The King of Romance Shah Rukh Khan, who took up slightly off-beat characters in Fan, Dear Zindagi and Raees, will be back again as a Harvinder Singh also known as Harry in Jab Harry Met Sejal. During a chat with The Indian Express, the actor spoke about stardom and about his upcoming film.
You have given some 10 interviews already. How are you still so energetic?
I am just happy informing people about the film. People are going to make choices. I have said this before and I will say it again — a movie is one of the few products where you won’t get your money back. You can’t exchange it, you can’t complain under the Consumer Protection Act. I am made to understand that it is expensive for a middle-class family to watch a movie in a theatre. If you are a responsible product-maker for the last 25 years, you have got to tell them: this is lemony or sweet.
You have been promoting Jab Harry Met Sejal as a ‘pure love story’. How important was it to act in such a film at this juncture of your career?
It is an extremely personal decision to act in a love story. When I finished Fan and Raees — one was physically very intense and the other, just intense — both very different from regular commercial films — I wanted to go into a breezy space next, do a love story with a new language. I have done enough love stories to get attracted to them even otherwise. Imtiaz Ali met me one evening and said he has a very simple film in mind. He told me the story in 20 minutes. It is important for me to tell such a story. I hope people are in the mood to watch it. I have done films which were important for me to tell, but people didn’t watch them.
You are called the ‘king of romance’. Was it a conscious decision to periodically act in films that are not love stories?
I came from theatre. I have done roles that no one had even thought of doing or had rejected them. I did a Baazigar (1993), a Darr (1993). Then, I did a love story — Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). I did that movie five years into my career as an actor. Then, reality struck me: maybe, love stories are the ones that last 25 years. People love that — it is not just me, but the film. Normally, if a film is loved, everyone in the film is loved. Fortunately for me, some of my love stories have been loved for a long time.
Whenever I am called upon to be a part of a love story, I will do it. In between, I can do a Raees, Fan or Dear Zindagi. I like doing that. Again, like I said, I don’t design films. I want to be a part of films that have roles I can essay. It is not a contradiction, but a star-actor trying to find the best combination for himself and enjoying it. I would get bored if I didn’t choose films this way.
Do you think love stories are Indians’ way of escaping reality?
One emotion that everyone feels in different ways is love. I can assure you that not everybody has felt meditative, calm, depressed or extremely happy all their lives. What everyone has felt is love — the combination can be man to man, mother to father, mother-son or boy-girl. That’s why it is universally known that love stories are the bigger stories to watch. For instance, somehow you relate to Doctor Zhivago, Love Story or When Harry Met Sally. If you don’t, you hope to. Love is an emotion completely understood by human beings. When you don’t understand something, then, it is really nice to know more about it. Yes, I am a lover. I have felt love. It is not a way to escape. It is something you wish happened to you.
In an earlier interview with this paper, you had said that you hoped Raj and Simran (from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) lived happily ever after. Do you think of your character’s journey beyond ‘the end’?
Yes, I do. Like we do back stories, I want to look ahead, too. So, the prologue and epilogue are quite important. We don’t always show it. But, as an actor and storyteller, it is important for me to know what happened. A love story is to be continued always. You want to know what happened to Raj and Simran or Harry and Sejal? I believe, Harry and Sejal had three children. I don’t know why I think so. I can make them do anything, it is extremely empowering. They decided to shift to a small town for some time. Now, she works as a lawyer. Harry takes time off and writes a book. I think, she would be the working partner and Harry would just relax and look after the children.
Is it always a they-lived-happily-ever-after scenario? Could they be divorced?
None of my characters are getting divorced. I take too much pain to get the girl. I travel across seven seas to meet her. I am not leaving her in a hurry.
How do you maintain your screen image of a lover?
Personally, I don’t have any image. In real life, a star should be who he is. I don’t plan my look to go in and out of an airport. I have no qualms about saying that I am not as impressive as I am in films. As far as the lover part is concerned, when I am doing the job, I am as romantic as any normal guy. No one does what Raj and Rahul do. I truly believe that a love story works because of a girl — in real life too. Women have to soak it in, take it in, dignify and respect it. I have done Mohabbatein (2000) and Devdas (2002), where my characters have given up their life for love. I don’t think any man does that. Take a woman for a candle-lit dinner is the most I can ever do.
You have been in the public gaze for 25 years now. And you are very open about the fact that you enjoy stardom.
Being a star is fantastic and none of this is about self-absorption or some kind of ego boost. Hundreds of people stand outside my home. I can’t get out of airports; I’m pushed around; I can’t eat properly at a restaurant when I go out with my family. My son (AbRam) comes out and waves at people without knowing why they are waving at me. When I stand on a stage in a stadium there would be one lakh cameras clicking my photo simultaneously. It is the most beautiful feeling to be a star. There is no other profession I would rather be in. I am lucky to be a star. I appreciate it. I have no complains of being a star. I would never say: ‘It is great, but the media is always scrutinising you’.
In the past, you have stepped in, for instance, when Suhana’s photographs appeared in the media…
It is not just for Suhana. It could have been for any 14-year-old girl. As a father, I would tell her, ‘Baby, next time keep your Instagram private’. If you are on social media, people are going to say things to you. Since you are a movie star’s child, people will say things 10 times more — good and bad. If you can take the good, you have to take the bad as well.
Now that Aryan and Suhana are getting ready to step into their professional lives, are you concerned about it?
I have said this before — stardom is part of my family. My children have to like or dislike it, just the way they like or dislike their father, mother or bua. This is neither special, nor unimportant for them. They have to live with it. When I was growing up, I had no money to buy a house, sometimes, even to feed myself. I worked towards having money. My children are very well brought up and educated, by my standards. They know the reality. I ask them, ‘Can you accept me as a father, first, and the stardom which is around me?’ My children do that. They are happy that I am a star. They keep telling me: ‘You have to remain a star for longer. AbRam has not seen the madness around you. So, please keep working hard’.
AbRam has seen the madness during Eid, though, when a huge crowd turns up near Mannat…
He does not understand it yet. Aryan asked him the other day: ‘What does Papa do?’ AbRam said: ‘Shooting’. Aryan asked: ‘Why do you think people like Papa?’. AbRam replied: ‘Because he is handsome.’
What have been the high points of your career in the last 25 years?
The birth of my kids, which I will club as one point. Professionally, Baazigar and Darr, when people did not expect me to be a bad guy, that phase was great. Dilwale Dulhania… is important because I never thought I could be a romantic hero. I thought no one would accept me as one. One high point is that I get an opportunity to speak about my life on platforms that I have looked up to. Some of them are institutes I wanted to study at. Today, I feel very honoured when I am called to speak there. The highest point of my life is a weekend when I can lie down with my kids and decide to watch a movie. Which movie? That decision is not mine, ever.
You have had such a fabulous life. Is it a struggle to put it all together in the autobiography?
If I just wanted to assimilate what all had happened, it would be an easier book to write. I have written this book only for my kids, in a certain sense, in my head. I am not going to bore them with my achievements. I don’t want to dramatise the events of my life. Some of the events in the book will be weird, because I narrate them off the cuff. I write when I feel like. I started the book when Aryan was born. I had not completed it when Suhana was born. Then, AbRam was born. I have to make sure he, too, is part of it. So, there is a lot more I need to express. Sometimes, when I am in an angry mood, I don’t want to write.
I write the way I compose my speeches. Later, I will take help to put it in context. I want to keep it as true to my heart as possible. My kids should not have a wrong impression of my feelings when they read the book. The audience will have their take on it. The reviewers would junk it. It would still sell a lot.