The big story

Gauri Khan may be bet­ter known as the wife of King of Bol­ly­wood Shah Rukh Khan, but she has now carved a name for her­self in the world of in­te­rior de­sign, bag­ging pres­ti­gious projects in Dubai and In­dia. She tells Shiva Kumar Thekkepat why, de­spite plenty

Friday - - Contents -

Not con­tent with just be­ing Mrs Shah Rukh, Gauri Khan has be­come The Queen of de­sign.

Gauri Khan is pe­tite and lan­guid-eyed. But the 1.65m tall wife of the reign­ing King of Bol­ly­wood Shah Rukh Khan can make the men in black – the three huge burly se­cu­rity guards who are pro­tect­ing her – go weak at the knees with just an arch of her well-shaped eye­brow.

The trio are po­si­tioned at var­i­ous points in the lobby of Mad­i­nat Jumeirah’s Al Qasr Ho­tel in Dubai to screen any­body who at­tempts to ac­cess their suite. And just in case somebody does man­age to slip through their ring in the lobby, there are a cou­ple more of them on the suite floor ready to stop and ques­tion po­ten­tial in­trud­ers.

When she wants a dress pressed, Gauri asks one of the men sta­tioned out­side her suite door to call some­one to do it, and the for­mi­da­ble-look­ing man jumps with alacrity to set the wheels in mo­tion. The 43-year-old, it is ob­vi­ous, is a no-non­sense per­son, and it shows in the way she re­acts when she hears that Shah Rukh almost missed his flight from Mumbai to Dubai – both of them trav­elled sep­a­rately due to the star’s hec­tic work sched­ule.

“I wouldn’t have been sur­prised at all,” she says, when Los An­ge­les-based ar­chi­tect Tony Ashai – who’s de­sign­ing Royal Es­tates, a Dh2.3-bil­lion realestate de­vel­op­ment for which Gauri has de­signed the in­te­ri­ors – gives her the de­tails over the phone. “The

‘Shah Rukh and I are to­tal op­po­sites. I’m ex­tremely dici­plined and very par­tic­u­lar about time’

num­ber of times we’ve missed flights, I’ve lost count!”

There’s an un­der­ly­ing steel in her soft mel­liflu­ous voice as she nar­rates some of her fa­mous hus­band’s pec­ca­dil­los. “I am an ex­tremely dis­ci­plined per­son,” Gauri says, trade­mark smile in place. “In fact, Shah Rukh and I are to­tally op­po­site. I am very par­tic­u­lar about time, dates and ap­point­ments. If peo­ple don’t show up on time, it drives me

crazy. Whether it’s food, or even go­ing to the gym, I lead a very dis­ci­plined, rou­tine life.

“I have three suc­cess mantras that I follow – dis­ci­pline, or­gan­i­sa­tion and hard work. Dis­ci­pline makes you a bet­ter per­son and the rea­son that I am able to suc­ceed at work is be­cause of my or­gan­ised sched­ule.”

Her dis­ci­pline is a re­sult of a strict up­bring­ing by an In­dian Army colonel fa­ther and housewife mother. In fact, legend has it that when a be­sot­ted Shah Rukh fol­lowed her from Delhi to Mumbai, where she was vis­it­ing dur­ing her col­lege va­ca­tion, and de­clared his love for her on the streets, singing and danc­ing like the typ­i­cal Bol­ly­wood hero he was des­tined to be­come, Gauri was hardly amused. And un­like a Bol­ly­wood hero­ine, she did not fall into his arms at the end of the song. It took a lot of se­ri­ous con­vinc­ing on Shah Rukh’s part be­fore she agreed to con­sider his pro­posal and say ‘yes’.

‘I have three suc­cess mantras that I follow – dis­ci­pline, or­gan­i­sa­tion and hard work.’

In fact she’s also re­luc­tant to give un­due credit to Shah Rukh for her pro­fes­sional rise as an in­te­rior de­signer for the rich and fa­mous in 2012. “His ap­pre­ci­a­tion [of what I do] is the only way he has in­flu­enced me pro­fes­sion­ally,” she says.

How­ever, her friends were more than en­cour­ag­ing. “A lot of peo­ple loved [the decor of my home]. Sus­sanne Khan [Bol­ly­wood heart­throb Hrithik Roshan’s es­tranged wife], was the first per­son to visit, and she just loved it,” says Gauri. Sus­sanne was also will­ing to put her money on Gauri’s tal­ent. “She was open­ing her store, The Char­coal Project, in Mumbai in 2012, so I joined her. I still work with her on some projects, and some of my col­lec­tions are at her store.” How­ever, she’s quick to ad­mit that Shah Rukh has al­ways been her back­bone. Be­fore ze­ro­ing in on in­te­rior de­sign, Gauri pro­duced some of his films – in­clud­ing the block­buster Chen­nai Ex­press, Main

Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om – has mod­elled in­ter­mit­tently, and tried her hand at host­ing a tele­vi­sion show on MTV In­dia, all of this along with bring­ing up their three chil­dren, Aryan, 16, Suhana, 14, and AbRam, one.

“I started off col­lect­ing things for my per­sonal space, when we were build­ing our dream house, called Mannat (which means ‘bless­ing’ in

Hindi), in Mumbai a decade ago. He’s al­ways told me I have the tal­ent to pick just the right piece [of art or fur­ni­ture] to com­ple­ment the space.

“For many years, I’ve been try­ing to ar­rive at, to re­ally un­der­stand what I love, what I am pas­sion­ate about and then stick to that. That’s why it took me so long to get into a space that I en­joy and am pas­sion­ate about. It’s in­te­ri­ors and that’s why I’m here to­day.”

So, what re­ally de­fines her? Gauri re­fuses to play the game. “Me as a per­son? That’s so bor­ing!” she ex­claims. “What should I say? Noth­ing, re­ally!” She laughs, half-em­bar­rassed.

After a pause, she con­tin­ues: “I don’t want to talk about my­self, it sounds too much like prais­ing my­self. Some­times th­ese kind of state­ments can be mis­quoted. Other mag­a­zines may pick it up, and the ‘I, I, I…’ may sound too much in your face. That’s why I don’t like to give in­ter­views. What would I say? ‘I am very cre­ative, I am a great mother, I am this, I am that…’ I’d rather skip it. Let the world talk about my work.”

So, what took her so long – she mar­ried Shah Rukh in 1991 aged 20 – to get started on her ca­reer? “I got mar­ried very young, and chil­dren fol­lowed soon after,” she says. “I’ve tried my hand at ev­ery­thing... try­ing to whit­tle down the right pro­fes­sion for my­self. I tried my hand at clothes, I’ve mod­elled… but noth­ing re­ally worked for me. I didn’t re­ally en­joy it and maybe I was not re­ally good enough. It could be both. I was also not so fo­cused then. This [in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion] came very

‘Idon’t want to talk about my­self, so I don’t like to give in­ter­views. Let the world talk about my work’

nat­u­rally to me and it all worked out re­ally well.”

In fact, she sur­prised her­self when she fi­nally found what she was re­ally good at. “I didn’t al­ways have the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit in me,” she says. “It is the sum to­tal of my ex­pe­ri­ences that took me to where I am now, it took me time to un­der­stand my­self, my pas­sion, my ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The only rea­son I took so long to open the store is that I didn’t want to start some­thing with a bang when I was not sure whether it was my call­ing and if I would be able to ful­fil and make a mark. That is very im­por­tant to me.”

She has also said that she did not have to face any con­fi­dence is­sues. “I am a very con­fi­dent per­son,” she said in an in­ter­view with an In­dian news­pa­per. “It’s just that I get dis­in­ter­ested in things. But I think as you grow older, you learn. Now, I’m sure of my in­ten­tions. I have no re­grets. I think ev­ery­thing comes and goes in time. So, you are never late for any­thing in life.”

Years ago, Gauri hinted that she was not in awe of her hus­band’s star­dom, or of Bol­ly­wood. “I’m com­fort­able in my own skin and sur­round­ings. I don’t think I get over­shad­owed by my hus­band or his per­son­al­ity. I have a stronger per­son­al­ity than Shah Rukh. He is an en­tity on his own and I don’t con­sider him a su­per­star when I’m with him in the house. He’s justmy hus­band and I re­spect him as that.”

While con­fi­dence may not have been an is­sue, find­ing her feet in the shadow of her su­per­star hus­band has not been easy for Gauri. Es­pe­cially since Shah Rukh him­self self-con­fess­edly has no business sense. But she has been quick to learn the art of ma­noeu­vring in the quick­sand of Bol­ly­wood, where a sin­gle mis­take can put paid to a ca­reer. She proved to be quite the busi­ness­woman, co-found­ing the pro­duc­tion company Red Chillies En­ter­tain­ments and pro­duc­ing some of her hus­band’s films. And after as­so­ci­at­ing with Sus­sanne Khan, Gauri also es­tab­lished her own in­te­rior de­sign store, called The De­sign Cell, in Mumbai ear­lier this year.

“We are ex­pand­ing now, do­ing many projects,” she says. “In Dubai we’ve tied up with a lo­cal company, The First Ferry, a de­sign and

ar­chi­tec­ture firm at The Oberoi, for which I was here in June this year. They have a lot of in­te­rior decor projects in Dubai that I will be work­ing on. I am do­ing some­thing in Pune as well, which I signed on for re­cently. I am also do­ing quite a few pri­vate res­i­dences in New Delhi and in Mumbai.”

But what’s close to her heart is The De­sign Cell. “I want you to men­tion that, it’s most im­por­tant!” she in­sists charm­ingly. “Be­cause it’s a new store, and I want peo­ple to be aware of what I am do­ing. It’s a con­cept store, not only fur­ni­ture but also a lot of ac­ces­sories, light­ing ideas… it’s like a showcase, a call­ing card, so to say. It’s not a store you just walk in and start buy­ing things up. It’s not a huge space. It’s a very tiny space, but you can cre­ate beauty in the tini­est spa­ces pos­si­ble. Large isn’t nec­es­sar­ily beau­ti­ful. That’s the whole con­cept be­hind the store.”

Gauri ob­vi­ously can’t stop talk­ing about her new ven­ture. “It’s not only for the priv­i­leged,” she says. “The con­cept of my store started off with Bom­bay [she prefers re­fer­ring to it by its old name rather than Mumbai as it is now known] where most peo­ple stay in flats, un­like in, say, places like New Delhi, where they can stay in houses, even farm­houses. So, the fur­ni­ture is ba­si­cally for peo­ple who live in small houses. Ev­ery­thing’s on a smaller scale. And af­ford­able.”

What she for­gets to men­tion is af­ford­able in her lex­i­con may also re­quire quite deep pock­ets.

As the in­ter­view ends, Gauri turns again to the men in black, be­cause she’s hun­gry after the flight from Mumbai. The tough-look­ing man is per­plexed for a minute. It’s ob­vi­ously not an or­der that’s common in his line of work. Then he bright­ens up and calls his col­leagues at the lobby on his walkie-talkie to or­der a lunch for ‘Madam’. As I pass him, he eyes me stonily. They, un­like their em­ployer, have not learnt to smile sweetly while do­ing their job.

Gauri has pro­duced sev­eral of her hus­band’s films, in­clud­ing the huge hit Chen­nai Ex­press

Shah Rukh with Gauri, son Aryan, daugh­ter Suhana and sis­ter Shehnaz dur­ing an Eid lunch at their lav­ish man­sion, Mannat

Gauri says her new ven­ture De­sign Cell is not just for the priv­i­leged

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