Indian Bollywood Star Shah Rukh Khan TalkAsia Interview Transcript
Airdate: September 11th 2004
LH: Lorraine Hahn
SRK: Shah Rukh Khan
LH: This week on TalkAsia: The King of Bollywood.
Welcome to TalkAsia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. The one and only - Shah Rukh Khan is our guest this week.
Bollywood is all about the singing and the dancing. And no one does it better, than Shah Rukh Khan. He made his silver screen debut in the late 80's but soon Bollywood beckoned. Since then, he's churned out hit after hit, including the critically acclaimed movie "Devdas" with Aishwariya Rai in 2002. But his most iconic moment thus far has got to be his performance of "Chaiya Chaiya" in 1998. The song, performed on a moving train, is like the "Macarena" for India. And I witnessed myself while there how everyone, from a three year old, to a grandmother-can't help but start dancing when they hear the catchy, hypnotic tune. After more than 50 films and numerous accolades, the 38-year old actor still reigns supreme as Bollywood's most charismatic and bankable star.
I caught up with Shah Rukh during my recent trip to India. Although normally quite private, he kindly allowed us to film the interview at his beautiful home in Mumbai. I began by asking him, what makes him so popular?
SRK - I don't know myself. Most of my friends even now laugh at me that I have become a film star. Especially the actresses that have worked with me earlier on, their reaction to me when I first gave my show to them was "eeks" -- they find it surprising. They think I'm a long-running fluke.
LH: So what do you think this appeal is? Is it your renowned good looks, your talent, what is it?
SRK -- No I find it funny if anyone calls me good-looking! (LH--ah!) No I genuinely do, I get embarrassed actually. The only thing I can sort of think is I am very ordinary in my films and I think that makes it special. And that's the only thing that I could think that I could say -- this could be the reason, because there is no other reason. I work hard, like I'm sure everyone else does, and I'm very honest with the work I do. Besides that, there could be luck, God has blessed me, people have been kind, or I believe there are a 100 million Indians who are very short-sighted!
LH -- (laughs) So you are admitting that your looks are pretty mediocre then?
SRK -- They are very mediocre! They are very mediocre.
LH -- When do you think you got your first real big break?
SRK -- You know I didn't know the ways of Indian cinema. Its very familial, mostly the people who've done well, their children come and take on the mantel. Normally they've not been too many outsiders who've come and joined the Hindi film industry. I really didn't know that the first four films I was doing were very special films -- I didn't know what a commercial success meant; I didn't know what happened at a box-office; you're suppose to feel nervous on Friday if your film doesn't do well, I didn't know you're meant to do some kind of roles. There's a certain kind of behaviour -- that you're not supposed to walk around in jeans and your shirt at parties, you're supposed to be very well-mannered even if you didn't know the people, and show you really loved their seniority. I wasn't like that. I was a little more Nike, Casey Casen, Michael J. Fox, kind of guy from Delhi. So they found me a little irreverent, but I really don't know when it happened. One fine evening I was shooting right here, next to my house, in the studio, and the director looked to me and said 'You're a star'. And I was slightly taken aback and he said - my barber said to me, "would you like a haircut like Shah Rukh Khan?" Which means, in India, you're a star. So it happened I think with the first few films, they did very well, but with really no input from me. With commercial success was concerned, I wasn't really aware.
LH -- Right, now let's say from your first movie up until now, did you every imagine that you could be this successful?
SRK - Even now, when somebody asks me, are you successful? I find it strange, I'm not being modest when I say that. So I try to sound modest and I say success is like Jackie Chan or Michael Jackson. People think I'm being immodest, but perhaps it's that I don't understand what's been happened in the last 13 years, which is the truth. I've written a book now which is about to be published, and it really does the say that, how I don't know how its happened, I don't know whether I am successful. Yes I have made a lot of money and I have a lot of respect, my films have done well, and I know there are loads of loads of people who look up to me and really love me. I really just thought this is like a strange dream. I have never thought this is a success -- I don't have a standard. If I got a BMW and a big house and 11 Filmfare Awards -- or a National Awards-- that I am successful. So I just get up in the morning and do the same stuff, and I think that augurs well for me. Because I am not caught up with the peripherals as yet, I really enjoy getting up in the morning and going and shooting exactly the way I did thirteen years ago.
LH -- Shah Rukh is there say a difference between a Bollywood and a Western star? Are you taken very differently?
SRK - I think the way the audience takes the Indian film-star is a little different from the way the audience takes the Western star there. We are considered like demi-gods here, and the reason is not because we are better or good, but because there is no other mode of entertainment in India. So you need to be a little more "demi-goddy," being an Indian film star. You need to be a little more mystical, and you need to be more enigmatic. Its not just a job, at least for the audience, as a matter of fact in the recent years a few actors like me have started de-mystifying being a film star but otherwise it's a blessing from heaven that you are a film star here in India and I think people do treat you with a lot of respect, and the press still hasn't become like how it is in the West, and they don't take pictures of you in low skirts, with lots of cellulite showing! (LH -- Right!). They respect us for that and I think they realize the difference. As far as the work, ethical culture is concerned when I met some of the other stars I think it's more or less the same -- only they can't dance as well as us!
LH: Up next on TalkAsia - How did it all begin for Shah Rukh Khan. And as a Muslim-the challenges he faced when he married his Hindu wife.
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia and our conversation with Shah Rukh Khan. Because of a sporting injury, Bollywood's biggest heart-throb decided to take up acting during his college days to help pass the time. For six years, he worked with a local community theatre in New Delhi, his home base. After his mother passed away, he traveled to Mumbai for a break. He wound up signing for four films in one day and the rest, as they say, is history. In the second part of my interview-we talked about life prior to superstardom-including his childhood.
SRK -- I was very naughty. I was born in Delhi in '65 which makes my childhood a long long time ago now. (Lorraine- don't say that!) Okay, I was very naughty, I was in the mode of a guy who wanted to be in sports. I was like a regular guy who didn't like girls until he was in the 10th / 11th grade. (Lorraine - what a shame!) Yes now I realize it! So I keep tell my son don't make the same mistake, start liking girls now. I was into sports I used to play a lot, I used to trouble my teachers: I was very very naughty. I was very naughty.
LH -- Now your parents weren't very artsy right, I mean your Dad was a lawyer and your mum was...
SRK -- Yeah I mean none of them were into the arts or anything...
LH -- So when you got into the business, what was their reaction?
SRK -- My father wasn't alive to see it, he died before I started doing this. So I was 15 when he expired in '81, though he knew that I danced a bit when I was small. So I don't know if he ever realized I would be a film actor. My mum was told I was too ugly to become a film actor, so she used to feel bad because she thought I was good-looking like all the mums do. And she said "No, he'll become like Dilip Kumar." Actually she used to like "Biswajit Radeen Kumar" so she used to say you look like Biswajit, with all due respect he's a great actor but I don't think I look like him. We don't have any art background: none of us could sing or dance or nothing, there was no artistic bent of mind in the family at all. But my Mom thought I'd be a great film actor one day like Dilip Kumar one day. But unfortunately she also expired before... actually the first CDs that I did which sort of hit the television she couldn't see it, she was in the hospital by then so that was very sad. But I'm sure they can see it now.
LH -- I know I wonder what they would be thinking, they must be so proud.
SRK -- I hope so: they can see. Somebody asked me why I keep doing what I do, so it's a very philosophical answer, when I say I want to keep on a bigger screen, so hopefully they can see it from heaven
LH -- Wow. Your wife is Hindu, you yourself are Muslim. Is it true you married, I mean she was your childhood sweethearts and got married without your parents' blessing?
SRK -- Yes I mean without her parents blessing, fortunately for me my parents were not around by then. But like, her parents were a little disturbed by the thought of her marrying a Muslim one who's hairstyle was all wrong, who was going to be a film actor who's first film nobody knew. You know I remember the first time they met me, they asked me "So what are you doing?" I said "I am acting in Bombay" and they said "yes but what is the work that you are going to do?" I was like -- this is what I am going to do. It's a difficult profession if you haven't already made it. And everybody sort of looks at it from a point of view which is not very encouraging. So they were a little anti-then - but nevertheless we married, and now its all cool.
LH-- Right, in a country like India where traditions still run very very high, how do you overcome these types of obstacles that may come your way?
SRK -- That time we didn't have to... there were committees, there was a Muslim committee who didn't like the fact that I was getting married to her, and there was a Hindu committee which didn't like her getting married to me but we were very smart - we gave the wrong addresses, so they went and stoned the wrong houses, which was my friend's house, and my friend still says "You know something they came and stoned my house because of you guys are getting married" -- we gave the wrong address - (LH - are you serious?) Yes we were very sly about it, so we didn't feel the brunt of that. But you know I think I don't think I am the New Indian, I think for very many years... religion, and I have very strong feelings on this: communalism, all over the world, is basically used as an excuse of misleading people, and for very personal gains. I don't think most of regularly educated people have these kind of issues, especially if it's a matter of love, or business actually. You don't really ask "Are you a Hindu? I'll do business with you." You don't ask "Are you a Muslim? I'm not going to marry you." These matters never really cropped up. Even now when I bring up my children, I feel very proud that they sort of know, that there is a religious difference between their father and mother but we're going to do it both. And the choice was given to me by my family like that: you read the Quran, and you understand it, and if you want to embrace it, do that. I embrace it and I've told the same to my family and my kids. And they do the same, they read the Hindu mantras and the Muslim Dua.
LH -- Shah Rukh - is the man we see on screen the man we see at home?
SRK - No not at all. Not al all, there are 2 aspects to this. 1 - the man on screen is 100% out there to entertain you, and to show you yourself. Actually, the whole point of my enactment is that I'm able to let you come into a cinema hall, and show you yourself, and tell you that you are having a good time. The second part for thirteen years I wake up very early in the morning and I work for 18 hours a day and I enjoy it I'm not being ungrateful, I really enjoy it. The line between what I really am, and what I am on reel, is slowly diminishing. I have given so many emotions when I don't want to; I have enacted so many sequences which I don't believe in; I have believed in so many things which I thought I didn't believe in. There are days when I wake up and I don't know whether... if the camera is not on, am I "on" or not. It's become like that. I like it, its nothing to feel sad about, I don't feel like "Oh god, where is there real me?" I really don't know what is the real me, I think I've ended up being an entertainer and its become a way of life that if somebody walks into me, or talks to me, in a plane or on the sets, in a train in a car or in an interview, my whole point is that I hope you are entertained and what I really am I really don't know.
LH - More of our conversation with Bollywood sensation Shah Rukh Khan, just ahead.
LH: You're back with TalkAsia and our interview with Bollywood mega star Shah Rukh Khan. He's played everything, from the action hero, to jilted lover, to ruthless villain. But he confessed to me that he's always wanted to be either Spiderman or Batman, while growing up! He's also a great fan of Jackie Chan, and said he even thought about naming his son after his idol. Well-that didn't happen. Aryan's six, while his daughter Suhanna is four years old. With his hectic schedule and constant scrutiny under the spotlight-I asked him what gives him peace of mind these days?
SRK -- Honestly just my kids I mean for some years now, because I am a very restless person. I sleep only 2 /3 hours in a day and I'm always wanting to do something. This is meant to be my time off now for 6 months. (LH- I know). And I don't know its now been just 2 days, so I'm glad I've hurt my knee so I've something to do, because I find it a little odd not having anything to do so...
LH -- Shah Rukh last year you underwent some surgery for your back. Is everything okay now? Did it stop you from doing a lot of things you wanted to?
SRK -- Yes it does, it scares me a little. It pains. (LH - It still hurts?) It still hurts yes. This happened after the surgery my arm used to pain a lot. I got sort of paralysed in my left arm. So that is okay now, but yeah it pains a lot especially on long flights, or if I oversleep, or if I overwork. But I did a film, my last film a film called 'Mehana', I did all the stunts and dances because I wanted to know myself. I didn't know whether I'm alright or not whether I'm okay or not. So I gave it a shot and it turned out all right.
LH -- As an actor in India what do you think you can bring to the screen that will raise awareness about your country your culture, just the life about India?
SRK -- For everyone, for a global audience? (LH -- yes). I think just the fact that the kind of films I do, do talk about a lot of positivity. They do talk about... I think in the West it's important to bring about an awareness of family, I think its important to talk about goodness -- and not in a preachy way. I think my films sort of do that, they're feel good, we show a lot of dancing, which is our culture, we show a lot of romancing, which is a culture everywhere. (LH -- (laughs) - and kissing nowadays.) Yes I don't kiss, I feel too shy, so the first thing I tell my script writer is no kissing and no love-making scenes, I get very shy. (LH: How about just the neck?) The neck I do very well! Nobody does it better than me. I think yes the films should just let everybody know there is a lot of goodness in the world: that is what my films do. As far as anything intellectually is concerned I don't think I am intelligent enough to tell people that through my cinema and make them intellectually aware of the Eastern side of the world -- I don't know -- I dance on top of a train.
LH-- Is Hollywood the next step for you do you think, a natural step?
SRK -- I don't think so I don't think there's any need or I have any 'usb' that could include me in any film, unless the film is called 'Brown Indian.' And if there's a film being made by Western film-makers which requires an Indian actor because the subject is such, maybe then I could be considered. I think I would like to stay in India because I've done very well here, and the only way I can show my thankfulness to the Indian film industry is by making an Indian film like 'Life is Beautiful' and taking it all over the world.
LH -- A lot of Bollywood stars are getting into politics. Is that something that's tempting for you?
SRK -- No I don't understand politics at all, I mean I'm not such a good actor.
LH - Hahah, ouch! Is there something you would like to do, both personally or professionally, like a film you'd like to make, that you haven't done yet?
SRK -- Yes I have. It may sound strange to a Western audience but I want to, I say it everyone laughs, but I want to make public facilities for women all over India. (LH-- please elaborate). You know we don't have amenities for women on the road-side and in villages, and, I'm sounding like Miss World right now, I want to make hospitals all over the country. I'd do that in my own small way. I earn a lot of money, by Indian standards, and now I want to utilize it. I can't keep on getting greedy. So I want to utilize it in two ways: I want to create public services through entertainment for everyone, and that's what I want to do. I want to make hospitals that are happy places and I want to make toilets for ladies all over the place, so they don't have to stand by the road-side. You know there are a lot of men's, even in the city, so I want all that to be made. To me it hurts me to see women on the roads searching for a place to clean up or wash up or whatever and these are personal dreams, I want to do it with my money, I don't want any... (LH -government help or...) institutions, I want to buy it from the government at the price they sell. Places if they are required. I just hope they understand the logic of it. I don't want to make any money out of it. I make it out of smiling on 'holdings', I'm happy with that, I want to start doing that. Hopefully "in shala" - in the next five or six year I'll start doing that.
LH: Bollywood superstar and family man-Shah Rukh Khan. And that's it for this very special edition of TalkAsia from India. Next week, the show travels to the Philippines for the 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awards. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.