Hindustan Times - Brunch - - NEWS - Text by Mark Manuel Pho­to­graphs shot ex­clu­sively for HT Brunch by Subi Sa­muel


“My Daugh­ter wants to Be an ac­tress. It could Be films, though right now she’s Into the­atre. My son, I Don’t know, though I’M told he looks like a star.”

IT’S CLOSE to 3 am at Mum­bai’s Me­hboob Stu­dio. I am on Red Bull. Subi Sa­muel, the great pho­tog­ra­pher, is sip­ping black cof­fee. There’s no shoot hap­pen­ing on any set. Most of the stu­dio is in dark­ness. Shah Rukh Khan’s got the place to him­self. He’s work­ing on some pro­mos for a forth­com­ing film. Me­hboob is close to his home, Man­nat. So, he tends to favour the stu­dio.

We are here to in­ter­view him and take pic­tures. It’s an un­earthly hour. Subi and I are yawn­ing, but Shah Rukh is wide awake and en­thu­si­as­tic. He’s en­ergy plus at what­ever hour he works, though he tells me with a lazy slant­ing grin that he’s had a long and tir­ing day, and hasn’t slept much. His younger son Abram, who will be four in May, did him in.

“I slept with abram,” Shah Rukh re­veals en­dear­ingly, “And at 9 am, he propped my eye­lids open and said, ‘Papa, good morn­ing!’”

I like this about him, that he’s not shy of show­ing in­ti­macy with his kids. This is the same Shah Rukh who once told me that when Gauri Khan wasn’t at home and Aryan and Suhana were small, he had watched a hor­ror film on TV and then slept in the chil­dren’s bed­room be­cause he was scared!

“A lot of other stuff also hap­pens at Man­nat when Gauri isn’t around,” he added naugh­tily. “Like we run wild in the liv­ing room and even let the dog pee!”

But that was a long time ago. Aryan and Suhana have grown up, they have left Man­nat and Abram has taken their place. The older son and daugh­ter are study­ing abroad and in­di­ca­tions are that they will re­turn and join their father in films. He’s uncertain about this but is cool with the idea.

“I don’t talk to them about it,” Shah Rukh ad­mits. “My daugh­ter wants to be an ac­tress, it could be films, though right now she’s into the­atre. My son, I don’t know, though I’m told he looks like a star!”

I tell him the kids are al­ready stars. They post pic­tures on In­sta­gram and have peo­ple fol­low­ing them. Shah Rukh shrugs. He’s aware that his shadow is long and it is deep. When he fa­mously came to Bol­ly­wood, he was an out­sider, he wasn’t any­body’s son and there­fore he was mi­nus a lot of bag­gage.

“I had a lot more free­dom be­cause of that,” he says, “the free­dom to make cre­ative choices, to be what I want, be­cause I didn’t know bet­ter. Some­times it’s good to not know bet­ter be­cause good is, well, good enough! I wanted Aryan and Suhana to be ed­u­cated in places where they were un­bur­dened of be­ing ‘some­body’s’ kids. But Google killed that for me!”

Again, that lop­sided grin. “I would like it if they joined films,” he adds. “It doesn’t mat­ter what they want to be. An ac­tor or a cam­era­man. My only con­di­tion is that they be­come grad­u­ates. And if they do post-grad­u­a­tion, they’ll get bet­ter food at home!”

fuss-free per­fec­tion

We do the shoot on the move. Shah Rukh is the least fussy ac­tor I know. Also an ab­so­lute pro. He un­der­stands cam­era an­gles, he knows ex­actly what look Subi wants, he doesn’t re­quire di­rec­tion or the make-up man touch­ing him up be­tween ev­ery shot. Subi goes click-click-click. He sug­gests a change and shows Shah Rukh a brown knit­ted pullover he thought­fully brought along. There is no hes­i­ta­tion. Shah Rukh strips off his black tee and slips on the pullover. The 50-odd peo­ple on the floor, young girls among them, miss the ac­tion. But I catch it.

He’s look­ing lean and ripped, the body sinewy and hard with whip­cord mus­cles. I won­der when he works out and rests, to stay in this in­cred­i­ble shape. And what diet he fol­lows. Hadn’t he re­cently said, “I don’t sleep, I smoke about a 100 cig­a­rettes a day, I for­get to eat, I don’t drink wa­ter, I have about 30 cups of black cof­fee, and I have a six-pack. The less care I take of my­self, the more I get taken care of”? I think it’s true. I have just seen the six-pack. And stand­ing by is a man hold­ing Shah Rukh’s burn­ing cig­a­rette!

I bring up the sub­ject of films. “I en­joy mak­ing films,” he says, “but I’m not at­tracted to their suc­cess or fail­ure. I’m de­tached even though I might be a co-pro­ducer. Once the film is made, I let go. By Fri­day night, I’m al­ready mov­ing on. I run my own race. I’ve re­alised that if I run long enough, I can beat the rest, be­cause the race is about length – not time. And I don’t look at dates. The idea is to cap­ture busi­ness in the first few days. But I don’t give that any thought. To me, re­lease dates are not im­por­tant. I don’t rush to so­cial media ev­ery time I sneeze. I don’t look at fes­ti­vals as a re­lease date. The day I re­lease my film, it be­comes a fes­ti­val!”

He adds, “But don’t get me wrong, my films are noth­ing spe­cial. In life, it’s not spe­cial to be spe­cial. But it’s spe­cial to be or­di­nary. My films are all about that. I show the in­side of a good out­side hero. I’m or­di­nary in my be­liefs. I’m simple, ugly and bor­ing, but I’m grate­ful to be me. I’ve ar­rived be­cause I’m me. I do what I do be­cause I’m me. I don’t know how else to be grate­ful. And when peo­ple say ‘Shah Rukh Khan is the best’ – I’m grate­ful again, be­cause that also is beau­ti­fully, hand­somely, and sex­ily me, and you may mess with me, but you can’t take that away.”

the shy entertainer

He’s 51 to­day, and he’s done 25 years in cinema. I ask Shah Rukh, “Is there any genre you’ve left un­touched or not done justice to?” He replies, “Cinema is so wide that one can go on mak­ing films and nar­rat­ing sto­ries; that’s one of the ma­jor beau­ties of it. There are so many things I haven’t yet done. As an ac­tor, my world is end­less; there are sev­eral char­ac­ters I have not lived yet. Se­condly, there will never be a mo­ment where I feel sat­is­fied with the job that I did. Thoughts and ways of do­ing it bet­ter al­ways come up.”

I think of all the sto­ries float­ing around of him sup­pos­edly play­ing the poet Sahir Lud­hi­anvi in San­jay Leela Bhansali’s biopic, Gus­takhiyan, and re­mind Shah Rukh, “You’ve never done a biopic. If you did, who would you like most to play?” I think I have him here, but Shah Rukh wist­fully replies, “I’d love to es­say Guru Dutt saab’s life.”

I’ve no­ticed that he’s more com­fort­able dis­cussing his roles than his films. It per­haps gives him a kind of rush that de­spite play­ing a dark, edgy and un­pre­dictable char­ac­ter like the in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal Don, no­body ac­cuses Shah Rukh of be­ing a bad in­flu­ence. He’s able to con­vince peo­ple that it’s okay to like him be­cause he can make them laugh and cry, and if he has to do bad things on screen then he’ll do it in style.

I think it will be that way also with the role of the il­licit liquor mafia boss which Shah Rukh plays with a style bor­der­ing on ruth­less­ness and dare­dev­ilry in a com­ing film.

He replies de­fen­sively, “Peo­ple say I play Shah Rukh Khan on screen. That my roles are a means to an end. Not true. My work de­fines me. But I have no identity of my own. It’s dif­fi­cult be­ing Shah Rukh Khan. I have been try­ing to be him for so many years. I’m an ac­tor, yaar, an entertainer. Act­ing can’t be writ­ten about or dis­cussed, nor can it be an­a­lysed, it’s got to be felt. That’s what I do. Au­di­ences un­der­stand what I tell them. Peo­ple like a good story. I make films for the sto­ries be­hind them. But I’m shy of see­ing my­self on screen. I’m not fond of my face or physique. Maybe I’m an ac­tor, so I can play some­one else.”

of simple wishes

“Did you make a New Year wish or res­o­lu­tion?” I ask. And Shah Rukh replies, “I wish health and hap­pi­ness for my kids. I once met Richard Gere in New York and asked him, ‘How are the kids?’ Gere replied, ‘Healthy!’ I re­alised if ever I wanted a wish of mine to come true, it would be that my kids be healthy al­ways. My son is 19, but each time he crosses the road, I tell him to be care­ful. When he’s play­ing soc­cer, I say, ‘Take care, don’t break a bone!’ When my daugh­ter’s do­ing bal­let, I tell her, ‘Be care­ful you don’t hurt a toe!’”

The chil­dren have grown, but Shah Rukh’s in­ten­tion be­hind his prayers for them has re­mained con­stant. I re­mem­ber him com­ing to see me off at Man­nat’s gates years ago when I had gone to in­ter­view him. He sur­prised me then by say­ing, “I go to the rooftop and pray to the stars. Two of the stars are my par­ents. I pray for simple things. That Aryan does well in his tae kwon do cham­pi­onship. That Suhana is happy with her paint­ing. I tell my mom, ‘Where you’ve gone, you can put your­self to some good use.’ There has to be some kind of trade-off for the loss of my par­ents.”

Now, with crin­kling eyes and a wicked smile he adds, “I don’t make res­o­lu­tions. But in 2017, I’ll be my­self, that will be nice for a change. It’s dif­fi­cult be­ing Shah Rukh Khan. So my ad­vice to my­self this year is, ‘Be who you are!’”

“the best piece of ad­vice i ever got was from my beloved mother. she told me, ‘when do­ing your work or run­ning a busi­ness, never think of re­duc­ing your ex­penses. in­stead, think of ways to in­crease your in­come.’”

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