top gun, heís here to charm and entertain
By Monisha Pratap-Shah
It was late in the evening and Shah Rukh Khan had been
nursing a bad cold all day. ďFifteen minutes, right?Ē he said as he ushered
me, swaggering into his plush mahogany office. ďThatís not enough!Ē I
wailed. Shah Rukh turned on his dimpled smile, and I realized heíd been
teasing me. And sure enough, he then kept talkingófast, animated, and often
bursting into laughter between the snifflesófor the next 90 minutes, long
after his staff had left for the day.
Here I was with the man whoís arguably
been, for well over a decade, Bollywoodís top star, heartthrob-in-chief, and
winner of innumerable awards, but not once did Shah Rukh, 39, do or say
anything to suggest any of that. Instead, he reflected cheerfully on the
things he holds most dearóamong them his marriage and family, his work,
religious beliefs, favourite books, and his weakness for video games.
RD: Letís begin with you and your wife. What brought you and Gauri
Shah Rukh Khan: I have known her since I was 18 and she was 14. She
was the first girl I asked for a dance. I was shy with women.
RD: Did you face opposition at the time of your marriage?
SRK: There were organizations that kept a lookout at the civil courts
to see which Hindu is getting married to which Muslim. But we gave wrong
RD: What about Gauriís parents?
SRK: It was strange for them, for I am from a different religion, I
donít have parents and I wanted to join Hindi films. I, too, would be little
wary of somebody like that. But once her parents met me, they were quite
alright with it. Now her parents shout at her more than they shout at me!
RD: What were you like at school and college?
SRK: I was naughty in school. In college, I spent most of my time on
sports. My school was very strict. At that time the discipline seemed harsh
but as time goes by I think this has helped me a lot. Discipline to me
means: If you have to do something you follow it to the end.
RD: If you werenít a film star what would you have been?
SRK: Perhaps I would have gone into advertising, making ad films.
Perhaps I would have been a teacher; I like teaching.
RD: For a Hindi actor, youíre not a traditional good-looker.
SRK: Yes, Iíve been completely unconventional [laughs].
RD: Besides the fame, what pleasure do you get out of acting?
SRK: For 21/2 hours I am able to control peopleís emotions in the
sense that I lend a smile to their faces and take them away from everyday
problems. Thatís a great achievement. The rest is peripheralóthe labels
attached to me, King Khan, Badshah of Bollywood, XYZÖ
RD: Earlier, top Muslim stars like Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari
changed their names to mask their identity. Todayís top stars are openly
Muslim. Do you see films as a secularizing force?
SRK: I donít think they changed their names to conceal their
religion. Non-Muslims like Jeetendra saheb and Ashok Kumar changed their
names. I think there was a time when there used to be stage names for all
actors. Our industry is so secularóso many Muslims in it are doing so well.
Art is not unsecular.
RD: You are secular. You have ďOmĒ and ďAllahĒ inscribed in your
house. Did your parents instill this attitude in you?
SRK: Yes. My parents always told me that God is one. I go to temples
with my friends. I celebrate both Id and Diwali. Iím teaching my kids to
read the Koran in English.
RD: Would you promote secularism through your work?
SRK: I am here to entertain, not to promote secularism.
RD: Whom do you turn to in times of trouble?
SRK: I talk to AllahóI pray to him.
RD: You stopped praying after you lost your motherówhat made you
reconnect to God?
SRK: I was very angry with God for a little while but then I realized
if I remain angry with God there is no chance I will ever meet my mother
again. If you are not friendly with God there is no heaven and no hell.
RD: You lost your parents when you were very young. Has this made you
insecure in terms of spending time with your kids?
SRK: I donít think so. But itís important that in their formative
years they do not feel that their father has not been around because he is
busy making movies. I like to be home by 6:30 so I can spend a couple of
hours with them before they sleep. I put them to bed, take them to school. I
go for PTA meetings like any other parent. All the normal things everyone
RD: What memories do you have of your parents?
SRK: Mum taught us that if you need something, you must work for it,
not just sit and pray for it. Motherís been dead for 15 years, my father for
25. One memory I have is of them being both soft and stern at the same time.
They were physically demonstrative, they used to hug us a lot, and so thatís
something I do to my children.
RD: A childrenís ward has been named after your mother at Mumbaiís
Nanavati Hospital. How did you think of donating for the cause? Are you
doing other charitable work as well?
SRK: I went to that hospital one day to see the child of someone who
was working with me. I felt conditions were not very good, and when I asked
why, they said they needed funds. So I decided to donate money and they were
kind enough to name the ward after my mother. Iíve seen it onceówhen I went
to open itóand I felt it was wonderful. I want to do more charity, inshallah.
We are trying to see that whichever film makes money, a part of it will go
for charity. We have to do something with Main Hoon Na. Maybe a cancer wardÖ
RD: Any desire to do something for the country? Ever thought of
SRK: I think I do my bitóI entertain the country! But no politics for
me. I donít think Iíll be good at it.
RD: Apart from spinal surgery, have you faced any other difficult
times? Has surgery changed your perspective on life?
SRK: I am a believer in divine retribution. I believe I got the
injury because I deserved it. I must have done something that made me
deserve to be in so much pain. Now that I have gone through the pain, I have
absolutely absolved myself of the wrong that I must have done.
RD: Do you believe in astrologers?
SRK: I donít believe in astrology I believe only in God. I donít mean
Allah, but the God that I think is close to my heartóI donít know what he or
she looks like.
RD: Any fears now, especially while doing action scenes?
SRK: I am scared every time I exert myself or travel a long distance,
because the pain comes back. But itís something one has to live with.
RD: Itís been said that youíre prone to insomnia.
SRK: Not really. When I sleep, I sleep like a logónobody can wake me
up. I sleep for four to five hours. If I sleep longer, I have a problem.
RD: One keeps reading about your high energy levels.
SRK: Strange, I too hear about it. I thought everyone was like that.
Everybody has to get up in the morning and go about his life and thatís what
I also do. I have a simple middle-class lifestyle but because it is larger
than life on screen it seems that way in real life too.
RD: Youíre a chain smokeróany plans to give up smoking?
SRK: Iím not really a chain smokeróif I donít have cigarettes, I
donít smoke. But Iím planning to quit and I have cut back.
RD: You are writing your autobiography. Is it cathartic? Does it help
you to get over unpleasant issues?
SRK: By nature, I leave the good and bad behindóitís not because of
writing the book that Iíve become like that. I understand very deeply that
things only matter at one point in time. If youíre hurt, you must let the
moment be and go on. But I donít forget. I remember everything that is said
or done to me. But I donít hold it to heart.
RD: You are a gizmo freakócomputers and video games are your passion.
Does technology stimulate you?
SRK: Technology to me is a great thing. New things turn me on. I get
video games for my kids that are too advanced for them and play with them
RD: You are a voracious reader. Which book are you reading currently?
SRK: I read three or four books at a time. Iíve just finished a
thriller called Digital Fortress and now Iím reading a book on the Kabbala,
an ancient religion. Iím also reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven [a
novel about how every person on earth matters]. Before that, I read a book
called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I go to bookstores
when Iím in London or America. I get a coffee and keep browsing for
hoursósomething I canít do in India. I come back home with a bagful of
books. Iím always stopped at customs as they think Iím carrying some heavy
RD: Your business venture, Dreamz Unlimited, did not do too well. Now
you have started a production company called Red Chillies. What kind of
movies will you make?
SRK: Iíve always made movies close to my heart. Any story is nice as
long as it makes you feel good. I have no socially relevant or women
emancipation subjects close to my heart. Iím an entertainer.
RD: Are you a good businessman?
SRK: I donít think so. I donít know how to ask for money. I donít
know how to deal with money. But Iím not a fool eitheróI am very clear in my
business dealings; they are very transparent and up front. Also, very few
people tend to cheat me. They know Iím the means to an endóso why kill the
golden goose? [laughs]. Also, I do carry a bit of a clout.
RD: Are you interested in directing films?
SRK: Directing is a very lonely job. The responsibility and the
stress are so great and the end result is never your own. But if I become a
director, I must have enough money to produce my own films. Iíd be an
expensive director, and I donít want to utilize someone elseís money for my
whims and fancies.
RD: Youíve tried your hand at almost everythingórecently you even
lent your voice to a cartoon film. What if you reach a stage where you find
that nothing stimulates you?
SRK: I hope I never reach that stage. If things donít happen to you,
you have to make them happen. You never wait for life to happen to youóyou
rush towards life with open arms