'I want to retain what I've,
recapture what I've lost'
For all his superstardom, Shah Rukh Khan is one hell of an easy-going
guy who, unlike many other stars, doesn't pretend to be busy when he is
Rather, for this interview fixed on the basis of one single message left
on the voicemail box of his cellphone and a return call precisely 15
minutes later, Shah Rukh pretended to be free when actually he had 20
things on hand and 200 others on his mind.
Mind you, he is a producer now, besides being an actor. With his maiden
production venture, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani nearing release (it will
hit the theatres on January 21), the post-production work, the
publicity, the distributors, the premieres, everything needed the star's
Actually, let's call him the superstar. Because thats what the
nameplate on Shah Rukh Khans cabin on the fourth floor of the
building belonging to his production company, Dreamz Unlimited, at Khar
in Bombay, reads SUPERSTAR. Modesty be damned!
But if such blatant flaunting of ones status in the filmworld
doesnt come across as vanity, it is because the actor himself comes
across as an honest human being. And quite honestly, isnt the guy a
superstar? If he isnt, why do the locals in the Carribean Islands
line up all through the 35-km stretch from the airport to the only good
hotel on the island, and cheer the actor, chanting his name when he goes
there for a stage show? Nearer home, the euphoria is no different.
In the last week of 1999, Komal Nahta met the man who has dominated the
acting scene for the last five years of the millennium thats gone by
and should continue to do so for many more years in the new
millennium too. Seating in his office, Shah Rukh spoke about his
experiences as a producer, his journey as an actor, and other things.
Excerpts limited from the conversation unlimited.
So, how do you look at the new millennium?
Honestly, I dont look at it any differently. Four days later, it will
be the same thing. Its just the end of a year and the beginning of
another. I see the year 1999 as a year of some great work Ive done --
not in terms of the number of my releases, but great work as an actor.
And as a producer too....?
Yes. But, for me, it has been a year of good work -- more than as a
producer and actor, as a worker. It has been a little more hectic than
usual. Hopefully, it will be the same next year. Though, as an actor,
Ill have five releases in 2000. So, the whole industrys future
will be hanging by the thread of Shah Rukhs releases.
When were the pangs of fear greater -- when your first film as actor was
released or now, when your first production venture is releasing?
Even as an actor, Ive never been scared of a release. Frankly, the
release of a film means that it's on air. After that, a film is beyond
anyone's control. Id like to make a film which, I think, Ill like
making and which, I think, people would like to see. When such a film
becomes a hit, it feels good.
But yes, Im a little more numb now as a producer than Ive ever
been as an actor. Ive been taking a keen interest in the films
post-production work and the publicity. I believe in the American style
of lavish publicity. Im not going to tell the world that its the
greatest film ever made, but Im surely going to publicise the film as
the greatest film.
The production has been completely handled by Yashji (Johar), the
accounts have been taken care of by Jay Mehta. Ive contributed to the
creative side which is actually Aziz Mirzas domain, but I too,
contribute otherwise -- not to portray myself as an intelligent actor or
as a hint of interference, but because of my involvement in the films I
The films dubbing got over today. Juhi is handling paper publicity
and the media. Aziz is busy with the background music. I only hope that
people enjoy viewing the film Ive enjoyed making. I dont know
whether the film weve made is commercial or not, whether its good
or not, but I do know that weve made it honestly and that we've
enjoyed making it. I just hope it has turned out to be the film we had
set out to make. I think, it's 85 per cent of what we had planned.
But Im sure our next film will be better. My biggest enemy,
incidentally, is my next time. Im neither being immodest when I
say that my next will be even better nor am I being humble when I say
that this is less than what my next film will be. But I must say,
weve all worked very hard. Weve never worked so hard in our lives.
None of us here has slept properly for the last 40 days! I only hope
people like us -- myself, Juhi, Aziz, Farah Khan, Karan (Johar) and Adi
(Aditya Chopra), Manish Malhotra, my unit members -- we keep on making
these kind of films.
I also understand that to make these films, the first pre-requisite is
that you've got to be in a position of choice. Just for that, I hope
this company gets a position of choice. That will happen if Phir Bhi Dil
Hai Hindustani succeeds. I would be happy if our production company,
Dreamz Unlimited, gets a position of choice like, say, Yash Chopra or
the Barjatyas, maybe even 10 notches lower than them. But, I assure you,
Ill make a better film next time, and a still better film after that.
Despite your busy schedule as an actor, what is it that prompted you to
take the plunge into production?
Im not a very busy actor. I do only four films a year. And it has
been so right from the day I started my career. Ive had only 27
releases in my nine-year career so far.
This company and this film happened quite simply. I owe a lot to Aziz.
Ive stayed in his house for a whole year after my marriage. Ive
also been great friends with Juhi Chawla, with Salman, Chunky...and they
have all been nice to me when I was a nobody. They werent expecting
anything in return from me as I was a nobody then.
I still remember how Juhis mother used to bake a cake for my
birthday. Then, a little later in my life, came Yash Chopra, Rajiv Mehra,
Rakesh Roshan and Ratan Jain.
Coming back to how I became a producer, it happened very casually. It
all started when I was one day sitting with Ratan Jain. There was a
friend of Ratan who was not connected with the film industry at all.
During the course of the conversation, he just mentioned that he
wouldnt mind investing his personal money in producing a film like
Yes Boss, starring Juhi and myself and directed by Aziz Mirza, because
he liked those kind of films.
That's when I thought we should start believing in ourselves. I thought,
if an outsider can have so much faith in us, why not we in ourselves?
That is the time Aziz decided to start a production company and since he
treats me and Juhi as his children and also because, as he said, he was
going to earn money on our names, he asked us why we were not becoming
And there we were, together on a mission to make a good, honest film.
The name of the company also simply happened. We were sitting with
friends one day. Aziz said, the name had to be something to do with
dreams because thats what we were going to sell. We decided on Dreams
itself. Aziz asked, 'Dreams Ltd?' I casually remarked, 'Make that Dreamz
Sanjay Chhel, Raj Dahima, Manoj have all been friends. They got down to
writing a script. Thats how work started. We did reject the first
story that emerged because we decided to make a little bigger film than
originally planned. But all the same, the process had started.
Aziz, Juhi and myself decided to pool in Rs 500,000 each and open a bank
account with that money. That was our idea of a company. Yashji and Jay
then told us that if we were really serious, we should do proper
documentation. The two of them formally set up the company for us.
Friends like Karan, Manish and Aditya heard the story and gave their
inputs. For instance, the title song is the work of Adi and Jatin-Lalit,
costumes have been taken care of by Karan and Manish. Sony was wonderful
enough to buy the music rights. Then Kishore Lulla was more than
wonderful to buy the overseas rights. Wonderful, not because they paid
us a good price but because they gave us the confidence.
Frankly, I had never thought that I would ever be a producer. Some day I
may have turned director all right, but producer? I hadnt ever
imagined that! Nonetheless, now that we have become producers, Im
glad about that. Maybe, we form a team of the best-looking producers,
or, the only pin-up producers in the country!
Jokes apart, theres a lot of goodness in ourselves. The entire unit
is quite like a family.This company has so far been like my career. It
has had the early success which I enjoyed. I sincerely hope, it also
gets the fillip my career got. Ive worked the hardest in my stint as
a producer. We all have worked very hard. But Juhi and I had to also
take care of our appearances because after the hard work, we had to face
the camera for some other films. I did postpone Adis and Davids
(Dhawan) film for some months because of Phir Bhi... But the hard work
notwithstanding, Im ready for the next one.
Youve dabbled in distribution in the past, but you never got involved
in the day-to-day business of distribution. What made you get into the
thick of production activity?
I turned distributor with Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa because nobody was buying
the film. I had Rs 400,000 and the films price for Bombay was Rs 1.2
million. So Ratan Jain, Vijay Galani and myself brought in Rs 400,000
each and formed a distribution company in the name of my wife, Gauri. We
made money in that film, so we bought other films like Chaahat and Oh
Darling Yeh Hai India. But, just like in distribution, I didnt dabble
in day-to-day production either. I dont understand accounts, how will
I get into day-to-day production activity?
Whose decision was it to voluntarily reduce the price of your film for
the C I territory? Yours or Yashjis?
Very clearly, Im not making this film for making money. If
money-making was my aim, I could have done two ad films or shows and
earned the same amount of money -- probably more -- in just two or four
days. Nor am I the highest paid actor, as is generally believed.
My whole notion of films is very different. Money has never been so
important for me. For me, if my film is beautiful, my price is worth Rs
100 million. Making money is incidental for me, believe me. Even as an
actor, Ive never been too money-minded. I only want to act in good
flms. I rarely discuss my price. I tell my producers to pay me a
respectable amount commensurate with my standing and their recoveries.
No producer can blame me for troubling him for money or even otherwise.
My only aim, now that I have a house and all other comfortable things of
life, is to earn enough money to be able to buy new equipment -- besides
the ones we bought for Phir Bhi... -- new technology and some day make a
film of international standard in India. I dream of the day when Shekhar
Kapur does not have to go to Hollywood to make his films, he can jolly
well make them here.
I dont want to be blamed that I didnt do enough for the industry
which has made me whatever I am today. Ive told my director-friends
that they can use my equipment which are all very good. I had decided,
the price of Phir Bhi... would be less than the price of any other Shah
Rukh Khan starrer. I am not greedy. Yes, I wanted to ensure that we
didnt make a loss in the film. We definitely havent made a profit
of several crores as is the talk in the industry.
After Phir Bhi..., we will have a production office to call our own. Now
I just want to release my film. By reducing the price, I wanted to tell
my distributors that if they make money from our film, they should share
the same with us. If Yashji has reduced the price, it must be because
the C I territory is being perceived as not very good for the fun film
which Phir Bhi... is.
In fact, the Bihar distributor whom we were negotiating with often
complained that his territory was not good for my kind of films. I told
Yashji not to negotiate the film with him if he wasnt interested in
releasing it without any grudge. A person must buy my film only if he
feels good about it, not otherwise. I understand that our company has
got a great deal of advantage because of my star-status. But I keep
telling my partners, if youve benefited due to my star image, you are
also going to get a lot of brickbats because of the same. Here, let me
tell you, Phir Bhi... is not an out-and-out Shah Rukh Khan film.
As an actor, how good has your gut feeling been about the box-office
fate of your films?
I dont normally comment about my own films. But my judgment of films
is excellent, it is better than yours.
A while ago, you said, you want to act in good films. How do you assess
which is a good film?
Ill only be honest if I said, I have no sense of story, no sense of
character. In my nine years here, Ive realised that I have no sense
of screenplay. So I work with good people. I have my set of people whom
I am comfortable working with, who are honest about their work. One such
honest person is David Dhawan. He doesnt believe me when I say I like
his honesty as a film-maker. After all, what is a film? It is selling of
a dream. We have to tell lies to people, we have to sell them dreams.
Does that mean that besides the people youve worked with, theres
an entry barrier for the rest who may want to work with you?
Nothing of the sort. Im working with Shashilal Nair, Mansoor Khan,
Adeyaman, David Dhawan and now, with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Ive never
worked with any of them earlier. But I cant do more than four films
at a time.
There must have been occasions when you were excited at the time of
signing a film, but then it seemed not as exciting as the film
progressed. How do you cope with such cases?
Films have never been 'not as exciting' for me. I bring excitement on
the sets. Im an exciting actor, overrated, exaggerated. But Im not
an unexciting actor. I excite people. I never lose hope. If I feel that
a film is going wrong somewhere, I do even better. In at least 10 of the
27 releases Ive had so far, I knew that they were going wrong. But
Ive given my best to them. I dont want to feel guilty that I
didnt give it my best shot and may be, therefore, the film failed. I
invariably hope that the star charisma may be able to pull a film
through despite the wrong things.
But I also know that this is a wrong thing for an actor to believe --
that he can pull a bad film through. But I do it all the time. If my
films have done well, it is not because of me. Dilip Kumar or Amitabh
Bachchan could take such credit, not me. My films do well only because
they are good, not because of me. Every actor should understand that he
can never be greater than his film.
Considering what youve just said, isnt it a paradox that stars are
still paid many, many times more than the creators of the film -- the
writers and directors?
This is the dichotomy of the film industry. You dont have an art form
in the industry which ensures that a thing of art is appreciated even if
it does not sell. At the end of the day, a good film is one which is a
hit. Finally, the commercial aspect is so strong that one has got to
market his film, to package his film. As soon as you are going to market
a film, you have got to package it. And the packaging has got to be
Like beauty, stardom too is skin-deep. An Arnold Schwarzenegger will
always be better paid than a James Cameron. There are, of course, some
directors who also get paid handsomely, but then they are stars in their
own right. A film is like any other commercial product, say, a soap. The
quality of most of the bars of soap is more or less similar, all of them
smell nice, yet people pay more for the one which is beautifully
packaged. People get taken in by the marketing. Films are an art form
which are sold after packaging in this commercial world. Otherwise, a
film could as well have been sold as starring Salim-Javed or Sanjay
Are you insecure about your no 1 position?
I would have been if I lived in a shell or in an ivory tower. But I
dont go into a shell, I dont live in an ivory tower. Im
surrounded by my work. In that respect, Im quite like Devsaab (Anand).
Besides, I know that whenever my slide downwards begins, it will take
some time, I wont just fall down from the top position in one day. I
dont spend sleepless nights, I dont get tense. I sincerely believe
that if you are working, it will work for you. Otherwise, you could be
shattered. I feel scared when I imagine that people will not recognise
me, therell be no smiles on the faces of people on the roads when
they see me. But I know that wont happen because Im working. There
will be smiles always. I am not insecure enough to count the bouquets I
receive on my birthday, I dont assess my popularity by the number of
magazine covers I am on, I dont get worried if my song is on the
seventh position on countdown charts.
What does the public expect from a Shah Rukh Khan film?
I think, they expect openness, upfrontedness, honesty from my films.
Honesty in my performance is also what they expect -- honesty in that I
dont hold things back. Mahesh Bhatt once told me a lovely thing --
which I think Michael Caines also said -- 'As soon as someone has bought
a ticket to see your film, he has already treated you as a God, he has
put you on a very, very high pedestal. So you dont have to remind him
again that you are God. If you do so, he is never going to like you for
I take care not to remind my audience that I am Shah Rukh Khan. The
better thing to do is to hold a mirror for them and to tell them,
This is you. If people have liked me in my films, its because I
could kill like an ordinary man, I could slip on a banana peel, I could
hide behind a girl to save my skin from a villain, I could do all that a
common man could and would do. Honestly, I dont mind doing anything
on the screen.
I believe that you can never be too good for the things you are best at.
People tell me Im popular because I am sexy, because of the dimples
on my cheeks, etc etc, but I think these are just labels given by people
and the media. I am popular for all that Ive done on the screen. That
is why Im never ashamed of what Ive done in front of the camera,
nor am I extra-proud of what Ive done. The other day, a friend of
mine was telling me I should no longer do something I had done in my
previous films. I fail to understand why I shouldnt do it. People
liked me for doing it and it is because of the things Ive done that I
am what I am today, then how can I stop doing exactly that? It would be
cheating the public.
What lessons have production taught you which acting did not?
Ive always been a producers actor. Ive never overridden a
producer. Im a large-hearted man, I know, but I also realise how
difficult it is to put that extra buck anywhere. I dont, therefore,
make fun of my producers. For this film of ours, Ive spent crazily. I
need a team like Juhi and Aziz to control me, which they have done. But
yes, as a producer, Ive realised that films should be made faster.
Its better that way. I promise, my next film will be made with even
Are the dreams of Dreamz Unlimited limited to making films or do they
transcend other territory too?
No. Aziz, Juhi and I want to make only films. If our first film goes
right, well make a still bigger film next time. If, God forbid, the
first one goes wrong, we will make a small film. I also want to do
something for theatre, maybe build a theatre.
Any millennium resolution for yourself?
Yes, to start working out. I need to lose some weight. Really, Ive
got to start looking like a hero. Currently, Im looking like a
producer. I also need to spend a little more time with my family. Ive
learnt all my acting from children, I want to learn a lot more from my
son Aryan. Children are the only people who dont know whats right
and whats wrong. And yet, if a child actor can make you laugh or cry
in a film, he must be the best actor. Theres no method to their
acting, no calculation whatsoever.
Children are so likeable. May be, children are my greatest fans because
I learn my acting from kids. I recently asked Aryan to repeat the words,
Papa, I love you after me. He told me, 'Papa, I love you,' but in
the same breath, he continued, 'See, butterfly, Papa," pointing out
to a butterfly.
Isnt that amazing? And we heroes and heroines take pauses before
saying the words, 'I love you,' and after saying them. The way my son
hugs me, theres so much purity in that. I wish I could hug my
heroines the same way, with the same spontaneity, the exact purity. Kids
are the most pure of the human species, they are the closest to God.
I hope, in the new millennium, I get the rawness I had in Deewana. I
know, I danced awkwardly in that film, my costumes were awful, my
hairstyle wasnt good, but still there was a likeable purity and
rawness which made me acceptable to the world. I want to recapture all
that. If newcomers are not achieving the status of stars today, it is
because they are so methodical. Their dress sense is impeccable, they
learn dancing and become experts before their first films, they learn
acting, action, their gait is well-rehearsed. All that is perfectly
fine, but the audience also knows that these things can all be learnt.
If they are to like you, they want to see something thats typical to
you. You must show that little difference, that little something
thats you and only you, it cannot be emulated.
In the new millennium, I want to retain what I have, and to recapture
and rebuild what Ive lost. I want to return to my childhood. Yes,
thats my millennium resolution...