Shah Rukh Khan holds forth on fame, films, fallouts and the future…
He has a dimpled smile that disarms even the most veteran of us. And Shah Rukh Khan does smile throughout our conversation. His film Happy New Year is due for release and he’s a frenzied, yet happy place and that shows in his replies. He reaches out to fans the world over through his world tour and finds it all very humbling. And he wants to take risks, blaze the trail and all that. And he is doing it. Here, he talks about going bigger, better and grander… in everything.
You’ve always made your films on a grand scale. Do you think this will give other producers the confidence to take as many risks?
If I say I did it, it would be wrong. It sounds strange. I feel every film company should have some kind of a speciality attached to it. That is very important because otherwise you won’t create a niche for yourself. Everybody produces films, but there is a Yash Raj who has a niche for the kind of cinemas they make and promote. I did not know what kind of cinema I wanted because I am not a very creative producer. But I knew very clearly in my head that I like few things about other film companies that I have read or heard about. When I got into a position where I could produce a film or two, after I had done something, I tried to create a speciality. Technology has always been something that turns me on. I thought if we are able to offer that to a film director or the actors who work with us later on which could make the film a better product, that is something I would like to do. So, the VFX was started about 10 years ago with that thought in mind. It started with three people but today we have 240 people. It is difficult to sustain it but I think it makes the films better and that is definitely the future. I could afford to do it, not in terms of money but in terms of the idea. So I have done that. I don’t think I have done anything so special. It is a space that’s wanting to be filled. So if this gives other people the confidence to try out different things, why not? Eventually, it is about making our cinema look better, bigger and more international.
How was the feeling of getting closer to your international fans through the Slam! tour and getting appreciated by the global audience as well?
(Pauses) My whole life in the last 15-20 years, is actually not burdened, but bogged down by the love people have given me. I don’t know how to return it back, I have no absolute idea. My whole logic has been that maybe through the work I do, I would be able to please as many people as I can and do as many films as I can do. but there is only a limit which is doable for me. So I do small things like a Kidzania or an IPL team to try and bring in some happiness to people through entertainment. Besides that, I seldom get to see people who have made me. I don’t realise how much they love me and how they love me so much. I can only read about it but that is not like one-on-one. So any opportunity that I get to be able to interact with people- whether it is a match, or a function or maybe city tours – I take it. The world tour was an interesting opportunity to participate in for the international audience and I can say that without any doubt that I have the most loving international audience than any other star (smiles). Whether its Germany or Peru, Austria, Morocco, France or South East Asia, I have some amazing places where I bump into people. But I think the world tour is the best way to at least spend sometime with them and glet them know that they mean a lot to me. So the experience has been overwhelming, humbling but it is difficult to comprehend or believe how am I going to return this back!
Not just a world tour, this is the first time ever that a Bollywood film has flagged off an entire show on television. How did all of it fall in place?
Our film is about bad dancers, stupid dancers. I do a lot of research on my roles after I hear the narration. So for this film I went on YouTube and saw dances by many weird dancers. But the weird dancer is the last one to know that he/she is a weird dancer. They are really cool that way. I have someone in my office as well. I have an accountant who is a world-class dancer. While they are having a good time not realise that they are not good dancers, people watching them dance also have fun. I have spent hours on YouTube with my son watching weird dancers and I had a great time doing it. It is the most amazing thing that you don’t know you are a bad dancer but the world knows it, yet they love it and get entertained. It is a strange dichotomy. For me, this film is about that. Even in Bollywood we have some great dancers, be it Hrithik or Shahid or Govinda they all are fantastic. They are inspiring, that is why you love them. There are some heroines, Deepika included, who dance like magic. I know I can never do that. I thought it would be a cool idea to have a dance show of your own. We wanted to make it competitive, but keep it lighter than technique of dancing. It is about how you dance when you are alone, when nobody’s watching you! I have enjoyed watching it and I assume people too will watch and like it. And if anybody could put it together, it had to be Zee! Our film is a dance film and it is about the worst dancers but the happiest ones… that’s the kind of show it is. We all love technical dances but we have never seen usual dancing. Sometimes we just want to see the out-takes, the people who don’t make it to the top! Most people do not know how to dance and they still dance at Ganpati and at parties and I find that really good. The film, being about losers, also encompasses the feeling that the people might not be the best at something, but they still enjoy doing it!
You are seen as the ultimate common man but your films have always been larger-than-life where nothing is ordinary anymore. How did you deal with such a leap of faith?
You are absolutely right! Only the last time I was discussing with someone when I was travelling in the bus, why is it that people like me so much? I don’t have any reason for it! But maybe, somewhere the backstory of my life makes people believe that if I could, even they can! I am not a role model or someone who can be looked up to but when people think of me, they would fell, ‘He lives a normal life. He had no backing, no money and many of his stories are not even normal. But he did make it and so can we. Yes, I think that I cannot inspire but somehow invoke that thought in people. I believe in that as well. I would say that to every young kid that no matter where you come from, and no matter where you are going, it does not matter as long as you are doing something whihc you are passionate about. It somewhere will turn out right and it has! Maybe, that helps. And I guess it is more because common people have bigger dreams because they aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth! The smaller you are, the bigger your dreams would be. Also, common people have more desires unfulfilled. So I use films as a venting machine. In cinema, I can create bigger, I can dream bigger. The directors who are working with me tell me that we need X and I tell them, we can have Y and Z too to make it look nicer and bigger. With television and internet around now, yet I believe cinematic experience can only be experienced in cinema! So if we dont make cinematically appealing films, the audience would lose interest saying that they can see this anywhere! I have a 100-inch TV in my house which is almost like a movie screen, why would I go to a theatre to watch a film unless it’s an experience which is different from what I can have at home. So when people buy expensive tickets, travel so much for your films, I just want to make sure that this experience is not equivalent to the cosiness of your house.
The pulse of the audience has changed. The gap between conventional and unconventional cinema is getting bridged. How much do you think Bollywood has changed?
See, the pulse never changes. The pulse remains the same. I am not patronising, but whenever younger people ask me this question, I tell them that “Even I believed, when I was your age, that cinema is changing and that both kind of cinemas work. Chakra also worked and so did Parvarish! I have also done a Oh Darling Yeh Hai India and an Idiot or a Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and a Karan Arjun. Later on, I did a Chak De as well. There is always a parallel way of liking film. There are two kind of audiences – the populist and the niche. Everyone gets entertained in a different way because your mode of entertainment is different from mine. I also believe just because it is different, nobody has right to question another’s choices. Commercial cinema has to have something for everyone. We should try to appeal to every section of the audience. However, I don’t like the fact that people make a film just for the sake of making it different. Moving pictures have to have a narrative. You cannot tell me a story without me having to completely imagine it. Moving pictures need to tell me what the story is, otherwise I get totally offended. I understand off beat cinema, I understand open endings, but a storyteller can’t make me feel stupid. You cannot make your film work by showing that you are more intelligent than the viewer. The idea of art is to make you see yourself in it. An offbeat film offends me until and unless it tells a story.
Were you apprehensive about the comparison of Happy New Year with other heist films when you heard the script?
I was not apprehensive, but I knew there would be comparisons. When Farah and I were discussing the film, we were very cool about it because we are very open people. We know we are not going to copy any other film blatantly. So Happy New Year is like The Full Monty meets Ocean’s Eleven. Bad dancers wanting to make a quick buck but how they become famous for that. No scenes have been taken from any of these films, but the heist will look similar but that is what all heists are about. I don’t think a combination of heist and dance has ever been made. It is a strange and a difficult genre to make. It can go completely wrong and we have taken a big risk. Mixing the two is a challenge and that’s Farah’s inherent quality… to have madness in the film. When I heard the story I told her then only, ‘People are going to say this. It is another dance film or a copy of some heist films’. We knew that our film is like Ocean’s Eleven and that’s why we have made our film so large, cinematically. You have seen Ocean Eleven, but it is not as grand as Happy New Year, so shut up! (Laughs) Indians should be proud of Happy New Year as the film is as big as any other Hollywood film. So yes, for people, I am George Clooney, Abhishek is Brad Pitt and Deepika is Julia Roberts.
The average window for most films has come down to the first weekend. At the same time, DDLJ is still running in theatres. Do you miss that time?
Earlier, films used to release in four theatres. If it did well, in 10. If it did really well, it would release in Delhi, otherwise it would release in UP. A film took a year to release all over the country. Today you can get a film on your laptop within 30 minutes by downloading it. So the number of people watching a film has increased but number of people going to the theatres has not. I truly believe that the next big superstar will be on the net. Today with digitization, the platform has changed but if you ask me, I would say, now the big guy would be the one on television. Previously, 50 crore people saw my film over a year, now 50 crore people see my film over the weekend. I can do it even faster now. I don’t think it is difficult to be a star now. There are so many options now, hence the longevity of stardom has reduced. I don’t think the next superstar will last for 24 years like me, but he will be there for five years and then a new one will come, because of ove-exposure. I miss those days but now we have other things now like 1 million views in one day, 5 million views in three days which is like Silver Jubilee and Golden Jubilee for today. The pulse still remains the same, we still want to joke, we still want to have fun and be entertained! The reality, the aspect will change though!
So much is written about your fallouts with your contemporaries. A section of the audience took your comments on the PK poster the wrong way. Does that bother you?
I had not seen the PK poster before it released! I was one of the first people to see the PK poster because I saw it early morning. I keep awake late and the poster was released at night. So before the poster went public, it came on to my Twitter account or maybe someone emailed it to me. I did not have any issues and I did not find anything negative about the poster or the maker’s creativity. I am actually one of the most liberal people as far as creativity is concerned. That is why my jokes are like that! My co actors know me and hence they do not take my jokes in a wrong way. Else, I would have been slapped half the time. I have no ill will for anyone in the industry. I am bored answering the same kind of questions. I don’t even have time to think about all that. Nobody has time to do all that. I haven’t slept for god knows how many hours, I am busy with the digitization of my film. My last thought is what the others are doing. I wish them all the success in whatever they do. Similarly, nobody else has the time to think about a Shah Rukh Khan. We are so self-obsessed, self-centred, absolutely wanting to get our things done and working so much for it, we don’t even get too much time to think about our own families, let alone everyone else. Everyone is free to have opinions but unfortunately, we are the audience to people of the same profession. Hence I tend to not comment on anybody else’s films.
Your upcoming films Raees and Fan are in a different space….
I don’t choose films for the sake of films. I choose them based on what state of mind I am in at that point. As an actor, I don’t think any film is different. Everything is big, the scale is huge and everything is larger-than-life. I wanted to be in a realistic space and Maneesh mentioned Fan to me a long time back. It is like I have never seen the life from the point of view of someone who likes me. I have seen the world only from being a movie star or a well-known public figure. It will be very interesting for me being on the other side. Somebody likes me, somebody hates me and some are die-hard fans so I want to know how it feels being a fan. It is completely diametrically opposite to who I am. To me, acting in a film like this is exactly the same to acting in a Chak De, Swades or a Dilwale! Raees is a very earthy role. I am a very urban actor but Rahul Dholakia could think of me in the earthy role. It simply is something I have not done before.
And there is a film with Rohit Shetty as well.
I want to make a bigger film than HNY with Rohit now. He is very funny and I really love working with him. I think he is fantastic, just awesome with the energy he brings to the sets! Rohit is as hard-working as I am and he has a big vision. He has a mad sense of humour and a sensibility that I lack. He can appeal to a section of people which is something that even I cannot do!
Rohit and you are also planning a Marathi film…
We are discussing that as well. Regional cinema today has grown and progressed. If I, as an actor, can do anything for its progression, why not? But nothing has been finalised as of now. But if you ask me if I have the desire to do something like that, yes I do!