Well, it’s been a long drought, but now with Zero on the horizon, and Suhana to protect, Shahrukh is finally coming out of his time of silence and has given us one little nice interview to talk over.
The original interview is on the Economic Times site, and I had to do some shenanigans to get it off there, which makes me think they really really don’t want it shared. So please, click this link and give them the views before reading on. REALLY!!! DO IT!!! BE A GOOD PERSON!!!!
Did you do it? Can you now move on and read my take on things? You can? Oh good!
I’m gonna give an excerpt chunk by chunk, and then my comments. The excerpts are in block quotes, so they should be easy to find.
Actor Shah Rukh Khan walks into Studio 8-C at Film City Complex in Goregaon, Mumbai, at 9 pm on the dot, belying the tardiness one associates with stardom. In a freewheeling interview with ET, he talks about the future of entertainment, the pay gap in Bollywood, the brands he endorses, the gizmos he loves, the books he is reading — and loneliness. The only question he ducks is on Me Too movement, as he claims his manager has forbidden him to hold forth on controversies. Edited excerpts:
I love the Economic Times. No fawning here, no discussion of him as a great man or anything like that. Just that he showed up on time and ducked a question. It also sets the tone for the interview, they will be asking serious practical questions, to match his serious practical attitude, showing up on time at the agreed upon location, not a deep intimate interview taking place in his vanity van, but a professional one that they are both treating professionally. Oh, and the full interview is available as a video, also at this link.
The business of entertainment is changing, with streaming media like Netflix. How will this unfold in India?
The world will change. There are many films that do not find a place in the theatre — not because they are not good enough. The quality of life is dependent on being able to do what one wants to, as and when one wishes to. It’s not about a big house or a big car or a big club that you are a member of. Film-watching should be as and when and how one wishes to. I can’t exclaim, ‘Arre phone pe meri picture dekh rahe ho (You are watching my movie on the phone)!’ If you like it that way, fair enough. If you like it bigger, put it on your television. If you like it even bigger, go to the theatre.
Netflix and all other platforms are here to stay. It gives an opportunity to a lot of youngsters who didn’t know where to take their small films. So my deal with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and chief content officer Ted Sarandos is not just on paper. I’ll try and make stuff for you for which I can’t find a theatre and I am non-self-obsessed to know that certain films don’t need to be in the theatre. Theatres will also change. It will perhaps be more like Broadway where movies will play for six months. It will be a 360-degree experience, there will be 3D and holographic stuff and more interaction. It will be community viewing, like watching a game, like going to a theme park.
Good first question, setting this from the start as a serious interview on the future of the industry. And good first answer, giving a thoughtful considered response, with a reference to his experience as a studio owner actively involved in content creation, not as a movie star.
As for the answer, I think Shahrukh is more mature than me. I am still kicking and screaming and saying “you should watch films in the theater!” He seems to have moved past that, accepted that it never works to try to control the trend of the market, just give the people what they want.
That’s also a different answer than his colleagues are giving, Ajay Devgn and Salman are both buying up single-screens with plans to refurbish them and bring back that market. Shahrukh is saying that market is gone forever, it is time to move forward and create different content for different formats.
What I really like is that he is clear there are some films for theaters and some films for other sources. Which means he is not rejecting theater films. And also, perhaps, is a nod towards JHMS and its failure in theaters, when he acknowledges saying it as being “non-self-obsessed”. Or perhaps I am just reading into that.
Your colleagues like Naseeruddin Shah, Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra have acted in Hollywood films. Would you look at that as an option?
They have to look at me; I can’t look at them. I look at the moon every day but I don’t reach for it. It started with Om Puriji and now Priyanka, Irrfan and so many others are doing it. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is getting some films. Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) has done some, Anupam Kher too has and it’s wonderful. But I have never been offered an opportunity. I don’t even know if I am good enough to do it — I think my English is a little weak (smiles).
My own attempt is to make Indian films watched at that level. Again, not taking away from the greatness of anything that others have achieved, I’d like Tom Cruise to say one day that ‘I’ve been given a chance in a Hindi film’. Man, that will be wonderful. Christopher Nolan would say that there is a producer in India who wants him to make a film. Inshallah, that will happen.
Interesting response here. On the one hand, being clear that he is open to a Hollywood offer but hasn’t received it. And being very gracious and sure to list everyone who has worked overseas. But on the other hand, indicating that he is not actively pursuing it, he is focused on something else. He wants it, but he isn’t wasting his energy on it.
And again, his attitude is different from others. He isn’t even talking about crossover films, he is talking about bigger and better films than Hollywood. While everyone else is either looking at crossover artists, or films outsiders liked, he is saying “no, they should want us, we shouldn’t want them”.
Can China be an emerging market for Indian movies?
China is a big market not just for Indian movies, but for the world right now. Most of the Hollywood films that perhaps don’t do well in their domestic box office wait for the China release and some of them are saved by that. It’s wonderful what China has done in the last 8-10 years. If you have a market, you have to somehow create a platform for people. China has done it and it’s a model that India should look at in terms of theatres.
This is what was talked about in my film production class in grad school, the one taught by an actual real life Hollywood producer (not a super important one, but a semi-important one). China is the biggest emerging market, the China rights are massive profits for Hollywood. And China is building theaters at a stupendous rate, which is what makes the biggest difference. That’s what Shahrukh is nodding towards, not the China market, but the China infrastructure investment in building more and more and more theaters for everyone in the country, at the same time that India is shutting them down and raising ticket taxes and generally trying to kill their market. And it’s an issue that hasn’t really been brought up (at least that I have seen) in the Indian press. The India versus China film market isn’t just about quality of movies and so on, it’s about shear number of theaters. And China is far outstripping Indian thanks to government investment and support.
How far are we from hitting $500 million or even a billion dollars at the box office?
Another five-six years or maybe 10. We will always have a language issue. Ours is not an internationally spoken language like English. Plus, we really need to utilise the technology we have in the country. Unless we make the technically big films maybe the market won’t grow. That will eventually get sorted out with actors and directors making forays into Hollywood; that interaction will perhaps hasten it. But it is still 5-10 years away.
Well, that’s a relaxed answer! Clearly money doesn’t excite him that much. One thing I thought he was going to point out with language is that language is not even a NATIONALLY spoken language. The Indian film market will always struggle with attracting the full market, unless they get serious about dubbing. There Shahrukh, I gave you some free advice. Now go out and use it.
You have experimented as an actor. Will you be donning the director’s hat?
I’m lonely enough as an actor. The director’s job is the loneliest in filmmaking as they are the only ones who know what their film is speaking. So perhaps I’m not ready for that kind of loneliness as yet. If I am to direct, then I have to write as well, which will take me a couple of years. I’ve been trying to write a book for the last 20 years and I haven’t finished that. I’m a little lazy and it will be difficult to really (be a director), but in small ways, I do participate in designing the action. I don’t know how to say ‘okay’ to something. I always feel it can be better — I have trouble letting go. A director’s job of just saying okay and moving on stresses me; how does this person know it’s okay? I will keep on doing things and until I get to understand that it is okay to say okay, I’ll not be a director.
What an interesting view of directing! First that directing means you must write the script and conceive the entire story. Which, I think, is what directing is in Hindi film. But is often not stated that directly, there is some kind of a nod to specialization in imitation of the west, pretending that the script is written by one person and directed by another and so on.
Also, this is the first dip in this interview into philosophy. It’s an interesting response, instead of saying “I just love the fans too much” or “I want to spend time with my family”, he keeps it directed towards the philosophy of the work, what it truly means to be a director, to be the captain of the ship instead of the chief crew member.
Do you think female actors are getting their due in Bollywood?
It’s a male-dominated industry. You can’t shirk it away or ignore it. I would love it to be different. There should be no disparity. A male actor and a female actor should get the same fees — why is it different, I don’t know. But I would also add that no actor — male or female — should over-estimate their performance. No individual — be it director or actor — should burden the film’s expense by charging an amount that goes beyond the performance of the film’s opening weekend.
I love the opening. He just flat out says, “this is what it is”. There’s no “actresses should get the same pay” or anything simplistic like that. And then the ending. I think he is pointing towards the real problem without saying it outright. So long as male stars hold films hostage by taking over-payment, then the actress’ rates can’t increase, and neither can their stature. An Akshay Kumar film requires an Ileana D’Suza or Mouni Roy co-star, because they spent all their money on Akshay.
Or maybe I am reading it wrong.
You are associated with over 20 brands. How do you select them?
I believe a brand selects an ambassador, not the other way round. More often than not, I’ve been with companies that are internationally renowned. People take a decision to put my face on their product — it is a big decision. I don’t know how it works for them. I’d rather believe that it’s the success of my profession — although it is very volatile in terms of ups and downs. It also depends on the core values we possess.
This is a nice way to say “I sell well to NRIs”. At least, that’s what I got. Combined with “brands come to me as a measure of my success as an actor” and “I’ve built a very valuable public persona”.
You are associated with Byju’s and Big Basket. Do you believe in startups? Do you invest in them?
These are good companies, run by big people with bigger dreams. When I had my first conversations with them, I asked: do you really want to invest so much money in me? I spent a day dissuading them. I’ve been made to understand that they did not just come for the stardom. When I met Byju’s, they said there is a certain level of education that I bring to the table. For Big Basket, my team tells me that the housewives think I am trustworthy. That’s very nice. Working on a new film, especially an innovative film like Fan, is like venturing on a startup. It is the riskiest of businesses. I’d rather try something new and fail. I haven’t invested in a startup directly.
That’s a nice little glimpse into brand thinking. Shahrukh is the educated star, and the star housewives trust. Which I would agree with and I suppose the success of those campaigns will prove it.
Funny that he says he hasn’t invested in a startup, since Red Chillies could be considered a startup. I guess he doesn’t consider that it qualifies since it isn’t changing the current market practices in a dramatic way. He also doesn’t point out that he himself, Brand SRK, is a startup. Which is certainly true, a new idea that found a gap in the market.
Your association with Hyundai has been going for two decades. How did this evolve?
When they came in the beginning, I was shooting with the late Srideviji. Though it was an international brand, one hadn’t heard of them. The whole team had flown down from South Korea but we didn’t even know how to pronounce Hyundai correctly. I come from an era of Fiats and Ambassadors. The concept of making a car for India from Korea seemed far-fetched. But there was this team who believed in bringing affordable cars to India, so I went for a ride, not knowing the enormity of what it can achieve for customers. Twenty years later, I am amazed at how it all began. Now it is one of the leading carmakers for India.
First, Army! The movie everyone has forgotten! Good for it to get a shout out.
Also interesting how this is positioned, Hyundai coming in is a sign of the future, and is a boon to the customers. Shahrukh, capitalist to the bone. Or else very good at understanding what should be said to a newspaper called “Economic Times”.
Do you enjoy driving?
I love to drive. Unfortunately, in Mumbai and more places than not, it’s a little difficult (for me) to drive. Maybe, I will drive back tonight in the rain and see how it goes.
This is a simple unexciting personal question and personal answer. I wonder what kind of prep they gave the interviewer to make sure the questions stayed at this level?
You mentioned once that you invested in KidZania, because you like to play the games that children do.
My investments are in 3Cs: children, cinema and cricket — actually, sports, more than just cricket. These genuinely appeal to me. I love children, not just my own. I like doing things with kids and now, at 53 years, even a 20-year-old is a kid for me. I wanted to be a sportsman but I couldn’t. I like kids to have that opportunity, I like platforms where kids can do what I couldn’t. I was recently shooting in Orlando for about 50 days for my film. My son AbRam had come along and every day we were at Disney, at the water park. But I don’t do roller-coasters — I’m scared of them.
Huh, a flip of bringing in his sports teams as part of his kind of “fatherly” identity. He’s not a youthful excited athlete and sports fans, he’s doing it for the kids and with the kids, just like his charity and his cute photos with AbRam.
To clarify, I also absolutely believe what he is saying. It snapped into focus a lot of stuff about his interaction with his players and stuff. But I also think it is a good shift in his public identity.
Are you saying that one should invest with one’s heart more than one’s mind?
Any investment done with the mind will be good in the short term, but if your work has to touch people’s life or make it more convenient, then you have to really care and it has to come from the heart. So I never dissuade people from getting into ventures and businesses. The whole concept of business management stems from the fact that if you organise it, you will succeed. But I’m completely disorganised and I have succeeded, too. So there must be something true about the fact that the heart works in businesses as well.
This is partly soft pleasant pablum that makes succeeding in business seem noble. But it is also a logical end point of everything else he has said. If you really want to succeed, you have to give people something they want. And in order to know what they want, you have to think with your heart and not your mind. Hyundai opened up a new market by seeing that there was a need for affordable cars in India. Shahrukh has had success in his investments by only investing in things he was truly passionate about and therefore knew well.
What are your favourite gadgets?
A laptop, if I can call it a gadget. I also have an amazing manual camera, Leica. You have to focus and change lenses and everybody gets depressed when I take pictures with it because it takes hours, but I love it. I’m not much of a telephone person and I am not very socially communicative. So I don’t carry the phone.
I love that he uses a manual camera! He is such a gadget guy, but the newer cameras aren’t really fun as gadgets, you know? They do everything for you, you don’t get to play with them and find new options and so on. I also love that he mentioned everybody getting depressed, just on a personal level, because my mother also has a manual camera that she loves and it also takes her hours to set it up (at least, it feels like hours, while everyone else is just pulling out their phones and taking pictures like a normal person).
What are you reading these days?
Lately, I haven’t read anything as I have been very busy shooting. Early on in the year, I was, again, reading the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. I am very intrigued and thought I should read a detailed version. I’ve now gone slow on that. I think I will start reading it again.
Let’s say this is a honest and true answer, in which case he is doing a smart thing in today’s climate. Have an actual grounding in the texts and use them to defend yourself against those who are misusing them.
Or it’s a carefully crafted answer to please the public and get clicks.
Do you have any favourite authors?
My all-time favourite is Douglas Adams — of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I used to love Roald Dahl when I was younger, and James Hadley Chase and Harold Robbins when I was even younger. Now I think there’s one interesting writer — Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl, which I think is even more interesting than Harry Potter. I like Dan Brown; I actually liked his last book.
I love his “I actually liked [Dan Brown]’s last book”. Shows how far poor Dan Brown has fallen.
More importantly, ARTEMIS FOWL!!!! He is so right, Artemis Fowl is as good as Harry Potter. I wouldn’t necessarily say better, but really really good. And much more cinematic in how it is written than Harry is. It is practically begging for an adaptation if they can every figure out the special effects. Oh OH!!!! That should be Red Chillies’ big project! If they make a truly worldclass version of Artemis Fowl, and dub it in all languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil), it could be the big “I want to work in India now” breakthrough movie.
Also, Procrastinatrix is totally right, he would love Terry Pratchett. I read Artemis Fowl years ago (while working at a children’s bookstore, I got introduced to so many great books back then), and completely fell in love with it. And now I am reading Terry Pratchett for the first time and the influence is so clear. If you like one, you will certainly like the other.
Interesting in the other choices. I was going to make a joke about whether he liked Dahl’s famous children’s books, or his less well-known Adult-with-a-capital-A stuff. But James Hadley Chase and Harold Robbins points to the Adult-with-a-Capital-A direction.
I’m going to assume this is just a straight-forward honest answer. Partly because it is consistent with what he has always said, and partly because he is citing semi-obscure authors, which makes them useless in terms of presenting some kind of “message” to the public.
Oh, and I haven’t read James Hadley Chase or Harold Robbins, so I can’t speak to them, but Roald Dahl and Artemis Fowl and Hitchhikers Guide are all books that luxuriate in complex English language. Which belies his humble “my English isn’t good enough for Hollywood” statement from before. And matches with his very intelligent English language usage in interviews such as this one.
Your children are close to choosing a career. How do you protect them, as they come with a huge legacy of their father being a superstar?
I understand what you are saying “there is no way to protect them from who I am. I’m a good monster and only I can protect my children from who I am. By keeping a certain amount of dignity in the face of opinions, by keeping a certain amount of calm in the face of disarray, by keeping a certain amount of honesty and hard work in the face of nepotism. People’s perception of stardom could be, for example, “Star ka baccha hai, gaadi tez chalata hoga (He’s a star kid, his driving must be really rash).” The great happiness that I give them as a father, the love and education and teachings that I give them, and the fact that I work so hard as a father – it’s their responsibility now to live with it and figure it out.
That’s a nice mature response. He’s not saying “leave my kids alone” or “they are the best kids ever”. He’s saying “I did what I could, and this is the world and they are living in it.”
Also, to end this very thoughtful analysis with a petty note, is his choice of “driving” as an example a slam at Vikram’s son’s recent accident? Or is it a coincidence? I could go either way, because speeding through the city in a sports car and driving for pleasure instead of necessity is a very clear class definition, but on the other hand it is also a really specific example.