This isn’t total fangirly, right? No, I don’t think it is, Shahrukh is an important industry figure and him saying things about the industry is news and worthy of discussion.
First, link to the actual article, click on it and read the whole thing and give them views! I really appreciate it when news sources post whole interviews verbatim and when they are interesting interviews with good questions!
The interview starts sort of light with some general talking points between Aanand L Rai and Shahrukh about Zero and the trailer. People really responded to the emotion in it, Aanand is excited to work on a film at the level that Shahrukh makes them (bigger budget, bigger box office), the dialogues are a highlight and Shahrukh really delivers them well, Amitabh said something nice about the trailer, nothing super interesting although all very fun to read.
And then there is the first part I find actually worth quoting, Shahrukh talking about his acting:
As an actor, I never figure out ‘how to do’, for me it’s always ‘how will I feel like doing this’….
A character is a little difficult to define, yaar. I feel that once you define it, it becomes two-dimensional. What I want to tell everyone is, ‘Can you find yourself in the character?’ That will be my victory. Today, when people see the character, we get to know what they like and don’t like about him. It will just take an edit change for us to rectify what they don’t like; but every day we quietly agree with everyone, but we want him to be left undefined. Let people take what they want from the character. The actor Michael Caine had once said, ‘I never show myself. I walk on to the stage or a film set and then hold myself in so that the audience can see themselves in me’.
What I like about the character is not all commercial Hindi films allow you to be someone like that. In most of my films, I am ‘hero type’… that’s also nice because I feel it’s difficult to be ‘hero type’. This character is like a mirror in which you will see yourself or someone you know.
This is all really deep and fascinating! I especially enjoy his distinction between “hero type” and what he is doing in this film. I think what he is getting at is the essential structure of Indian drama into set characters. Hero, villain, heroine. Best friend, mother. There is a lot of flexibility within those categories, but the narrative defines them in those ways, there is a sort of story grid you are working within. And what Shahrukh is saying is that in this film, he is not trying to work in that grid, his character is not the “hero”, he is just a person.
Which is what makes Aanand L. Rai’s films in general so distinctive. His leads, male and female, don’t fit in the usual “hero” and “heroine” mold, they are something other, the story is a little cock-eyed and odd.
And then there is more blah blah about what a risk this film is and stuff, until Shahrukh starts talking about working with Aanand and how and why they became close:
I think who I mean as my ‘friends’ is a little misunderstood….
What I mean is that the people I work with, I hope they become my friends. It just makes the process of making a film nicer. I hardly remember the last time I was ‘professional’ when I made a film — I don’t mean I’m unprofessional — but it’s never been, ‘Hello sir, chalo… okay, bye bye’. I can’t function unemotionally.
This process of writing the film took five-six months from the time Aanand sir told me about it. In those six months, I decided that this is the only film I’m going to be doing. It’s a very simple idea and it’s simple ideas that attract you the most.
Pre-production took about three-four months and during that time, we got the opportunity to become friends even before we took the first shot. So much so that by the time we came on set for the first time, a lot of people would have got the impression that we had been working together for a long time.
Makes total sense what he is saying, as a producer/star he and the director are going to have to be locked in together constantly. In the same way he and the other lead actors will be during the shoot. Establishing a friendship if at all possible is the only way to get through this. And it leads to a better product often, having that kind of trust in and knowledge of your creative collaborators.
But it also reminds me of the thing I said back when #MeToo first broke. If you are going to be working so intensely with someone, it’s also good to sort of cover yourself by getting to know them really really well in advance. These are going to be people who meet your kids, who come over to your house for all night conferences, who are representing you in some way to the public as well. And there are definitely people in the industry who follow a policy of only working with people they like and trust as a sound business practice. Which doesn’t mean you can’t work with new people (like Shahrukh with Aanand) but it does mean that before you make an unbreakable commitment to them, you make sure you can get along with them and you really really know them. Hrithik might have been able to avoid the whole Super 30 disaster if he had spent a little more time with Vikas Bahl before committing to the film.
Cute story about AbRam, whatever, and then a slightly different and really well thought out answer about what it’s like to be a Khan. The question was “is the pressure higher?” which was a slanted way of saying “your time is running out, your films are flopping, all three of you are dying on the vine”. This is a question he has been asked a lot, and will be asked a lot, as time goes on. And Shahrukh has a good simple response:
Kya pressure, yaar? Bhagwan ne itna de diya. The one thing God hasn’t given us is pressure; what he’s given us is opportunities…
But I am lucky that I get to do the films I wish to do. Every year, I am thankful that I get the opportunity of at least two films… ki yaar, yeh bhi kar sakte hain, woh bhi kar sakte hain. What more can an artiste ask for?
I remember, in my early days, I was working with Sarojji (Khan, choreographer). In those days, I would work three shifts and would be like this (leans back on his chair and sticks his tongue out). I told her, ‘Sarojji, itna kaam hai, thak gaya hoon’. She would be very motherly towards me and she slapped me on the cheek, pyaar se, and said, ‘Kabhi yeh mat kehna ki zyada kaam hai’. In this area of work, there is never too much work. I just feel fortunate that I have so much to choose from. So, no pressure.
It’s a nice way of looking at at his career, saying “what was, was good. What is, is good.” He isn’t talking about holding on or what he might be losing, he is talking about appreciating the blessings he had and has. I hope the other Khans pick up on this, it’s a good healthy way to be, and an excellent response to all the badgering they get, just calm acceptance and gratitude for what they have.
And then there is a nod towards the Sanjay Leela Bhansali rumors about a film with him and Salman, which he neatly turns into a general statement of how much he likes Salman and Sanjay. And also, casually, confirms that he is making the Rakesh Sharma biopic. Confirmed it so casually that it isn’t even the headline of the article. Kind of interesting how they are rolling out this film, they haven’t been trying to keep the rumors and leaks out of the press, but they also haven’t done a big official announcement. It’s good, I think, hopefully a sign of making this a more lowkey and less “Big big BIG” kind of film release.
The only film that I have committed to doing right now is Mr Mahesh Mathai’s Rakesh Sharma biopic (tentatively titled Salute).
And then the big big quote! The statement on Thugs that Shahrukh wanted to make and managed to get in before the end of the interview. This feels like a very casual interview by the way, it was at the Calcutta film fest, sounds like the reporter just sort of pulled him aside for a few minutes, not in depth or planned. Most of it was just light stuff about Zero and working with Aanand and whatever. I think this ending might have been off the cuff, perhaps something Shahrukh had been struggling with internally and grabbed the opportunity to say. But I also suspect (since the rest of the interview was so light), that he was leading towards it and formulating his remarks in his head during the rest of the discussion. It just feels ever so slightly more planned, and certainly is the part that is most like a statement rather than just a conversational answer (highlights mine):
Jokes apart, I would like to say something. It’s a little personal and I don’t know whether it’s right to say it or not. This is something that’s saddened me and so I want to share it. When it happened to me personally, I wasn’t so sad, but this time I am. There are people who have given excellence to cinema for years. A film can be good, a film can be bad; none of us can ever claim ki maine duniya ki sabsi achchi film banayi hain. Mr Bachchan and Aamir have been people who have constantly contributed to the excellence of cinema. The greatest contribution to Hindi cinema in the last 10 years has been from Aamir, and with Amitji, it’s been even longer. Now if a film of theirs (Thugs of Hindostan) doesn’t reach the level that you expected it to, does it take away from what they have done for cinema?
I think some people have been a little too harsh. It’s heartbreaking. It doesn’t mean that their spirit is broken, they are all amazing artistes who will bounce back. But one needs to be a little less harsh. I think Stree was fabulous and we need to make 20,000 films like that. But I also think that Thugs of Hindostan is fantastic. Sometimes we do go wrong, but Aamir has never done a film in which he hasn’t put in his best… I’ve known him for 20 years. And if there’s anyone who can put in even more effort than Aamir — which Aamir will also agree — it’s Amitji… and at this age! So they’ve come in with good hearts and great talent and tried to make a film which tries to open up a new genre.
I may be speaking out of turn, but just like we have embraced Stree, we need to give some leeway to films like Thugs… that attempt something different. An adventure film has not been made in India in decades… probably Parasmani (1963) in black and white was the last one. Thugs… has tried to introduce this genre and kabhi kabhi upar neeche ho sakta hai. But the fact remains that in our cinema, we haven’t made an Indiana Jones and screw the comparison yaar, humne Pirates of the Caribbean bhi nahin banayi. So props to them for the attempt.
I have faced this with Ra.One… woh galat bann gaya, but at least mera effort tha to introduce superheroes into our cinema. Effort can’t be derided like this. If it was my film, it would seem like I was taking it personally, but yes, I am taking this personally.
I let people down with Jab Harry Met Sejal, which was an utter flop. But I didn’t want to let anyone down; I just liked the fact that koi story nahin thi, sirf ek ring ke chakkar mein the two people (SRK’s Harry and Anushka Sharma’s Sejal) kheechey chale jaate hain… it was very organic, slice-of-life thi. The other day I met a director who mentioned the term ‘slice-of-life’ and I said, ‘nahin, poora pumpkin do mujhe iss baar’ (laughs).
What I am saying is that we need to give everything a chance. If Zero works, it will give people encouragement to make films that are even bigger in scale and story. And if we keep doing it, then maybe one day we will be able to make a good Mahabharat too. Nahin toh sirf bahaar waale hi hamari stories banate rahenge. Aur hum dekh ke sochte rahenge ki humne Gandhi kyun nahin banayi?
The most important part of this statement is I think in the middle: “If it was my film, it would seem like I was taking it personally, but yes, I am taking this personally.” I think he is completely sincere in his emotions and his statement, but I also think he is a savvy enough public figure and kind enough friend to know that he is saying the things Aamir and Amitabh and even Aditya Chopra can’t say. It’s a bit of a risk to speak for them in this way, but it’s a leap he is taking because he knows he can take it. And possibly it is also a statement directed towards his own fans, the netterati who are trying to turn this into a Zero-versus-Thugs game.
I admire Shahrukh as a person and a thinker, so what he said made me look back at myself and consider whether my own opinions of Thugs have been “too harsh”. I think not? I think what he is criticizing is a rush to personal attacks on Aamir and Amitabh, to throwing out all their past contributions just for this one failed attempt. And the rush to reject a film without even sampling it. I can honestly say I saw Thugs with an open mind, I even saw it twice with an open mind.
More generally what I am reading between the lines is a sadness at the whole culture of tearing things down, rejecting brave bold attempts, that is rampant in popular culture fandom. If Stree, this small clever film, was given a chance by the audience, then so should the big bold expensive film. If the little known little name stars are getting their moment, then the stars who have worked for decades to entertain us should be given a modicum of respect as well. And a reminder that nothing will ever move forward, great things will not be accomplished, unless we allow for and encourage attempts at great things, even failed attempts.
What I think Shahrukh is not including, either in his discussion of Thugs or his comparison with Jab Harry Met Sejal, is the place that the intermediaries play in the end result. The film does not go directly from the artists to the audience.
He’s right, Aamir and Amitabh are two of the hardest working stars in India, they sweat blood to entertain us and deserve our respect. But between them and the audience are all the little office worker middle-men who came up with the extreme promotion campaign that did, in fact, sell it as the greatest movie in the world. And the distributors forcing the high ticket prices. And all the other things that go into making the audience not just dislike the film but resist it, resent it.
I absolutely agree that Amitabh and Aamir should not be disrespected. I mean, I’m still going to give Aamir a hard time for going over the top with this performance and using too many tricks, but that does not take away from all his other great performances and my hope is that this leads into better things for him, more worthy things. Even Victor Acharya, this flawed film does not take away from his very fun Dhoom 3 and his straight up Great Tashaan.
HOWEVER! I do reserve the right to be harsh on Yash Raj’s marketing team, and distribution team. They do not have a long history of brilliance and risk, they have a long history of strong-arm tactics and massaging the story. And if the audience is angry and frustrated with the film they saw, it is because of how it was sold to them and the cost at which it was sold to them, not what the actual product was.
If Shahrukh is taking this personally, then I hope his efforts in response swing back around to lowering ticket prices. Because that is where it is personal for the audience.