Shah Rukh Khan: ‘I Give You the Right Not to Judge People’
Shah Rukh Khan dissects fame and success and confesses that many chapters of his life remain closed to all
Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/NfjTiS
It’s 12.45 am, and this is the last of 13 print interviews that Shah Rukh Khan has committed to, and done, through the day, besides radio and internet interviews, over a period of 10 continuous hours. He’s visibly drained when he greets you, with a weary smile, but as soon as the recorder is turned on, the energy is back again, and it’s manic. A fifteen minute interview stretches to an hour, and that’s what Shah Rukh Khan is: a man who may get tired of being a superstar at times, but would never take it for granted.
It is the week of release of perhaps his riskiest movie in years, Fan, where he plays both a superstar, Aryan Khanna, and his biggest fan, Gaurav, a aged-down, shorter, VFX version of himself. To the audiences, Aryan may very well be Shah Rukh Khan himself, what with the name being the same as Khan’s son’s name, and with the trailers using footage of ‘SRK’ mania, but they are likely to, somewhere, identify with Gaurav, who is the reason for, and thrives on, the same mania. As Khan faces off against himself in the movie that seems to be a return to his thriller roots, he speaks about fame, stardom, privacy, fans… and being Shah Rukh Khan.
Everyone’s more interested in the ‘fan’, Gaurav, in your movie, Fan but I’m more curious about Aryan Khanna. Aryan seems like a manifestation of Shah Rukh Khan. Is it somewhere what you see yourself as, or what you think fans see you as?
No… in fact, it’s a completely written character. And that’s why I had more difficulty playing Aryan Khanna than Gaurav. When you are making a film about a superstar, so that you don’t have to establish the stardom, you could maybe go with Mr. Bachchan (Amitabh Bachchan), Salman (Khan), Aamir (Khan) but the story was of a Delhi boy, so it fit well with me. We’ve also shown the star in his personal space outside of the flamboyance and Bollywood shoots, so it was important he be a star without us having to prove that.
But the character is very different. It would be unfair of Adi (Aditya Chopra) and Maneesh (Sharma) to ask me to play me but yes, the only manifestation has been using my 25 years of archival footage. You have me getting an award from Rekhaji (smiles) and that you may not have gotten from a newer actor. Yes, a lot of people will say, ‘Shah Rukh aisa hai kya? Yeh aisa hai yaar! (Is Shah Rukh like this? Oh! He’s like this!)’ But the honest truth is I’m not like him at all. He’s more real, more grounded, more practical, less mad and probably less compassionate in his dealings than me. He’s scarily real, and I’m not like that at all.
Have you ever given a thought to what the world sees Shah Rukh Khan as? What do you think your perception is to the regular guy on the street?
No… no. But I do get a feedback, on Twitter. Sometimes, they like me, sometimes they think I’ve become anti-national or I’m a marketer or I’ve sold out or that I’m fantastic or romantic. See, the beauty of being a star or being liked is, the more different perceptions people have of you, the more different people like you for different things. I may be all of them, I may be none of them. But there’s no way I can sit down and get disturbed by them.
Suppose you say, Shah Rukh I want you to do a Chak De (India) kind of a film; achchi acting karega, mera bada dil khush hoga (you’ll act well, my heart will be filled with joy). But that’s your perception. Mujhe nahin lagta maine baaki picture mein gandi acting ki hai (I don’t think I’ve acted badly in other movies). But I can’t explain that to you because you don’t know the craft or why an actor breathes, lives and does what he or she does. And I can’t explain myself to everyone else too.
And now, with social media, you’re perceived differently depending on the day. On the day of a hit film, you’re perceived as something, on the day your team has lost a match, you are perceived as something else. As a matter of fact, it’s maddening. If you are not able to concentrate and just know yourself fully, and say no, ‘Main inmein se kuch bhi nahin hoon, main yeh hoon (I’m none of these, I’m this)’. And if I tell you that part of me, it’ll be very boring (chuckles). So I let people think who they think I am.
I am an image. Shah Rukh Khan is an image… and I’m just an employee of that image. Now whatever that image, some girl see pink, some boys see black, some women see beautiful, some people think overrated, it’s an image. None of it is me. It’s like, you know, when you make a shadow with your fingers and you make a dog, there is no dog, it’s actually made out of fingers. I can’t show you the fingers, because the magic goes. So you think it’s a dog or a butterfly, whatever you like. I can’t break your myth that I’m working for as Shah Rukh Khan and I can’t believe in it myself. Because the day I do, I’ll be torn apart. I won’t know what happened!
In 2009, you played a superstar in Billu, who stayed true to his roots and was accepting of all love. In 2016, in Fan, you again play a superstar who has much to like, but one who draws a strict boundary between his reel and real life. Is this a reflection of your process as well? Do you now have try and safeguard how much of Shah Rukh Khan is accessible?
See, but I’m not even making myself accessible. I don’t even know what happens. It’s the reality we live now and it is how it’s going to be. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t change my way of being, according to the changes of the platforms of media, or according to how people start reacting to things. I’m the same person, living in the same place. I will still go for my match and cheer for my team, I’ll still take my child in my arms and walk down to the airport, I’ll still try to do the best I can in a film.
(Pause) But, to be very honest, very few people know the real me. I’ve been an open book, but the chapters I’ve opened are the chapters I’ve opened and nobody knows the chapters I haven’t opened. I’ve written a book about my life and even that book doesn’t contain all of it. I sit down to write it and I say, ‘No, yaar’. My privacy is not the space I allow people to get into physically or by a photograph or a selfie or by Facebook and Twitter. My space, which I don’t allow anyone into, is my emotions.
You know, I’m an extremely emotional person and I’m still really detached, and if I’m able to survive this dichotomy of stardom and normalcy that I live in, that’s a pre-requisite. I need to have my space. I know, what I do in my personal life and what I actually feel and think is so far removed from what people think I am, and what I could be, that it’s very strange, and very maddening.
But I’m only myself when I’m in my bedroom with my kids, yaar (smiles). With my black shorts and my hair standing out, and just being. Because my kids know me as a father and as a friend. They don’t want to know me as a star. And I don’t want to tell them what a star I am. They have respect for what I’ve done, they’ve immense amount of pride for who I am, but none of it enters my bedroom. We never talk about Shah Rukh Khan in third person, in fact, we make fun of him in third person (chuckles), sometimes, as much as others do.
You’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed his celebrity and yet, had respect for it. But in the age of social media, where fame is under such intense scrutiny, do you feel differently about it? Is fame more difficult to enjoy now?
No, yaar, it’s like… if you come on a weekend and stand outside my house, the people there are mostly loving. But there are people who’ve got stuck in the crowd and traffic, who are thinking, ‘What the fuck? I don’t want to be stuck in the traffic! Who the hell is he?’ knowing fully well who the hell I am. There are also some who are irritated, thinking, ‘Why does he have these people outside his house and I don’t?’ and then, there are some neighbours who are genuinely affected because they want to sleep and a thousand people are screaming. But 80% of the people are there for the love of it. So when I go out and wave, I respect everyone but I hear only the 80%, who’ve come out of love. I share the love with them. The same love also goes out to the 20%, who can take it or leave it. Social media is exactly like that. Most of them have followed me out of love. And I’m not worried about the X, Y or Z voice of the 20%.
You know, I really enjoy my stardom, I love it and have always loved it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, unabashedly, I came here thinking that when I am a star or when I’m good enough, I want people to love me, to hug me, to cry for me, to shout for me, to die for me. I want people to abuse me, to jump at me, to deride me too. I want people, it’s as simple as that (smiles). And people comprises of all kinds so I can’t disrespect that. Yes, I can get irritated at times, it’s my human right. I can get pissed off, and get really, really angry at trolling, or when some say I am anti-national or some shit. But, having said all that, it’s the same crowd outside my house – some of them I understand don’t want to be here, but they’re here (chuckles).
I don’t have issues of privacy, because I know what’s private is private. You can’t take that out of me because I don’t want to give it. I’m an actor, I can act like anything.
The reason I asked the last question was that today, the guy who makes a film round the year is just as big a star as the guy who uploads a five minute video on YouTube. How seriously do you take your stardom in such a time? Do you ever worry about things like staying relevant or protecting the fame?
You can’t make stardom, you can’t hold stardom, and most of all, you can’t protect stardom. Stardom is an entity by itself. It’s uncontrollable, intangible, unquantifiable. It’s not something you can just achieve and just because you have it, don’t please think you can control it. I’m not ready for it to fall or drop but there’s no reason for to try and protect it. Because you have to realise that stardom did not happen because of you.
Having said that, (pause), the model has changed. This is my understanding, I am completely off the cuff here. There was a vertical model in the world: the haves and the have-nots. The world does not have have-nots anymore… it’s all equal. We’re a horizontal world now. So, when I came into the film industry, a lot of actors told me, ‘Tu enigmatic nahin hai yaar, tu ads karta hai (You are not enigmatic, you do ads)’. I’m not Greta Grabo. She’s wonderful, I love her – but the times of Greta Garbo are gone. There are 1.2 billion people now. My biggest hit, the biggest hit in the country has been seen by only 11 crore people, 110 crore people haven’t seen it, on TV, in theaters, on every media combined. So there’s nothing like too much of me ,yaar. There’s nothing like too much love either; love is love. So there’s nothing like, ‘Arre yaar yeh bahut baari aa raha hai ghar mein, mujhe nahin pyaar karna (Oh! He’s coming to our house too many times, I don’t want to give so much love).’ You can’t overexpress yourself, you can’t over-spread yourself in today’s world.
There’s no hierarchy of stardom now, there’s no hierarchy in this country, or in the world. Each one of us is equal. It’s the reality now… it’s the truth. I can’t look down upon you. There was a time that if you wanted a star’s interview, only the top journalist of that country’s top magazine got the interview through some source of friendship of the manager that you had. Today, each of us comes out and talks to everyone. Not because you were less then, because there is no hierarchy, everybody is equal, yaar.
But the trick is, how can we be a little more equal than equal, that’s all. And for that, you’ve got to stick to the clichés – the honest basic truths. Be upfront, work hard, play harder, party hardest and love your family. That’s what I do. You have a dream? Go for it. Buy a house. Buy yourself two cars and waste one. Marry the girl that you love. There’s nothing wrong in wants or desire. That’s what we were made for. Otherwise we’d be in heaven, desiring nothing… everything is there in heaven. But at the end of it all, keep some modicum of honesty to it. Don’t have it without hard work, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t thieve, don’t try to make a fast buck, don’t shirk away from saying and believing the right thing, it’s as basic as that. Your father would have said this to you too.
When I wake up in the morning and sit down with my kids, I need to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘There is no discrepancy in what I teach you about goodness’. Try and be honest – that’s the only thing I want to protect.
Fan comes at a very interesting point of your career. Shah Rukh Khan started out as a risk-taker, someone who’d do a Darr or a Baazigar, not worried about how he’d be perceived. Somewhere in the middle, a SRK film became safe, and comfortable. You’d go to watch your film so you know it’s okay. But with Fan and Raees, for example, you don’t know if it’ll be okay, and that’s exciting. What’s brought about the change?
Even if you are extremely disturbed after watching Raees and Fan, let me assure you everything is okay (smiles). If you cry after watching a film, it’s okay. If the family in the film breaks up, it’s okay. If the hero falls in love and doesn’t get the girl, it’s okay. At the end of it all, life is going to be okay. You’ll never find a guy like most of the characters I’ve played in my films, in the real world. But when you play them, you don’t have to judge them, that’s all. I mean, look at Rahul from Darr, he’s a psychopath and stalker. Or Devdas, who is an alcoholic fool. You won’t do it, I won’t do it, but you need to just tell be able to tell the story of someone like that, and still let it be okay.
You know what my movies give you? The lack of judgment. I give you the right not to judge people. When we read the third page of the newspaper and see a shoddy headline screaming out, we judge instantly. ‘Wo ganda hai, wo acchcha hai, wo politician hai toh harami, yeh hero badmaash hai, are yeh uske saath soyi, yeh ghatiya hai, yeh cheap hai (He’s bad, he’s good, he’s a politician so is an asshole, this hero is a hooligan, if she slept with someone, she’s cheap)’. Arre? You think it’s not right, so don’t do it. But let them do it, don’t judge them. So the whole idea I give in films is that it’s okay. It’s alright if somebody’s done it, you should accept that.
We are getting so judgmental in today’s time and age, that you are under the pressure to say the right thing about the right thing. Sometimes, people say, why aren’t you mentioning that tragedy on Twitter? Arre, come on, does that make me a lesser person, because I didn’t write about it on Twitter? Everybody tweets, ‘My heart goes out to…’, and my heart does go out, to what happened in Kolkata, for example, but I don’t need to write it and explain it to you. I don’t judge the ones who share but I believe that every feeling need not be shared. A tweet does not life make, or a character decide, you know (chuckles).
But there’s no reason why I have choose these films at the time. Fan and Raees were signed before Dilwale so there’s no concerted effort behind this. The only freedom I have is I should be able to make a choice that’ll make me happy in the morning, good, bad or ugly. It makes me happy that I’ll work with Anand (Rai) or that I’ve worked with Maneesh or Gauri (Shinde). If all these films don’t do well, maybe I’ll go back and only make romantic films again (laughs).
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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on April 22, 2016
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