A fortnight ago when I met the lovely Nimrat Kaur who gave me a very articulate interview for this column, she told me she is the biggest Shah Rukh Khan interview fan. She used to collect his interviews when she was in school.
Many of my journalist friends agree that he always gives great interviews. Even if he makes them wait.
As I’m waiting at the Red Chillies office, his publicist Mandvi Sharma tells me, “Time for him is a very different concept. For us, it is about being on time. For him, it’s always about the time he spends with people. When he’s late, he always makes up for it by spending extra time and giving them what they want and more.”
It’s not that much of a wait for me this evening as he shows up soon enough. I ask him to show me the Happy New Year trailer and he does, asking me not to tweet about it until Thursday. The trailer has a slick Oceans vibe but done with Farah Khan’s sense of colour, style, choreography and madness.
Q: So Happy New Year is a heist film?
A: “It’s part heist, part Bollywood film. It’s high time we feel proud of the genre we’ve been making for many, many years. Happy New Year is a commercial happy go lucky entertainer. It’s the ultimate Bollywood film. Farah wanted to make this before Om Shanti Om when she pitched a story of five young boys and one grown up person who want to go to the US and get into a dance competition. We dropped it then and got into Om Shanti Om. So I asked her to revive it when we met again.”
Q: So this could this be part of a trilogy of pop culture celebration that started with Main Hoon Na?
A: “Farah is a fun filmmaker and you can’t take that away from her. She is one of the finest ones I have worked with. With every film you become better. I believe that the first three films you have in your heart are always your best films. She has never told me any another story apart from these three ever in the 20 years I’ve known her.”
Q: I met Nimrat Kaur a fortnight ago and she told me she used to keep clippings for your interviews when she was in school. My journalist friends say you are among the best interviews they have done. Do you prep for them?
A: “Ninety per cent of the time, the interviews are about the film I am participating in. And when I’m doing a film, I believe in the 140-150 days of work that I have done. I believe in what I do. I believe in that thought. However random, strange, new, fantastic, good, bad or ugly it may be. That’s why I am part of it. Belief makes you articulate. Half the things people ask me are related to what I’m doing or what I felt or what I am doing next. Or how has it been? When you believe in something, there is no way you can be inarticulate about it.
But I know this. This is what I’ve lived for the last 200 days. Every year takes a year of my life. I’m 48 now. I’ve done 55 films. Somewhere 55, 40 or 30 years of my life have been taken away. I’m happy that whatever I have done, I’ve done from a position of choice. Being in a position of choice is stardom. Mujhe yeh nahin karna, mujhe yeh karna hai.” (I don’t want to do THIS, I want to do THIS)
“Strangely, an actors life and the beliefs change according to what he or she has become for that while. So if I’m doing Asoka, I’m reading about it… And that changes you as a person. Without realizing, you start living like that person. I don’t prep for it, I have no idea of when I have interviews. I don’t read what I have said. I see it. OK, it’s there. I appreciate how it’s written but I don’t read what I’ve said because I’ve said it. I’ve believed it. And I always believe I sound more articulate than I am because of the person writing it. If I were to write what I said, I don’t know where it will go. Because I’m contradictory, there are two people in me all the time. One is what the film’s belief is and one what I personally believe in. It keeps changing depending on the person also. All those who have told you I’m articulate have probably written it more articulately than I’ve sounded. Honest truth.”
Q: This is my fourth interview with you in ten years. I can vouch for the rest. You have always given great interviews.
A: “Well, a lot of people have an interview face. They have an interview persona. I have a party persona. I have a house persona. But I don’t have an interview persona. I am not an actor or a star when I’m doing it. I remember a joke father used to tell me about this guy, Oscar Wilde or some famous person… who always refused interviews and finally one day, one guy got an interview. He was sitting waiting for the interview and there was a door… And the gentleman just walked naked, stood, turned around naked and left. He said: I can’t give you a more internal view of myself. My logic is that. An interview means that. An internal view. So I’m not going to give you a star view. On stage when I’m performing live in front of an audience I will give you a star view.
So I don’t have an interview face. I don’t have an interview prep. I say what I feel now. So it may change. Two days later, I may feel differently… and I have no issues.
When people tell me I’m contradicting myself, yeah, it’s fine. So? I’m contradictory. They say you should have just one thought. No, I have 17 thoughts. So I may put them all in the same interview. So you liked white? Yeah, but you wear black. Yeah. I might like white and wear black, but how does that make me… am I schizophrenic? No. Or I am. It’s all right.”
Q: Do you ever feel trapped in a mould you have created every time you have to spread your arms… almost in every other film?
A: “I work a lot in popular cinema. So there are parameters for that. So within those parameters, you are in a mould. You play the hero type. I always have the choice to break it when I feel like and go do a Chak De or a Swades or a My Name is Khan or a Paheli or a Asoka.
At least in the last five years, I’ve not gone to work because I have to. I’ve never gone to work because I need the money. I’ve never gone to work because I’m bossed around. I’ve never gone to work because there is nothing else for me to do. There is no other reason for me to work but the fact that this is really fine.
And every film takes a life of its own beyond the pages that are written.
When somebody from the market says, there has to be X amount of this in the film, we do that. Because it’s a populist world, it’s a populist market, it’s populist cinema. But I also say “Let’s try to change that. Or let’s not do that because there are so many, say romantic songs, like that.” So the change might be small, just a little beyond the parameters of commercial cinema but that makes it exciting.”
Q: How do you react when critics say Shah Rukh Khan is Shah Rukh Khan in every film?
A: “I downplay my acting prowess. I don’t take myself seriously but that does not mean I’m not a serious actor. I say I have five expressions… because I like to play it down.
I’ve done a lot of acting that I’m so proud and arrogant about it. I’m one of the few actors to have educated myself in theatre. I’ve done street theatre, I’ve done impromptu, I’ve done commercials, I’ve done plays for kids, I’ve done a Punjabi serial, I’ve done TV shows, I’ve done advertising and I’ve done cinema. I’ve risen in the ranks. And you don’t rise in the ranks over 25 years without knowing your shit. But it’s very boring to talk about how Biriyani is made. And it’s nicer to taste it. And that’s what I do. “
Q: People say the same about Rajinikanth too but do you need to act is the question.
A: “Rajinikanth is a superstar. I am not a superstar. I need to work, I need to reinvent, not just myself even the cinema around me because I can control that.
So when someone asks me: Can you do a comedy? The last one I did was Baadshah. So I thought I’ll do a retarded comedy and do it in the mould people like. I didn’t think I’m an actor of that genre. Let me pull all the reserves I have and let me get into that world of Chennai Express.
Before that it was Jab Tak Hain Jaan, which had to be done in a certain poetic style. To convince people that such a man exists. It is a love story… a triangle between God, a woman and a man. Of course, the arms will rise because it is popular cinema. Of course, the romance will still happen because it is popular cinema.
So the mould I try to attach myself is always different in popular cinema. I try to change it a little, challenge it…
To be honest, Swades, Chak De, Ashoka, Paheli… easiest films to make. Because being real, being honest is easy. Just sitting there and depending on the line, the words, your eyes and just the story is much easier than believing in a dream which is unrealistic and unachievable. I am going to mess with God. I will fly with electricity. I will win the World Dance Championship.
It is a huge leap of faith for an actor to believe he can pull these things off.
As an actor, put me in a real space and 80 per cent of your job is done. You put me in a hockey field and I am a coach. You put me in a space in the world your film is set in and I don’t have to do anything. But unreal characters are totally dependent on your dream and your belief in them.
Autism is a difficult thing to do but you know that space. You’ve met people like that. Devdas was easy to play because all men are like that.
Larger than life is difficult to play because there is no limit to largeness. How large can you make it? Can I catch you by the scruff of your neck and then pull you into the screen into the most unbelievable world?”
Q: Like veteran French screenwriter Jean Claude Carriere says: Fiction sometimes goes deeper into the truth than fact.
A: “Fiction is wanting to achieve your most deep-rooted desires.
I want to fly. You can’t. But it’s a desire. It’s amazing fulfillment. Fiction is fulfilling what most people desire. Reality is not what you want to do. It happens.”
Q: Would you say that’s why Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is still playing at Maratha Mandir, in its 20th year… because manufacturing consent of parents for their love story was wish fulfillment of a desire of the younger generation?
A: “I’ve seen only two things people give for anything that works or doesn’t work – reasons and excuses. When it’s successful, I’ve seen people give reasons and make them their own. When it doesn’t, they give excuses. I have no idea, yaar.”
Q: I’m sure you have had 20 years to think about why that film resonates so much.
A: “Maybe because everybody is waiting for a boy like that. And there is no boy like that. He is fun, naughty, sweet, caring, respectful to parents and he makes everything alright. You are waiting for Raj. I have had a girl tell me she married Ramesh because he reminded her of Raj. Somewhere down, we created an epitome of the perfect boy.”
Q: Is 300 crores the new benchmark for films to surpass where success is measured through box office collections?
A: “Chennai Express was the first film to do 200 crores. Numbers can always be surpassed. Dreams are fluid. I want my film to do well so that I can make a bigger film. If Happy New Year does well, maybe I will go mad and make Ra. One 2. I want to get the superhero genre right.”
Q: How do you think you have changed over the last 25 years, temperament wise?
A: “I have become more reclusive. I like spending time with me more than power parties. The world is growing bigger, people always want to talk to you. You see flashbulbs and hear voices all the time. More on Twitter. There’s just too much light in my face. I still want to do as much work but I would like to close the door a little more often. I have found myself entertaining people beyond the call of duty. Sometimes just to survive, sometimes for friends…but after 25 years I’ve done everything. There is no more reason to do things unless I am happy. When people ask me come here, there, to see their film, mujhe nahin dekhna hai, yaar (I don’t want to)… I just used to make films. I want to keep it that simple. I don’t want any other knowledge. I used to walk down to my house during King Uncle. I walked to Mehboob Studios at 6.30 a.m and when I walked back at 2 p.m, people stopped to talk to me… Deewana had become a big hit. I never saw the film. I didn’t even know when I became a star.”
Q: Aren’t people just the same and hence, all stories the same too, at some level?
A: “There are only five stories and the sameness has been there since time immemorial. All cars are the same. They have four wheels. It’s the engine that determines if it’s a Mercedes or a Jaguar. Just a general desire: If I could read your thoughts when presented differently becomes an Inception. Iron Man, Spider-man, all superhero stories are the same but Spider-man got a reboot four years after a reboot. There are some stories you may not be able to tell today… Like a man waiting for a letter, because today everyone has phones but The Lunchbox, I hear, made even that work. Why should the difference matter to anyone?”
Q: Now that you have admitted all stories are same, how different is Happy New Year?
A: “It is the quintessential Bollywood film. But nobody else tells the story like Farah. As a producer I can tell you, no film has been mounted like this as a cinematic experience. Come see it as an event. But beyond all this, I have never made a film without a core. The core values of the film may get overshadowed sometimes in the telling but the point of Happy New Year is that God gives an opportunity to every loser once in a lifetime. Nobody celebrates losers. We have maybe 40-50 icons in the world of 8 billion. The rest of them are not winners. We are always celebrating the minority – a superhero, beautiful people, stars. Not everybody who wins is happy. Look at Robin Williams. I am not cynical. I want to say let’s celebrate losers and tell them that God is hope, it’s a belief… the bigger giver of hope. Every story needs to fulfil an inner desire of yours. Just because we are losers, we are not sad or depressed…”
Q: So does you see yourself as a winner or a loser?
A: “I’m basically a loser. I always want to make the next one. I’m satisfied because I have belief but I am also greedy. What can I do in the next one. If I’m not been able to entertain… it’s my thing in life. Everybody who comes to me, whether it is a meeting, or a film… everybody comes to me with a desire, will he entertain? I’m the performer, entertainer, the jester, you’ve come with the hope of being entertained. If I break that, that’s disturbing.”
Q: That’s why you go beyond the call of duty entertaining people.
A: “I hope they go back thinking that I have entertained them… that’s winning to me but that doesn’t last more than 4-5 days. Nothing lasts for posterity. Nobody remembers anything, people don’t remember parents. When Pyaasa released, they panned it.
You don’t make anything for posterity. Your time in space is where you are. Nothing else exists. I don’t have any nostalgia. I’m not 75 and when I’m 75 why would I watch my film. Celluloid is amazing but it’s not life lasting.
How long have you been making films?
Q: “Fifteen years.”
Q: “Because I want to make them.”
A: “Why don’t you for a change make films for others, anyone but you?”
A: “For the first six years of my career, I did what I wanted to do. I told Hema Malini I am a serious theatre actor and I am not going to be running around trees. I refused loverboy roles for six years. So finally when Aditya Chopra pitched DDLJ, it seemed different TO me. I hadn’t done something like that. People thought I was going to kill her off. I liked that I would defy expectations. So I did it. I was 32 when I was pretending to be in college with a chain around my neck that said COOL. I felt ridiculous but I did it. But the point is you never know what you can become until you start doing things for others.”
This interview originally appeared in two parts in The Hindu. Part 1: I have become more reclusive | Part 2: Bombay Encounters: The Reluctant Loverboy