What got you excited about Raees?
Honestly, unless a role is very specifically crafted, like in Fan, it is a secondary thing that comes up for consideration; it was the idea that a realistic filmmaker like Rahul Dholakia wanted me to participate in a film that he wants to give a wider reach to. Raees was already a well-researched story by two journalists, but Rahul wanted to give it a spin to make it more than just a niche movie. I normally play more urban characters. It was interesting for me to go into this space to play a character which is within my repertoire, but still a little different. I have never played this kind of a small-town and earthy character. I found it very intriguing how bootleggers in the ’80s and ’90s bypassed restrictions. We have studied a lot of cases for this film and it’s in a very Narcos and Breaking Bad space.
Do you enjoy gangster movies?
I like some gangster movies, but I am not crazy about them. I like Narcos. I liked The Godfather while I was growing up. I have never done a gangster movie, so to speak. But this was interesting as it has a touch of reality. Some of these were real case studies.
Do your recent choice of films such as Fan, Dear Zindagi and now Raees, indicate a shift?
No. This is just coincidental that these three films released last year. I have never shifted from where I am. I have always done movies like this. Now, people look at the time period and say, “Oh, this is what he is doing”. We are very quick to judge and analyse. I have been here for so long that people have forgotten my last 15 years during which I did Baazigar, Darr, Ashoka, Paheli, Swades and My Name is Khan. I have always tried to do a mix if it is available. If it is not, then you have to do what you have to do. It is a job. In my mind, I have done semi-commercial or middle-of-the-road movies like Chalte Chalte and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. I have failed very often trying to do different things. Then I try to do a more popular film by making an event film like Dilwale, Happy New Year, Ra.One or Chennai Express.
Shah Rukh In His Gangster Avatar Has The Audience Charmed
I had finished Happy New Year and shooting for Raees was supposed to start. But I was injured and we had to postpone the film. Fan was scheduled to release even before Dilwale, but we realised that the VFX would take 11 months and it got delayed. Dear Zindagi was a commitment I had made to Gauri Shinde three years ago, since I had loved the story. Normally, I try to make a movie in the popular space and a second one which can say new things within my scheme of thinking as an actor. It is by chance that these three movies came out within a year.
A recent blog said you have sent out a ‘brave message’ by playing Muslim characters in three back-to-back films. And before that, I played 55 Hindu characters.
Though the premise of Fan was great, do you think it suffered from the post-interval curse?
We did not sit down and analyse the second half. It was an expensive film and we tried to have a wider reach. We have been wanting to make this film for seven-eight years and waited till we worked out the VFX. Maybe, what went wrong in the film is when Gaurav starts asking : ‘Ek baar sorry keh de.’ I could be completely wrong, but at this point you don’t know who to go with — you may think the star should have given in. Suppose he did say sorry, would Gaurav start watching his films and loving him back? We should have retained the fact that this fan takes being shunned by the star very angrily. I do all my film with lots of love and care. It was quite a schizophrenic film, but Fan was extremely close to my heart. For Maneesh (Sharma, director) and Adi (Chopra, producer), it was a brave film. I am always disappointed when I let down people. So many people wanted to be entertained by the film. It will take me some time to get over this.
Has music taken a backseat in your films now?
It depends on the genre and the filmmaker. You can’t have that in a move like Fan. If I have to keep on putting songs like Gerua in every film, there will be another set of fans who will believe that he keeps putting the same kind of music in his films. Happy New Year had an over-the-top kind of score, Jabra Fan was an interesting track too. In Raees, though, you can’t put a lot of singing and dancing.
How much of a conflict is it for you to stick to popular parameters while doing ‘realistic’ movie like Raees?
It is not easy at all. Rahul wanted to make Raees in a way that doesn’t hurt either of the two genres (realistic and commercial cinema). If I have to make a popular movie, I will go all out and make a Happy New Year. I believe every movie has its own space. You can’t popularize Dear Zindagi by putting two songs of mine. That’s silly and uneducated. In Happy New Year, you can put as many songs as you like and flaunt six-packs. We did not try to commercialize Fan, but the attempt was to have cat-and-mouse-like chase sequences to give the audience an adrenaline rush. Of course, it neither made space for critical acclaim or popular cinema.
Of late, you have been sporting your salt-and-pepper beard with panache.
Even in my upcoming film, directed by Imtiaz Ali, where I play a Punjabi character, I sport a beard because Imtiaz wanted it. If my next film demands me to be clean-shaven or bald, I would go for that look.
So, you are saying these are not attempts to look closer to your age?
You can put this as a headline: Shamelessly, I will keep playing a 25-year-old. Are you trying to figure out if I am settling into my age now? No. I am completely unsettled about it. Growing a beard does not make me older. It makes me sexier. I am doing it only for a film. I am shooting 400 days a year. So I am always in a hairstyle and look that the role demands. The look also won’t be a reflection of what my state of mind is.
AbRam has been running around Mehboob Studio throughout the day. How often does he accompany you?
Since Mehboob Studio is close to home, he drops in when I am here. Also, Gauri had to meet someone outside Mumbai today. There are so many lovely girls from the marketing and publicity teams here. He knows them and is fond of them. There are some cocks and hens roaming in the studio premises, he loves playing with them. Since he has not joined a formal school yet, he can accompany me.
After Meryl Streep’s fiery speech at the Golden Globe awards, there was a lot of talk about Indian celebrities, especially film personalities, not speaking up.
After Meryl Streep’s speech, asking me why Indian actors are not doing the same is weird. It is like asking me suddenly why I am not playing golf like Tiger Woods. I appreciate what she said and think it was very brave of her to say that in an event organised by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Our actors do speak. So do our actresses, filmmakers, producers and journalists.
But the bottom-line is, you’ve got to speak to people who understand what you are saying. More than the platform Streep used for speaking, she had the platform where people understood what she said… Like I have said before, journalists are not used to stardom — theirs as well as celebrities’. Suddenly, everybody looks better, does better make-up and the anchor is the star of every show. The editor is the star of every snippet. Everybody writes an article with a picture. Everybody is trying to lose weight, look nice. When I was seven years into stardom, I used to behave like this.
I am waiting for media persons to get over their wonderful, newly-gained stardom. I am friends with most of them and really want to ask them: why do you want to join the bandwagon of faceless people on social media who just want to say a thing and become famous? You don’t need to do that. You used to present the point of view of people, so that I can take your opinion, other people’s opinion, and decide what’s happening around the world. You are the first source of knowledge about what’s happening…
Why would you say that I wish Indian actors spoke like this (Streep)? Can I say I wish Indian journalists presented me like that too? Is that fair? Give me a platform where you present my point of view, not as part of the agenda you have in your storyline. I would speak — I always did, I always will.