Year’; some days, I don’t even know which city I’m in or where I am going next. I’ve decided this is the best way to be. I don’t need to know much. I just want to be on the set and act. That’s my job. Main sirf acting karunga (I will just act). I become very zen about it. I’m not a warrior; I’m only an actor. Just give me the lines and I will act. Bas (That’s it).
You are not a warrior, but the industry is no less than a minefield. Tell me about your inner reserves.
My inner reserves are I, me and myself. I don’t have any ghostbusters to help me. By now, I know that if I do it right, I’ll get it right or else I’ll try more. You could call it belief or resilience or trial and error or luck or stubbornness. I’m always with myself. I know I was made for this. I’ve seen enough failures and crisis to know that ant mein sab theek ho hi jaata hai (in the end, everything gets okay).
Does every film have to work?
I enjoy the process, but I’m not detached from the result. I feel really bad if my film doesn’t work. Every moment, I can feel the weight of a billion people’s expectation on my shoulders.
What is SRK’s mission statement?
It is to work harder than yesterday. I ask my children what’s my best quality, and they say, ‘Papa, you work hard.’ That is my life’s theme.
What advice would you give to your younger self if you were making a debut in Bollywood now as a 25-year-old?
I’ll tell him to do exactly what the old Shah Rukh Khan did. Just be yourself. You’ll find enough people on the way to help you reach where you want to go, but don’t make any plans. I’ll tell you a little story. When I had just come to Mumbai, two-three of us, all young actors, were chatting. I won’t name them because it’ll create a new controversy. One of them said, ‘I don’t want to get typecast.’ I told him, ‘Nobody knows you yet. You need to be cast to be typecast’. The other guy said, ‘I won’t do TV.’ I told him, ‘If you get a great offer, please do it. There is no right or wrong way of achieving success’. Like I’ve written in my book, ‘The best way to act is to act.’
Will we ever get to read this book that you’ve been writing for a thousand years?
(Laughs) I know, it’s been going on forever. I need to take time off to complete it. I thought I’ll utilise the two months when I was recuperating from my shoulder surgery, but I was too depressed to write anything.
Now that you mention depression, how do you deal with it?
(Smiles) If we knew a way to deal with it, wouldn’t we sell it in stores? You have got to get a handle on depression till you get un-depressed. Get on and go to work. There is no cure for it. I read a lot of motivational quotes, I even tweet some of it, but quotes don’t help when you are sad. I deal with it by working.
How has the definition of success changed for you in all these years?
For me, success means three things: to be able to pull along people who work with me to a level that is higher than where they currently are; to be able to do justice to my director’s vision and to be able to make people, who made me who I am, happy by making sure they like my film.
Don’t you feel there is way too much competition around you? Has counting crores taken the joy out of work?
I’ve always maintained that I don’t have any competition. I’m selfishly selfish that way.The person I know best is myself. Why should I compete with the unknown? The game is to be better than myself, but people just don’t get it. They say jealous toh hota hoga. But nahin hota main (I don’t get jealous)! I don’t understand Rs 100 crore or Rs 200 crore. Talking of Happy New Year, if you have a leading star, a hit director, a superstar heroine and you release a film in the holiday period, then it will make big money. It’s a no-brainer that it’ll do well. I’m not being arrogant. Farah said, ‘I think we’ll kick everyone’s butt with this film.’ I asked her, ‘Did we kick our butt or not?’ When working on my body for Happy New Year, I put up my poster from Dard-e-Disco (Om Shanti Om) and told my trainer that we have to be better than this. I can’t have a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger because I don’t know about his diet or exercise. There’s no need to be better than the rest. I’ll make it better than mine.
Next year you will turn 50. As an actor, what is your dream now?
It’s been my dream —for a while — to participate in a film that takes Indian cinema worldwide; something like Life is Beautiful, which is an Italian film, but speaks to everyone. I want to make my company (Red Chillies Entertainments Pvt Ltd) bigger and better. Get the film studio going.
If you were to invite your favourite characters from your movies for a celebration, who all would make it to your guest list?
Here we go: Rahul from ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’, Raj from ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’, Sunil from ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’, Don, Devdas, Kabir Khan from Chak De! India, Rizwan Khan from My Name is Khan, Mohan Bhargav from Swades, G.One from Ra.One, Rahul from Darr and Surinder Sahni from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
You missed my favourite: Ram Jaane.
(Laughs) After the movie, I got a call from a gangster, who told me, ‘Kitna overacting kiya tune. Kya aise hote hain hum? (You overacted so much. Are we like this)?’ I said, ‘Nahin nahin… main bura actor hoon… aap toh character mein hote ho (No no… I am a bad actor… you are into the character).’
Would you ever want to make an SRK biopic?
No. I’m already a moving, talking biopic. I’m not expressive about my most important feelings. I know how to talk sense, but I don’t know nonsense, so it won’t be an interesting film. What will you say about me in a film? That this is a story of a guy from Delhi who loses his parents, comes to Mumbai and becomes a superstar and in the end, his arrogance destroyed him? That’s not me. As I see me, the boy lived and lived and lived while the world keeps thinking ki yeh kab khatam hoga (when will he be destroyed). Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost! I genuinely feel I haven’t done enough to be a biopic. When I came to Mumbai, I wanted to make five good films. I have made none. Each film is relevant for a particular time. There is nothing like an ‘all-time great’. There is only ‘now time great’, so I can’t rest on what I’ve done. Main khud bhool gaya hoon toh log kyun yaad rakhenge (I have forgotten myself, so why will people remember)? So I need to make five more ‘now time greats’ in order to make them ‘all-time greats’. You can’t make a biopic on someone who hasn’t even made five great films.