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Ashoka
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum
Devdas
Three-card Trick!

Come and spend the day with me tomorrow,” Shah Rukh Khan invited. “I’m doing three shifts and they’re all at Film City itself.” Ashoka - The Great was being shot at the helipad, Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Ghum on the sets near the main gate and Devdas, on the set at the lakeside. “In fact, my vanwallah is so pleased with me that he’s only charging me for two shifts,” he said with a gleam in his eye.

Working at three shifts a day, Shah Rukh Khan has no more hours left in the day to call his own or to give anyone else either. He grimaces when asked for an interview. He’s already been talking for hours on end in between shots. And no, the thought of an interview doesn’t fire him. “I don’t like myself,” he grinned. “When I look into the mirror, I feel like, `Hey, what the hell are you doing? Why do you talk so much about yourself?’ I don’t like talking so much about myself anymore. I’m bored sick of the topic.”

So we discussed other things. But obviously, Shah Rukh wasn’t serious when he said he didn’t like talking about himself. It’s probably because he’s surrounded by the usual possé of sycophants that accompany any star in an entourage, and SRK is more intelligent than most to recognize what the people around him are. Sure, he has a lot of friends and they have no option but to follow him to his shoots if they need to meet him, because of his utter lack of time. But he knows his friends too.

His home production Ashoka, directed by Santosh Sivan is almost complete. It has been considerably delayed, considering that Santosh is used to shooting and completing his films within a couple of months (but he doesn’t use stars normally). The delay, naturally, is thanks to the presence of Shah Rukh and his heroine Kareena who is currently doing a large number of projects. But SRK has arrived at a policy in the course of the last one year that he’s only going to do a very limited number of films and he’s been as good as gold and kept his word.

Currently, barring the last schedule to complete a song (the music’s by Annu Malik) for Ashoka, he’s midway through Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. And he has put all other projects on hold till he’s more or less completed these three films. Talking of these three films, SRK’s great gripe was that he doesn’t get to wear normal clothes for the most part in all these films.

He launched into a tirade when Karan Johar came to tell him that his shot would be delayed. “What the heck, hey, I’m not wearing any more salwar kurtas in your film,” he yelled at a laughing Karan. Turning to me, he said, “In Karan’s film, I’m wearing these feminine, heavily embroidered salwar kurtas; in Ashoka, I’m wearing dhotis, and in Devdas, again I’m wearing all those antiquated dhotis and elaborate kurtas. And in all of them I have these shawls and dupattas draped over my arm, so much so that I feel like Aishwarya Rai.” He mimicked a swaying feminine sashay with his hands thrust out. “I’ve begun missing these dupattas when I’m wearing jeans and T shirts, I’ve gotten so used to them, I think I’m beginning to lose my mind”, he concluded with a breathless grin.

Talking about the roles that he was playing, SRK was excited about the films that he was doing. They’re all different. “I’m being really picky about scripts today. Karan’s films are sweet, romantic films and I may yet do such roles in another four or five films before I consciously pack up the romantic image. Ashoka is a different film in any case and Santosh had narrated a brilliant film to me, backed by a complete bound script. I thought that these Southies have such a brilliant visual sense in any case. And the way Santosh narrated it to me, got me really excited. When Sanjay Bhansali came to me with the bound script of Devdas, after a three-hour narration, I thought to myself that Devdas is the kind of role that comes along just once in a lifetime.

“There are a few roles that one can play only once in a lifetime. Like a madman or a Devdas, because of the kind of alcoholic that he was. I want that, after this film is made, when people talk of Devdas, they say – Shah Rukh Khan. I mean, their identification of the character with me has to be complete. They have to forget everyone else in the past who has played Devdas.”

The funny part, according to Shah Rukh, is the different ways in which the three directors function. Santosh shoots eighty-five shots (in SRK’s true style of exaggeration) in as little time as possible. Karan calls SRK early and ends up giving the ladies first priority so he’s sitting in his van all dressed up with nowhere to go. And Sanjay, on a good day, takes two OK shots after trying for half the night to just get the sway of Madhuri’s hair to fall correctly, at the end of which, they’re told that they’ll continue the shot the next night. “I love each of these directors and their films that I’m working in”, SRK states in mock exasperation, but with real warmth in his tone.

It’s 1.00 a.m. and SRK is still full of beans, talking at 786 miles an hour. When did he rest and wasn’t he finding three shifts a day strenuous, considering that he was anyways doing only three films? One would think he didn’t need to do it. “It is strenuous at times when my knee starts acting up once in a while. Barring that, I feel lost if I reach home at midnight. It’s as if something’s wrong with me on the days when I pack up early. I’ve gotten used to these schedules now. But every once in a while, when I get really tired, I have to go easy on the pace. Then I work out of the office. It’s not as if the work ever eases down. There are so many things to do.”

And in the midst of all this, there’s the Dreamz office to take care of. Thankfully Jai and Bobby are handling most of the work there and ensure the smooth running, though every spare moment that SRK has, he puts in at the office. Now that Juhi is heavily pregnant, her activities in the office have been restricted, though she does stuff like reading scripts. which won’t strain her physically. They are all really like one large happy family and it’s great to see the harmony in their relationship. Aziz Mirza is there of course, like a benevolent father, really concerned about Shah Rukh and Juhi, and the newest entrant in the office is little Aryan. He’s around whenever Shah Rukh is at the office for the simple reason that for SRK, that means more time with his son.

Whenever it’s possible, Shah Rukh even takes him to the sets. (Between Shah Rukh and Gauri, Shah is the indulgent one while Gauri is strict and watchful.) So little Aryan runs riot, away from Gauri, with SRK fondly looking on. And on the sets, Shah makes sure that he’s the one to feed Aryan, so they do get to spend quality time together, even in the midst of Shah’s chaotic schedules.

Is he making a conscious sway from acting towards direction? “No, I’ll always be an actor first. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m such a star. It’s only people’s reactions that give me an indication – the regular fans, as well as people in the business of entertainment. It’s one of the biggest businesses in the world today and it’s very satisfying to know that one has been part of it. We Indians haven’t even started realizing the potential of the business we’re in. Some of the offers that come my way even startle me. And I’ve a sharper nose for the business than most of the actors. Gauri and I sit and discuss them and we get amazed. Sometimes we think there must be a catch somewhere.”

The reactions from the industry to Shah Rukh’s doing only select films is as expected. Everybody tries to pressurise him emotionally, but he doesn’t succumb because as he says, “There’s only so much that I am going to do and that I want to do. That much I’ve decided very firmly. I need to keep some time for me to do the thousand and one other things that I want to do.” After all, it’s not humanly possible to do more than three shifts a day, is it?

“My silence was misinterpreted as a ban!”

A free-wheeling interview with the otherwise unwilling Khan!

Hadn’t you made a statement, some time ago, that you had banned the press?
Hogwash! I never made any statement to that effect. It was just the figment of a trade journalist’s imagination. It’s true that I was lying low and refrained from talking to the press but that was because I had nothing to tell them at that particular juncture of my career. My silence was misinterpreted as a media ban. The press is like one’s very breath to a celebrity and no star can afford to ban it.

Do you feel that at least a section of the media went overboard with unfavorable comments while writing about you?
Yes. If I buy a camera for my production outfit, the media automatically reports it as the costliest ever bought in India while the truth is that Yashji bought film equipment four times costlier than mine. I’m amused that 90% of what is written about me in the media, good or bad, is grossly exaggerated.

Like?
The media went to the extent of insinuating that I’m a homosexual when it’s a fact that I am not. They even tried to link me with my heroines when I’ve never had an affair with any of them. The press also wrote that I am very generous in helping the poor and needy, which in fact is not true at all.

By dancing at people’s weddings and doing too many ad films don’t you think you are spreading yourself too thin?
What’s wrong if I turn myself into a commodity? I love dancing at weddings. I may dance at someone’s baraat or do 40 ads but let’s face facts — today I’m a star but tomorrow I may be fat and bald. What then? It gives me great pleasure to dance at a wedding for a bride whose mother is dying of cancer, by bringing her happiness with a personal visit. I feel I’ve done my good deed for the day. And there ends the matter.

So, how important is making money to you?
I believe in the maxim ‘Make money however and whenever you can, as long as you don’t sell yourself’. I don’t think any other actor has endorsed (or will be endorsing) as many products as I have.

How do you react when you see your own films? Especially your old starrers.
Frankly, I feel very embarrassed to watch myself on screen after a release. Seeing my old films is like watching one’s old school photographs after one is well-settled in life.

What have these past nine years in the industry taught you as a person and as an actor?
I made the transition from the small to the big screen. It’s true that I didn’t have to struggle for a break in films but I had a struggle of a different kind altogether. Secondly, when working in Col. Kapoor’s Fauji, there were several actors who used to ditch him and scoot off to Bombay for bit roles in films. Today the same people languish for work. I did not take my work in Fauji lightly. It is not just enough to have talent or good looks. You should also be sincere in your profession and constantly try to excel in whatever you do, be it on the small or big screen.

What does acting mean to you?
It’s a salaried job like any other. That’s what life is all about. Ultimately it is only work with which you are left. I look forward to whatever work I am doing. I like the process of work though I do not necessarily care about the final product, which in any case isn’t really in my hands.

Why have you not signed any fresh films?
The main reason is that I’ve to undergo a major knee operation this year for which I need plenty of free time. I have wrapped up my work in One Two Ka Four. The day I’ll complete my work in both Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Ghum as well as my own production — Ashoka, I’ll fly off to Austria for the operation. I do not want any producer to suffer on account of my knee.

Isn’t it true that you turned down Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir?
I did not turn down his offer. In fact, I was quite keen on doing Vinod Chopra’s film with Amitji at that point of time. Chopra wanted my dates from October two years ago but I couldn’t dole out the dates because I’d already committed myself to producers like K. C. Bokadia (whose film is yet to be completed), Shashilal Nair for One Two Ka Four which has just been completed, Ratan Jain for Badshah etc. Hence I lost out on the offer and an opportunity to work with Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

What do you feel about Amitabh Bachchan, the TV anchor?
I had the proud privilege of sitting in the hot seat and witnessing from close quarters the finessé with which he has been anchoring the popular programme Kaun Banega Crorepati.

Have you already donated the fifty lakh rupees that you won on Kaun Banega Crorepati?
Not yet, because I told Amitji that in the near future I’d be forming a charitable trust to help the needy. Once it’s launched I’ll help the needy with the money, which is now safely deposited in the bank.

 

THE KHAN ON HIS DOTCOM!

SRKWORLD.COM
“It’s an attractive mix of information and entertainment. Comprising 14 sections, the main attraction is Stardome, with exclusive websites devoted to myself and Juhi Chawla, already online. Anil Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Namrata Shirodkar and Santosh Sivan will soon join in.”

HIGHLIGHTS
“See never-seen-before images from my family album! There are stills, a detailed filmography with complete cast and credits and storylines of all the 35 films I’ve acted in till date. This also includes my one and only English film — In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones — done long before my Deewana debut and plenty of other features.”

MORE PLANS...
“There are plans to relive my memorable films with an exclusive flashback on their making. Over 150 web pages will provide all the dope on the people behind the scenes — my co-stars, directors, producers, etc.”

INDUSTRY REACTIONS
“While many friends, colleagues and well-wishers in the industry welcomed the idea, there are others who ridiculed me.”

INDUSTRY’S CO-OPERATION
“Everyone assured me of full-fledged cooperation. In this egocentric and selfish industry, the stars proved that they understand the value of synergy. My dotcom team and I are so small compared to those who are helping us make it a reality. Most of the stars are designing their own sites for the first time — exclusive to srkworld.com.”

WHY ONLY ENTERTAINMENT?
“Because entertainment is the new buzz word and the latest mantra the world over today. South Asians clamour for entertainment in every form and it’s film stars who provide the maximum entertainment.”

WILL HE CHAT ON OTHER SITES?
“Yes, I will. No star can afford to remain in isolation today. The world is shrinking and slowly and steadily becoming a global village. No man can afford to stand tall unless he is Amitabh Bachchan.”

REVENUE TARGET
“We expect a minimum of at least a million dollars in the first year of srkworld.com. It’s not a fly-by-night operation where we launch a dotcom today and plan to go public tomorrow.”

FINALLY, WHY A WEBSITE?
“Though I am a `commodity’, as far as the industry goes, I’m not a megalomaniac launching the portal to garner publicity for myself. My aim is to bring everything in this industry under one umbrella.”

                                                                                  

 

 

 

 

 

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