Continue to love SRK’s new PR team. I wonder if he hired Reshma Shetty, finally? Now that Salman has let her go (stupid stupid move, Salman), she must have more free time. The most important part of this interview is that it was in The Hollywood Reporter, Shahrukh is being treated seriously as a business person and studio owner because THR does not care about simple actors and is not written for fans.
The most important part about this interview is where it is, The Hollywood Reporter. Possibly the most respected in depth industry reporting for the American film industry. It’s 90 years old, has been focused on film industry trade reporting (the boring stuff, not the glamorous stuff) the entire time, and is read by the industry itself and those who are serious about following it. Not the movie star fans, the people looking for their next job or their next investment.
I don’t think it was hard for Shahrukh to get an interview there, but I do think it is the result of some conscious decision making. First, to go to a large industry event in China, an international event, and to present himself as a producer and a businessman, not an “entertainer” while he is there. And second, for someone on his team to be aware enough and say “Shahrukh, you haven’t given an interview in months and months, this is the outlet you should say ‘yes’ to”.
This interview is speaking to two audiences, the traditional Hollywood Reporter readers who are Hollywood focused, and the people back home who will be reading the excerpts because they are Shahrukh focused. For the Hollywood Reporter readers, it is announcing Indian film, and Shahrukh, as serious business and a serious market. Shahrukh has given this type of interview for decades, he is very good at presenting Indian film to the world as something worthy of respect. Only before he has done so as an “entertainer”, talked about how the films are loved and how he is loved, and so on. This time, he says almost nothing about himself as an actor, it is all business related. If I were a Hollywood Reporter reader, I would come out of this thinking “interesting, I should check out the streaming content from India, and maybe think about making some strategic investments”. Or I would be thinking “maybe I should shop my new script to Netflix with an India angle, pointing out how it would play over there”. Or I would be thinking, “This Shahrukh is a smart cookie, I’m gonna have my assistant research his production house and maybe see if we can do a co-production”. Or possibly “This Shahrukh is smart and is looking for a good acting role overseas, let’s send him a script”. That last is pretty unlikely, but you see what I mean. Shahrukh is being very impressive here to an audience that perhaps never seriously considered the Indian market, or Indian production houses, or Indian actors before this.
I don’t think the readers in India will have any idea how significant it is for a Hollywood trade paper to do a longish interview with an Indian studio owner. But what they will get is the result of Shahrukh doing a Hollywood trade paper interview, the content of the questions and answers are very different. If he were talking to a non-trade paper, they would be asking at least some questions like “how famous are you?” or “what’s the difference between Indian films and American films?”, the questions he has been asked and answered many times before. They would be asking the fluff questions for their fluff readers. But Hollywood Reporter is going to waste time with fluff, and so Shahrukh gets to give serious answers that will be reprinted in the Indian press and show him as a serious man.
Hollywood Reporter also isn’t going to ask personal questions, because they don’t care about that stuff. Shahrukh was able to avoid answering tricky things like “when is Suhana launching?” and “what is your next movie?” But more importantly he continued the new PR policy of not making his personal life the center of the story. He is getting a doctorate, he is going to film festivals, he is talking about Netflix deals. He is no longer talking about the pain of his parents’ early deaths, or his friendship with Karan, or any of that stuff. There is nothing to attack here, no “Shahrukh Khan” at the center of the story, just business. If the internet army wants to go after him, there is nothing juicy to use. And yet it will still be repeated and reported all over India, safe from attack, because Shahrukh is still news.
Now, the actual article! It’s available for free on The Hollywood Reporter site and they deserve the clicks, so here is the link:
I was tempted to reprint the whole thing here, but that would be wrong, click the link and then come back and I will summarize and analyze.
It starts with establishing who Shahrukh is. And the focus is on him as a global star. He was greeted by fans even in China, he has the Legion d’honor, the 14 FilmFares are mentioned too, but there is no attempt to explain “India has a film industry, Shahrukh is the top in India”. In the same way, the final paragraph establishing the interview is about the success of Indian films in China. Not in a “can you believe Asian countries make and watch movies?” way, but in a very serious industry way, listing out the box office and production houses for the successful Indian films in the Chinese market so far.
And then the interview, simple question and answer format. Shahrukh’s interviews are almost always in that format, Salman’s almost never. He is such a good interviewee, and speaks such perfect English, that it’s easiest to print them this way.
The first question is about China, open-ended, Shahrukh can say anything he wants about his impressions. And he immediately swings to industrial talk. Doesn’t bother filling in the background, assumes everyone reading this article is aware that the Chinese government put massive funds behind building movie theaters in the past 20 or so years which is why it is such a fertile market which all the film industries are chasing. He just jumps to the end, how exciting and impressive it is that they are doing this.
Next question is a nod towards his greeting at the airport by a fan club. Shahrukh avoids turning that inward (“I am such a big star, fans keep me going”, that kind of thing) and flips it out again, instead talking about what it told him about China.
Next question is lengthy and in depth, asking if he thinks Indian films will stay around in China or will prove to be another “fad”, like all the other genres that have come and gone at the Chinese box office. And his answer is similarly in depth, suggesting that this “fad” effect is simply because the Chinese audience has never had access to films before and is trying new things, and then moving on to point out the cultural similarities between China and India that might make Indian films last in China (clearly Shahrukh read my post here and stole my idea).
Next question is about Netflix and his partnership with them. Shahrukh uses the opportunity to mention the first co-production that is about to release, than explains that he made the decision to partner after having dinner with the founders and their families. This could sound like bragging, or like a nod to the personal level of Indian society, or some such thing. But to me, it came off as how, at a certain level, this is how deals are done. It’s the same everywhere in the world, when you are risking a lot, you want a personal connection with your partner before you make the decision. What his answer is saying, beyond the obvious, is that Netflix took their partnership with him seriously as well. They are equals at the negotiating table, just as Indian film is equal to American film. This is the attitude Shahrukh has always had in international interviews. He won’t crawl and say “Netflix is amazing, I can’t believe the shows they have, I am so honored to be working with them”. He will keep his own dignity.
The next question is nodding towards the fact that outside investment and streaming services are killing the Indian movie industry. A story that has been hot in Hollywood for months now is the attempt of traditional filmmakers to fight back against Netflix, to save the movie theater experience and theatrical releases. Shahrukh avoids that totally. Instead spins everything as a good thing. I disagree with him here, I disagree A LOT. But he does a good job giving reasons for what he is thinking and defending the Indian market and the digital world as a good thing. And most importantly, presenting the Indian market as a valuable coveted thing, not saying “thank you international companies for providing content to us starving masses”, but instead “international companies should thank us for watching”. And this is the only time he gets slightly personal, in an appropriate way, mentioning his son and daughter as young people in school in the west who watch Indian streaming content. Which is also a little message to the industrial readers of THR “hey, if you want to reach the valuable western young people market, India can do it for you”.
They ask him the #MeToo question next, and he avoids making it personal. Which is cowardly, but then the larger picture is that he wants to make India seem like a valuable reliable investment opportunity, so he isn’t just protecting himself. He gives a very very good quote about how it is good that it happened, sad that it was necessary. And that India is taking action and he is proud of how the industry has responded. It’s not offensive or downplaying the problem, but it is saying “Indian film-still open for business! Don’t be scared off by scandal!”
Last two questions are the best opportunity to get personal. First they ask him, in general, if he would like to see more representation for global/non-white actors in Hollywood films. Shahrukh gives a very thoughtful answer that doesn’t have anything directly to do with promoting his company, pointing out that the big problem is the loss of talent, he can see wonderful actors like the cast of Narcos (mostly Mexican actors I believe) and they aren’t getting jobs in Hollywood. It’s a lost resource. But on the other hand, he himself will only take a role in Hollywood if it is the kind of role he would be offered in India. Which is the same answer he has been giving for 20 years, and is really saying “I am not going to lessen myself to make you comfortable, I am not going to be your token star”. And combined with the rest of his answer is saying “Hollywood should hire from India more, should hire from everywhere more. But they should do it with respect and equality”.
And finally, only at the very end, is he asked about himself as an actor. In India, this would be focused on his next film that has yet to be announced. But because this is a non-Indian outlet, they don’t care about specifics and are more interested in the deeper general answer. Shahrukh gives the same answer he has been saying for the past couple of years, that he wants to regain his joy in pure acting beyond the commercial and is looking for something that will do that. It is sincere and honest, and it is also a little bit of a deeper answer than he had to give. He could have gone fluffy, could have left it at the “I always dreamed of being an action hero” level. But this is an international market outlet, and he wants his acting and the creativity of Indian artists in general, to be respected.
At least, that’s what I thought! Again, here is the link:
Read it and then come back and tell me what you thought!