It was one more role for the actor, one more round of applause. As always with King Khan, it was paisa vasool entertainment all the way. He spun out a show filled with the right doses of humor, emotion, visual effects (the lights went out twice!), and even threw in an offer of some naach-gaana. Sitting at the head of the massive table in the boardroom, he demanded, “Would you think any less of me if I got up right now and danced on this table?” That was the actor’s way of dealing with the now-predictable question: Why do you dance at weddings? The august, teak-paneled boardroom, heavy with the air of high-powered deliberations, hadn’t seen anything like it.
The wisecracks and laughter simply didn’t stop as a roomful of journalists threw him a volley of questions and the guest editor ended up spending as much time being interviewed as editing the paper. But which journalist was going to pass up the chance to question the Badshah of Bollywood? Read on for the SRK view of the world …
Why don’t our films get better?
He said it before someone else did, “I know there are people who say, ‘Hindi films are all bakwas, yaar—people jumping and dancing and singing; no class at all.’ But films are an important aspect of entertainment in India. And a lot of good movies get made, including those in other Indian languages too, you know.
“Besides, who says Hollywood doesn’t have its own masala? Look at King Kong—a huge monkey falls in love with a girl; how weird can you get?”
He conceded however, “We do need to work on some aspects. I think our films are too long; we should make them shorter, do away with the interval. Our scriptwriting needs to get more scientific. But we should retain the songs and dances—that’s our USP.”
With so many star kids around, is it possible for someone outside the industry to become another Shah Rukh Khan?
“When I first came in, I used to get disturbed by fathers who pushed their sons into the industry. But now that I’m a father myself, I like those fathers,” he chuckled. Then, on a serious note, “But let’s not take away due credit from star sons. Because ultimately, nothing works except your films. If your films don’t work, you’re not going to be up there on those hoardings. I like to think I’ve got my 11 Filmfare Awards because of my films.
“I succeeded because I did not give myself the option of failing. I had no parents, no back-up, I had to make it. And I truly believe that if you work hard enough, you will get what you deserve. Who knows, the next superstar could be a Kukreja or a Tuli, and drop in our laps while we’re talking about the Khans and Kapoors.”
Do Hindi films glorify violence? Would he do a Darr or Baazigar again?
“In Baazigar, I threw a girl off the 10th floor. But I’m sure every man in this room would have wanted to do that at some point with some girl … maybe they’d prefer the 20th floor,” he joked. To which, one journalist retorted, “Every woman has probably felt the same way about a man!” SRK grinned in agreement, and continued, “Really, it’s all very subjective. Today, as a father of two, do I think Baazigar was too violent? No. Would I do Darr again? Maybe not. But as I said, it’s very subjective. I can’t say, you should only see Mr. Yash Chopra’s films with yellow flowers.”
Why does he think he’s so popular with children?
“Maybe because we’re at the same mental level … or maybe because I treat them like adults. I speak to them exactly as I would with adults—or Times of India editors,” he grinned.
He recalled, “You know, when I was doing theater in Delhi with Barry John, we were made to perform in front of 500 noisy, obnoxious brats, and told that if we could hold their attention, we were acting well. And our acting style had to be loud for that. Today, when people accuse me of hamming and overacting, I tell them, I’m just investing in kids who’ll be adults 30 years from now!”
Can we talk about the casting couch?
Alas, he said, “I’m not sleeping with anybody!” Then he laughed away the casting couch: “It’s such an old-fashioned concept, really. Sex is rampant in the industry; everybody’s doing everybody, but it’s mostly consensual, not for roles. We’re glad everyone’s holding on to the idea of the casting couch because it lets us have all the fun we want!”
Would he make a pitch for Hollywood?
“I went to Los Angeles to promote Paheli. I have never tried to promote myself there, because that would be belittling the industry that has made me who I am. And let’s be realistic,” he reasoned, “if I landed in LA one fine day, Steven Spielberg is not going to go, ‘Hey, Shah Rukh Khan’s here!’ and rush to cast me. Why on earth would he, when he can get a Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt? Indian women have it easier, though, because they offer the West exotica.”
How come you haven’t got any international offers when Aishwarya Rai and Mallika Sherawat have, asked a scribe.
Shah Rukh’s reply was almost drowned in the ensuing laughter: “Sorry, I don’t have what they have. But I’m trying. That’s why I did the Lux ad!”
With our society becoming increasingly intolerant, how do filmmakers cope with diktats like no smoking on screen or ridiculous protests against the use of animals in films?
“We won’t smoke, we’ll just drink and do drugs on the screen. And we won’t show a horse race, we’ll just ride on humans,” was the caustic retort. “It’s ridiculous. Nobody tells me how many pigeons I can use in a scene. I’ll use as many as I think I need to. People just like to get publicity out of us because we’re such soft targets.”
Hmm, what about all those rumors of him using 10 Janpath to cut other actors down to size?
The answer was classic SRK: “Do you think I need 10 Janpath to cut anyone down to size?” Next came the explanation. “Look, I’m very apolitical. I’ve always shown my films to Vajpayeeji (whom I respect a lot) and Mrs. Gandhi too. But nobody noticed it then. Now they start talking about it and ask if I’m joining politics because Priyanka Gandhi visits my house. Why don’t they ask, is Priyanka joining films?”
The old bogey of the underworld. How does he deal with it?
SRK was upfront: “I did get calls. I could claim now that I was very brave, but I have no shame in saying I was waiting for it to end, I would have done whatever it took for that to happen. I was ready to grovel, say sorry, but not appease them or do anything that would ultimately harm me and my family. I would make all kinds of excuses not to work in their movies—anything from a bad knee to my pregnant wife. I just kept my legal team in the loop at all times.”
But you can’t keep the SRK funny bone down for long and he added, “The calls stopped coming after Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Asoka. Because if anyone had called me then, I’d have asked them for money!”
With the paparazzi culture creeping in here, what is his stand on a celebrity’s right to privacy?
“You have to do your job, and I have to protect my privacy. If I don’t want something publicized, I’ll just do it in China,” was Shah Rukh’s response. The actor, who has always maintained that the invasion of his privacy is a small price to pay for stardom, and he accepts it willingly, cast an eye on the future. “The paparazzi culture and the Bollywood-isation of news are going to get worse. (I don’t think Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan walking around in Bandra is news.) There will be days when the media will win. But in the long run, I think we might end up in a situation similar to that in Hollywood where people will start selling the exclusive rights to pictures of their weddings or newborns. It will be: you want my picture, pay me for it.” A brief pause, then, “You know what? The more I think about it, the more I like the idea!”