Shahrukh Interview! The Medium is the Message

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.

Image result for the hollywood reporter 1930s
See? Nothing here is personal star gossip. It’s all industry news, going back to the 1930s

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.

Image result for shahrukh maharashtra business
He’s been doing these kinds of business oriented things for a while, but without the right PR team, somehow the message didn’t get through. His Mumbai 2.0 attendance turned into merely a photo op so far as the media was concerned.

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:
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/bollywood-star-shah-rukh-khan-talks-netflix-china-metoo-india-1203294

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.

Image result for shahrukh yale
He is also the only star that tends to give long form speeches in English. Sometimes I’ll run across internet comments on how his English is so “bad” because they’ve found this error or that error. But really, it is because his English and general verbal skills are so far beyond what the average Indian learns in English classes that they can appear “wrong” just because they are so advanced.

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.

Image result for shahrukh china festival
Of course, at the same time, his team of fans and PR has made sure that airport greeting gets loads of press. It makes him look good in India and to the international press, even better if he treats it as no big deal when asked about it.

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”.

Image result for suhana khan
And it lets him mention his kids without worrying that the next question will be about nepotism, or their launch film, or something. That must be a relief.

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:
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/bollywood-star-shah-rukh-khan-talks-netflix-china-metoo-india-1203294

Read it and then come back and tell me what you thought!

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26 thoughts on “Shahrukh Interview! The Medium is the Message

  1. Wonderful interview. I haven’t read such a long one for a while, especially with foreign press, so it’s refreshing that he doesn’t have to answer the same old questions, and to explain himself and his industry.
    There was one terrible interview, in England I think, maybe around the time of My Name is Khan .or Ra One, where the female interviewer decided that he was responsible for violence against women in India because he was part of an industry that she felt demeaned women. She obviously had no knowledge of him or his films but made it a personal crusade to attack him, and wouldn’t let it go. It was an absolutely shocker.
    As you said Margaret, this publication is rational and knowledgeable about the industry, and I love his modesty in his answers.

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    • You know what’s nice? The interviewer didn’t overreach himself. He clearly had an understanding of the issues around the global market for film, in India and China and elsewhere, and how streaming is changing media. He may not have been an expert on the Indian market, but that’s okay, He asked intelligent questions based on what he did know and waited for Shahrukh to respond. There was no attempt to do 5 minutes of google research and ask something like “why do you think Zero flopped?”, he kept it general and to topics he understood. While still asking intelligent questions.

      On Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 9:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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  2. Reshma Shetty handles Karan Johar and Akshay Kumar so she’s not free. She’s known to use low and underhanded techniques too so I’d rather that SRK stay away from her. I do not think she has any involvement with him. I also don’t think Reshma has any international reach. I haven’t seen her be able to do anything for either Akshay or Salman in that regard.

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    • You’re absolutely right. Shahrukh’s problem isn’t staying in the news, he is always news, it is controlling access and how stories get out. Now that you have me thinking about it, Reshma’s clients tend to have more and more stories printed about them, not less.

      Random thought, maybe the reason Shahrukh stayed longer in London was because he was meeting with a British PR firm? His recent stuff has been international and very discrete in a way that feels British (pure stereotype, I know).

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      • It’s possible. He had very briefly hired an American PR (I’m guessing) during the time India had selected Paheli as their Oscar choice. At that time, there were a lot of interviews and space given to him even in publications like the NY Times and Time. I had even seem his name pop up on random TV channels like E!. But I think it was just temporary to try to get exposure for the movie and he didn’t stick with it.

        The only issue with a British PR is whether or not they would really understand the Indian market and audience. The Indian media environment is so different from the Western world. It’s a banana republic where anything goes. We’re talking about a space where competitors even spread gossip and/or lies about other people to pull them down. I remember once Ranbir Kapoor had remarked that he had to call up Imran Khan (when they were seen as rivals) to ask his PR to stop publishing negative stories about him. There was a concerted effort to spread negativity about Ranbir being a womanizer (even if it was true) and make it into a story about how Imran is the good guy and Ranbir is the bad one. It’s just extremely difficult to counter this type of stuff. Just recently, I saw everyone accuse Ranveer Singh of spreading fake stories about him taking over as Don in Don 3. He’s been doing this for a while (even more so after Simba) that he’s the next SRK and time to time, there will be a flurry of articles that all sound the same and compare him to SRK. The Don thing went so overboard that it backfired (both Farhan and Zoya denied it pretty quickly) and led to Ranveer getting a lot of social media hate but on the ground, it probably worked to put the idea across that he’s the new superstar and even stole Don from SRK. Nobody remembers the actual story 2 days later, let alone 2 months later, so it doesn’t have to come true but the idea is now set in minds especially if you repeat it enough times every few weeks. It is cheap and dirty but this is the type of PR a lot of people in the industry do now.

        I’m not sure if a British firm would be able to deal with such an environment. Then again, maybe they would be able to come in with some fresher ideas just based on being outsiders who are not accustomed to this mess.

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        • I could see Shahrukh avoiding PR firms because of how they operate in India. Maybe that would be a reason for him to use an outside firm, and make it clear that all he wants is control over his public image, nothing else.

          I’m also curious to see if this works in the Indian context. So far it seems to be focused on not giving anyone anything to attack, simple clear stories with no cracks for criticism. Might be a better way to fight back than getting dirty too, change the came instead of trying to win it.

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  3. I live for SRK’s interviews outside India because it’s the only time he can speak with some intelligence and depth. The Indian media is so corrupted that I genuinely think it’s worthless to speak to any of them but then they would get spiteful and just willy nilly post negative things as harassment. They do no fact checking and spread so much fake news and lies, steal things from each other without credit, copy paste from social media, and ask the stupidest questions during interviews. I don’t know how SRK tolerates them. Right now, top media houses (not just small blogs or websites) have headlines about SRK being circumcised (!!!) and clickbait about how Neena Gupta says SRK is “cheap and mean.” How is it even possible to clean up daily messes like this?

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    • He hasn’t given an Indian interview in a while, has he? For a real in depth interview, what sticks in my mind from recent years are the Huff Post article, the Davos article, this one, and the one Anupama trapped him into. I am sure there are some I am forgetting and probably they were with the Indian press, but he is certainly not going around courting them any more. 3 minutes conversation during a promotion, sure, but not a long sit down.

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      • Which Anupama interview? He didn’t speak to her for Zero. He avoided all top names including Rajeev Masand. He did not even appear on Koffee with Karan even though it was filming at the same time as his promotions.

        He hasn’t spoken to Barkha Dutt either since she whipped up political fervor about his intolerance comment. Years ago, he used to do big interviews with news/political journalists but he stopped that after the bhakt problems. After that he stuck to film journalists but for Zero, he avoided them too. From what I can recall, he only spoke to small no-name reporters and youtube personalities for Zero. No big names whatsoever. The side effect of that is that the interviews are very very lame – the female journos just fawn and stop the interview multiple times to tell him how much they love him and the men ask brainless questions. But the good thing is that it avoids all controversies because they are such small names and so overawed with him. They have no skills and no interest in causing controversy because they’re just happy to get a chance to talk to him.

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        • I was thinking all the way back to the JHMS interview. That and the Huff Post one and Davos, and maybe one other, are the only ones since I started blogging that I have bothered to do an in depth analysis of. Everything else, I hardly even watched, it was so fluffy. Like you said, very short no-name reporters leading to lame interviews.

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          • Yes, he did speak to Anupama for JHMS. He used to talk to her for every movie so it was interesting that he cut her off for Zero.

            He could have done some interviews for Badla as the producer but this time RCE just straight up did a private interview between him and Bachchan and put it up themselves.

            There is danger in going this way unfortunately. If the more powerful members of the media start getting irritated that he’s not providing access to them, they will publish even more negativity against him. But maybe he thinks it’s worth it. They write crap even when he talks to them so let them write crap without his involvement. Plus if he speaks to the international media from time to time, they will be forced to write about it anyway.

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          • It’s what Amitabh did back in the 70s. He got so mad at what the media was saying, he cut off all access. For something like a decade I think. There’s still junk reporting that is quoted from that era without realizing the media bias that is involved, for instance “Amitabh never denied the Rekha affair” (because he wasn’t talking to the press, he didn’t deny or confirm anything), but it obviously didn’t effect his standing in the industry or his newsworthiness. And they were already printing junk about him, so what’s the difference?

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  4. SRK has done literally dozens of interviews in China. He has been camped out at his hotel all day for the last 3 days doing this except for the official public appearances he has to make for the festival. I’m genuinely surprised about the aggressive promotion. I don’t think Zero is releasing there (yet?) so I wonder why he’s putting in so much effort. Most of them are for Chinese TV/radio/publications so the outside world is unlikely to see them so it’s even odder.

    Excerpt from a China Daily interview-
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201904/19/WS5cb9c3eaa3104842260b73f4_1.html

    Some more pics with journalists-







    From yesterday’s panel discussion –




    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D4godxsUwAEuVpk.jpg (Whoever made him wear those ugly pants and white socks should be fired)

    Outside the hotel where the panel was held –



    video: https://twitter.com/Russel_Olaf/status/1119191634497896450 (How does he not go deaf from all that screaming on a daily basis?)

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    • I would guess he is serious about opening up the China market. One film won’t make a difference, it’s establishing Indian film and he himself as a major player who cares about this market. I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn that there is some kind of Chinese-Red Chillies deal coming down the pike and part of that is convincing China it cares about Shahrukh Khan.

      Or heck, maybe it is for Zero, maybe they are lobbying for a Chinese wide release to save the box office and need to establish value before making the deal final.

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      • Andhadhun working in China must be really encouraging for him because RCE is the only company really going after mysteries and thrillers. I think Ittefaq is releasing there and if they can get Badla to release (which did even better than Andhadhun in India), it might be able to provide them with a serious new source of funds. They are so cheap to make as it that they are already a cash cow in India and if they can get them more markets, it could do wonders.
        I wonder what the Zero plan is. He admitted straight away that it was badly received in India. It doesn’t seem like the ideal way to convince them to let it release there.

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          • No, it’s the closing film so it will be screened tomorrow at 12 PM Beijing time so 12 AM EST tonight. There’s a red carpet before it.

            Some other Indian movies were also screened at the festival. I think Ittefaq and Mom were shown earlier.

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  5. The terrible interview with the ignorant British lady who accused him of demeaning women was way more recent than MNIK. I think it was Davos. Yes those pants and white socks are ridiculous. Was his luggage lost? And this is a fascinating analysis. I retweeted it.

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    • That’s certainly the interview I was thinking of when thinking about how this interviewer did not overreach themselves, there was no shoddy research in an attempt at “gotcha” questions, it was just simple questions and answers about topics on which they both had a shared knowledge base.

      And thank you for retweeting! I really appreciate it.

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  6. SRK didn’t go to the Zero screening. He must have gotten busy. But he did appear later at the closing ceremony.
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D4l3lr3UIAE7hCz.jpg
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D4l4vGNXkAANVjM.jpg
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D4l3twmU0AAfCvA.jpg
    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D4l5dx_UcAECUvD.jpg
    Zero got a good response at the screening. I’m wary though because most of those people were probably SRK fans and quickly bought the tickets before they were sold out. It had significant cuts compared to the Indian version. I don’t remember how long the running time was in India but the Chinese version was 2 hours and 13 minutes long.

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