Yes We Khan! (Last Part)
He may be synonymous with two decades of cinema, yet no one has dared refer to him a filmi guy. Somehow Shah Rukh Khan has managed to stay rooted even while indulging his dreams about the possibilities of his chosen world. Hearty, rolling with the punches, he goes into reflection mode in this candid interview...
Does it disturb him though, that cinema does not care to uphold any kind of value system anymore? Does he see cinema as a mirror to the times? "I think we do live strangely in times which are cynical. And I think it's wonderful to live in these times. Of course that is not to say you can't show conventional goodness in your hero, but as I said I do think because your audience is cynical, there is a greater gamut of role playing that you can do. Like I think Don is amazingly sensual and mean… and there are people in the world, including a part of myself, who have that side. So today, film-makers are not hiding these realities. As actors, we have a wider canvas to explore. People in the real world swear, so characters also swear. Films don't change lives, films are merely supposed to entertain."
Now this is where the Khan vs Khan debates could start. It's clear that a standalone star like Aamir Khan sees all mass media as a tool for change. But Shah Rukh believes, "The creative process happens when you are in the thick of things. You can look at a painting like the Monalisa, and read five different interpretations about it, including that it is a man! But when Da Vinci painted it, he just painted it. So when people talk about this balance of content and style, I still stand by the belief that cinema is entertainment and that's how it should be taken. Messages are for post offices, so if you want to send a message, work at the post office. I am a big believer of that."
There are of course, clear reasons why 'commercially viable' are not dirty words in SRK's lexicon. In his recent speech at Yale University, he talked of growing up with that special misery that only true middle class privations show you. His handsome Pathan father was a lawyer and a freedom fighter, who at some stage ran a tea stall, while his mother struggled in her own capacity to keep the home fires burning. Later as she fell ill, their gargantuan problems increased. Shah Rukh lost both his parents very early in life. Little wonder as he grew, SRK equated 'poverty' with 'failure' – and somehow, even today, Shah Rukh will not turn down even a wedding gig if the price is right. One recalls a press conference where a journalist asked him, "You endorse so many brands – don't you think as an actor, you are selling and compromising your soul?" To which SRK gamely replied, "Sure I sell my soul, but I must have a lot of soul to sell!"
So returning to his favourite genre of cinema, Shah Rukh says, "Of course I like to identify with a certain kind of entertainment – happy go lucky, positive. If someone offers me a Chak De I will accept it. I like young girls… they are sweet… and I like hockey. That's it. There's nothing more intellectual than that. From the outside you can sit and talk about how it shows women, and all that. But I don't think I was actually sitting down to make the enigmatic smile of Monalisa. Like Da Vinci enjoyed the act of making the painting, I enjoyed making this film."
Some years ago, while researching the dynamics of popular cinema, one remembers SRK's early mentor Vivek Vaswani sharing, "If you want to get a producer to put money on your film today, you just have to say any of the three Khan names and you can speak Japanese after that, the film will get the money." Was SRK aware of the power his vote had for a script that if he liked a story, there were huge chances that story would see the light of day? How did he handle that kind of power? "I think that's a misnomer… film-making is a creative industry, and in such situations, the power keeps shifting. I actually find it a very humble process. Finally it all depends on the story that is coming to you. I like a story, a director approaches me, and usually I get approached with seven or eight films at a time. I don't think it's about power… I speak for my self but yes, you are in position of choice because you have worked for 20 years and people look up to you in terms of what you could fit into. Sometimes you get a film like My Name Is Khan. A director has to decide that you fit in as an actor. For Don, Farhan could have taken any actor and made it happen. So it's a whole series of events – an idea, a script, your suiting the part, the budgets, the dates with the co-stars, and then things move towards the floors. And often, it doesn't go so smoothly. There could be time constraints, financial constraints, limitations of casting... it's never just about one 'hero.' And moreover after so may years, I tend to take on only two, or three films maximum. I can't do more than that."
It's clear today that Shah Rukh Khan enjoys a balance of priorities. He loves being home with wife Gauri and kids Aryan and Suhana, loves his downtime and holidays. How did he feel about Gauri turning into an interior designer? "You know the biggest projects she has done is her own house. It's 25-35,000 square feet, she had some help from architects and all, it was like she put her money where her mouth is, and I think without sounding patronising or biased, she's done a great job. It was her friend Sussanne who initiated her into this, she never wanted to do it initially, but I think as the children are growing up, getting busy with their own lives, she was feeling a little emptiness. It's not enough to be a full time mom when that happens. And I have always been one to tell my family, if you have a creative germ, follow it. My son likes to play the guitar. My daughter paints a bit. It doesn't matter to me whether they take it to a professional level but they should follow their hearts, feel happy. If he can play just one song, he should just play it because it makes him feel good."
What remains unexpressed is the invisible Damocles sword that will always hang over his wife and children's heads that they are Shah Rukh Khan's wife, son, daughter. "It's unfortunate," he concedes, "I have a family that likes to do things on their own. But most people call my daughter Shah Rukh Khan's daughter. My son gets the same when playing football. And my biggest desire in life is that my children should be able to do the smallest thing, strive for achievements of their own, without it being somehow extended to me. Of course, as a father, husband, I stand by them. But that is all they would want." For super heroes, there is always a soul price to pay but that is the beauty of being around Shah Rukh Khan. There is a resonance about him, a humanism that shines far more richly than all the boy toys life has bestowed. Yes he'll do anything if the price is right. But he is also somebody who pays the price for his prizes. Just ask Gauri.