“Just Because I’m A Patient Man, Who Gives People And Situations A Lot Of Leeway, Doesn’t Mean I’m Mr Goody Goody” – Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh Khan’s much-awaited film, Raees, finally released today and has been garnering a lot of acclaim from all quarters. So here’s taking a look at our cover story with King Khan from our November 2014 issue where he talks about entering Bollywood in the wake of a deep personal loss, reveals some of his deepest, darkest secrets, and more. Take a look.
“Kaun hai jo sapno mein aaya, kaun hai jo dil mein samaya…oh Priya..aaa…aaa”. Shah Rukh Khan has just crooned a retro ballad to me, in the presence of five eyewitnesses, all of them women. The ice hasn’t merely been broken, it has melted into a puddle of silliness. Thus begins my tete-a-tete with the Badshah of Bollywood. It’s easy to picture him as the strapping Aladdin aloft his flying Persian carpet, locked in the trademark Titanic-style embrace with the veiled Jasmine. Kareena, perhaps?Or, Padukone? ‘Ahem’, he coughs and the carpet crash-lands in Mehboob Studios abruptly. “Shall we?” he grins. The next three hours fly, much like that magic carpet, and I am left with one overriding thought, at the close of what begins as a 20-minute quickie and turns into a three-hour marathon. That thought is ‘remarkable’. I may not be a fan of the actor, but I can’t help liking the man, as I watch India’s most colossal cinema legend distill himself down to three little letters. SRK. Or, as he likes to call himself, ‘Your average Pathan.’
In reality, there is nothing average about this pathan. This here is a star of galactic proportions, a brand that Forbes has pegged as India’s biggest yet, at a hefty $42.1 million. Newsweek lists him as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful People in the World. With a net worth of over $600 million, he’s pegged as the second richest actor alive on this planet and the richest Indian, (nudging Lakshmi Mittal to Number 2) by Wealth X, a pan-global wealth assessment firm. He has 9 million followers on Twitter alone.
Speaking of galactic, Shah Rukh owns several acres of estate on the moon, gifted to him by an ardent Australian fan. You wouldn’t laugh so hard if you saw the certificate of ownership from the Lunar Republic Society, the only legal global body in charge of development and ownership rights on the moon. And, if a lunar vacation home isn’t impressive enough, the man has been conferred a knighthood by the French Legion of Honour. The leader of the Kolkata Knight Riders is indeed a true blue Knight. Let’s not bother with the awards — even without them, the list of credentials is way longer than my list of questions. Refreshingly, so are his answers.
Sitting across me, in his dapper tuxedo, is a man who dares to bare, both on camera and off it. He shrugs off his cloak of cool, and lets his vulnerabilities show, the way only a man brought up in a home full of women, can. Oh yes, there’s an undeniable yin and yang harmony going on here. Sure, the man has his demons, like the rest of us — maybe even more than some of us. He seems to deal with them with the resoluteness of a pathan, with a quietness that evokes both awe and fear.
After registering the obvious (lean, fit and playful) my nuance-o-meter picks up the subtler hues of determination, warmth and a certain largeness of spirit. What is far from subtle, though, is his very verbal reverence for women. (Maybe his nuance-o-meter is as sharp as mine, and he’s playing to the activist in me). He attributes the way he feels to the four ladies in his life — mother, sister, wife and daughter. If this is a move, it’s a smart one. If it’s a genuine belief, it’s even smarter.
“So women, huh?” I prod slyly, hoping for some fodder. “You can’t live without them and you can’t live without them,” he parries, smoothly. Known to be something of a maestro at fending off ‘tricky’ questions, I recall his response to a “Are you bisexual?” query by an intrepid media hound. “No, I’m trysexual,” he allegedly shot back, “I try everything”. Coming back to women. “No offence to your magazine,” he says, “but the real world is not a man’s world. Showbiz is a man’s world, some work places sadly are male dominated, but real life? No way. It’s women all the way.” His team is certainly oestrogen heavy.
What precisely is it about a woman that floats his… well, yacht? “I’m not one of those guys who go, ‘Wow, look at those killer legs.’ or ‘Her glorious hair drives me crazy.’ For me, it’s the whole package. Women are beautiful, they smell divine, they’re smart, they’re soft and they’re tough where it counts. They’re indispensible.” OK, OK, we get it. He likes women. “I think it was Sue Townsend who wrote that the most attractive thing about a woman is the glittering tear in her eye. I totally agree. In a woman’s weakness lies her real strength; what appears to be a flaw is her true beauty.” He doesn’t pause to take a breath. “It’s men who are weak. And, you know why? Because they can’t cry. They just crack instead.”
As I’m recovering from this soliloquy, the sceptic in me can’t help wondering if he’d be as forthcoming on the subject if I had a pair of XY chromosomes instead of my trusty double Xs. “I mean, thank god for women like Sridevi, Madhuri and Juhi, who are questioning the archetype of Bollywood heroines,” he continues. He has two words for all those who believe that women in showbiz come with a limited shelf life. Monica Bellucci. Team SRK (a 100 per cent XX) chimes in. Sharon Stone. Sandra Bullock. Julia Roberts. Halle Berry. “Agreed, Bollywood is a decade or two behind Hollywood in terms of ideology, but we’re getting there, I promise you.” Hang in there, all you Ms. Bellucci-in-waiting, because picture abhi baaki hai.
I decide to go full throttle, probing like a relentless dentist. Where is it, that deep dark secret that will rock his fans? Bingo — the quintessential romantic hero of contemporary Indian cinema does not fancy love stories. King Khan admits to being a bit of a shy dork when it comes to love and romance. “All that smooth stuff you see me doing with my heroines on screen? There’s no way I could pull that off in real life. Couldn’t do it when I was 23, can’t do it now.” he says ruefully. “That’s the brilliance of a profession like acting. You get to reconcile your Jekyll with your Hyde, to dust off all the cobwebs in your personality and test-drive a part of you that you didn’t even know existed.”
Buried somewhere inside of him, he believes, is a Don Juan, a soldier, a doctor, a painter, a musician, an idiot, possibly a criminal, a sociopath, and a hundred other cameos. To be a good actor, all he needs to do is connect with that part, nudge it awake. And, bam, out comes Rahul the passionate lover, Raju the gauche executive, Kabir the tough hockey coach, Rizwan the Asperger’s victim and Don, the ruthless godfather. Sounds like a pretty novel escape from the incessant ‘Maybe I’d be happier if I was a musician or a deep sea diver or an XYZ’ ponderings of human discontent. He gets to purge himself of all those unfulfilled desires, dreams and ambitions, by living them out, without letting go of who he is in the here and now. Shah Rukh Khan has not only turned his job into a form of therapy, he has, once again, skilfully turned a conversation about women into a philosophical musing.
I ask if there’s a poet lurking inside him, too. “Not sure if what I write can be called poetry, but I do write,” he shrugs. “I have compiled a collection of selective memories, feelings and important moments in my life.” He started writing years ago, when he hit a lonely and isolated patch while transitioning from actor to star. Now, whenever he feels overwhelmed, he knocks off a chapter. Titled Twenty Years in a Decade, this book is meant primarily as a legacy for his kids, a personal Wikipedia of sorts, with everything they could possibly want to know about their father. He is considering a public release as well. Meanwhile, his go-to book is Manwatching, an anthology on human behaviour by Desmond Morris, a legacy his own dad handed down to him, when he was a young boy. And, yes, he reads Ghalib too.
But, enough with the philosophy and poetry — I want access to the dark side. I want a glimpse of the badass who likes roughing up security toughies at cricket stadiums. “Oh hey,” growls the badass, with a steely glint in his eye. “I’m a Delhi boy, and Delhi boys talk with their fists.” I’ve seen that same glint in Knight Rider Sunil Narine’s gaze as he sends the ball searing down the pitch. Have I hit a nerve?
The words ‘cricket’ and ‘family’ seem to have the power to change sexy Khan into sinister Khan. He is as protective of his Knights as he is of his children. “Sports is about competition, it has to be played tough. And, I play to win,” he offers unapologetically. I nudge him for more. He tells me about the things he wanted to do to an obnoxious journalist at a press conference recently. Something tells me Bollywood’s very own Mary Kom would have been a lot more authentic onscreen, if she’d learnt how to throw a punch from this Delhi boy. “Just because I’m a patient man, who gives people and situations a lot of leeway, doesn’t mean I’m Mr Goody Goody.” He’s not even a single goody, he assures me, with a menacing stare.
“You want to see badass?’ My head almost wobbles off, I shake it so hard. Disregarding my dissent, he continues, “Try handing me the wrong pair of socks. ” If said socks are either too thick or too thin, and not as per specs down to the last millimetre, Goldilocks here apparently turns Fifty Shades of Evil. Maybe Shobhaa De was on to something, when she called him a brat in print some years ago. “Hell yeah, I am a brat,” he announces gleefully. “But, unlike what she said in her article, it’s got nothing to do with being a celebrity. I was a brat way before I became a star. Good or bad, that’s me.” To be fair, though, if my biography was an 800-page leather-bound tome that weighed 37 kilograms, with not a single word written or commissioned by me, would I be strutting around town without a shred of an attitude? There’s a sneer on my face just thinking about it, so the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Let’s give him the Vanity Van Torture Test, devised to separate the undercover narcissists from the shamelessly self-obsessed. What does he see when he looks in the mirror? “I hire professionals to do that for me, so I don’t have to. It’s their job to make sure I look good, and like everyone else in Team SRK, they do a good job.” Touché. How about when he absolutely has to? “Some laugh lines, some frown lines, the odd dimple,” he concedes. “But, most of all, I see a man who’s comfortable in his skin. A man who is at peace with who he is. And, that’s not easy for someone in my profession.” He’s not about to give me any grist for the spice mill, that much is clear.
I peer closely at his face and reluctantly agree. Here’s a hunk whose face and body appear to be in perfect sync, not decades apart. As for the mind, it seems to dart effortlessly from the wise old soul to the frolicking inner child, with the occasional stopover at the testosterone-charged teen. This is time travel, is it not? Even for a consummate actor such as Shah Rukh, this is quite a feat, as most stars, particularly males, tend to get stuck in a time warp, unable to move past their own 19-year-old personas.
Speaking of teenagers, was he always looking to be a movie star when he grew up? “I was sure I’d be super successful,” he offers, without a shred of guile. “I just wasn’t sure it would be in films. Like every little boy, I wanted to grow up and be Superman.” Unlike any other boy, he did just that. G1 decimated RA1 and saved the planet, remember? Second on his list was joining the army, followed by teaching. (Main Hoon Na. Chak De. Jab Tak Hai Jaan. See where I’m going with this?) Acting was an accident, after Plan A crumbled. On the verge of becoming a professional hockey player, a serious injury sent the 21-year-old packing from the field and straight into an audition. It certainly looks as if this man has been favoured by fate and steered into stardom by the forces that be.
“I entered Bollywood in the wake of a deep personal loss, the passing of my father.” Driven by a manic desire to overcome that loss, he threw himself into his roles. “The plan was to give it a year. Here I am, 20 years later, still manic but happy.” Not a single regret about trading up his privacy for an army of devoted fans who welcome him home every single day or night after work. Shah Rukh Khan likes how his life has panned out. He tweets, “Flying high is tiring, but the view is worth it.” Platitudes? Not sure he needs them. If you were standing in his Césare Paciotti sneakers, that’s what you would see. Sports, his first true love, has returned to his life, heart and soul. The success of the Kolkata Knight Riders, his professional cricket team and also the defending champions of the Indian Premier League, has left SRK straining at the bit, eager for more. While there doesn’t appear to be an overt involvement with the new Indian Super League, his passion for football is pretty clear. Both his kids are soccer players and fans, and it is believed that there is an altar to Lionel Messi in Mannat, the Khan residence.
Shah Rukh the entrepreneur has no cause for complaint, either. Red Chillies, a media company fully funded by him, is on the cusp of making a visible dent in the film industry. In addition to film production, its cutting–edge visual effects and film restoration cells have drawn attention, both locally and overseas. Already known for its uncompromising production values, Red Chilies marketing muscle, thanks to its owner’s fame and business savvy, is second to none in the film industry. The very ingenious recent Slam Tour of North American and England is a good example. A series of star-studded shows under the name of Bollywood World Concert just before the release of HNY, it, not surprisingly, involved the lead stars from the film led by the superstar himself. NRI fans, who can never have enough of Shah Rukh, are believed to paid up to Rs. 45,000 per ticket for the packed house shows that touched Houston, New Jersey, Washington DC, Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose and London. As someone in the know said, the box office earnings of HNY was simply the ripe red cherry on top.
The Dil Se Nachen Indiawaale reality TV show, tied to the 4-city live event, targeting ‘happy’ dancers across the nation, was another stroke of genius. It’s no coincidence that Indiawaale happens to be the keynote song from HNY, carpet bombed on the public like Bollywood Kamikazes before the launch. Brand SRK continues to rake in a staggering stash from endorsements and ambassadorships, and has always been quick to harness potential into profits. Having recently picked up stock options in an online fashion e-tail business, SRK is now gearing up to surf the digital wave of e-com success. Business, as they say, is booming.
As for his acting trajectory, while his contemporaries struggle to appease the box office, SRK manages to charm both the public and the critics, with just one mega production per year. The fans had hardly got enough of Rahul, the blundering mithaiwalla trying to shake off the burly goons on his tail, before he morphed into slick, brooding Charlie the conman, in this year’s opus. Marking his official reunion with estranged buddy and favourite director Farah Khan, HNY essays a gang heist with all the mandatory ingredients of a Bollywood blockbuster —action, romance, melodrama, comedy, revenge, music and dance. “For a change, let’s celebrate the hopes and dreams of a bunch of losers,” he says.
Will this confederacy of dunces manage to pull off a mega coup and plant the Red Chillies banner in the cine-stratosphere? While Chennai Express hurtled them into the coveted 100-crore club and went on to become the highest Bollywood grosser of all time, HNY had the highest print count in the history of Indian cinema, as it opened in over 4,000 screens across the country. Rumour has it that the distributors of Brad Pitt’s latest film, Fury, decided to push the release till after the HNY Diwali Dhamaka had died down.
Meanwhile, SRK is already neck deep in trials, with Hollywood make-up wizard Greg Cannom, to fix his never-before look for his next film, Fans. He plays the die-hard fan of a movie star – who just happens to be Shah Rukh Khan. That’s right, this one’s a buy-one-get-one-free Shah Rukh extravaganza, “the story of two lookalikes, one blessed by fate, the other cursed by life”. And, finally, here’s what the personal landscape looks like. No, we aren’t privy to the view from the Paciottis for this one. What we see are two confident, happy children, doing cartwheels on the lawns in an image posted on Twitter by the proud father. We see a wife who drops in on his sets, with his infant son, and we sense a general feeling of calm over the recently choppy domestic waters, with no ghosts of girlfriends past, on the surface at least. His earlier quote from Om Shanti Om pops back in my head. “In the end, all is well. And if it isn’t, then it isn’t the end.”
This story was first published in November 2014.