This is part two of excerpts from a conversation with Khan. You can read part one here.
You’re not the one to back out of competition — you’ve always faced it head-on. How did you arrive at the decision of pushing your next film Raees, which was supposed to clash with Sultan [starring Salman Khan], to next year?
We’re all friends: Adi [Aditya Chopra, who heads Yash Raj Films], Salman, and me. There are only 3500 screens and that’s not enough for two big films. We don’t want any games from the backdoors; things are pretty transparent. I just finished a film for YRF. We are hugging and kissing each other and then I can’t just go and sneakily book a theatre in Meerut for my film. Ye nahi ho paata (I can’t do that). It becomes very awkward for me.
Is this because of how Dilwale fared against Bajirao Mastani last Christmas, when they released on the same day?
That was different — it was a competitive production house. I spoke to them 10 times to get the release date shifted. I spoke to Sanjay Leela Bhansali 10 times about the clash. I flew to Eros’ Los Angeles office to get things sorted. But their decision was taken. I then asked Rohit Shetty to shift our dates, but he was firm in his decision. We were always flexible but they assumed they had ‘announced’ it first. An announcement means nothing, yaar. You release a film when you want to. I asked them they can come a week earlier… whatever they wanted. I tried as hard as I possibly could. Then something strange happened. One of them told me that “Pandit-ji ne date fix ki hai (pandit-ji has decided a date for us).” Now, I didn’t really want to go to the point where I was fighting with a pandit [in this case, an astrologer] for a release date. The whole argument had reached a level where there was no logical conversation. It was faith over rationality. It reached a place where we couldn’t go through one chat without demeaning each other’s films. The end result was just unfortunate — we saved Dilwale with the skin of our teeth, thanks to our international business.
How do you see yourself as part of the times that you’re living in?
When you’re an actor, you don’t think about the times as a separate entity. You are the times. You make the times. I get fascinated when I see actors say, “The audience has gotten mature. You can do all kinds of stuff. There’s mainstream, there’s indie, oh wow” What the hell, man. Was the audience stupid before? No, we were. The audience always knew. And they know not because they think, they know because they feel. And a feeling is always a billion times more powerful than a thought. A thought in itself is germinated from a feeling.
But do you not fear the times we live in? There’s a clampdown on freedom of expression and some of our most important institutes — whether it is FTII, CBFC, or more recently the NIFT — are increasingly being taken over by conservative elements. As a producer, censorship of films directly affects you. Why aren’t you out there protesting?
I have stopped commenting on these issues and that, I admit, is unfortunate.
Activists of Hindu Sena hold a protest against the screening of the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Dilwale at Barakhamba Road on December 18, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Shah Rukh had earlier said that religious intolerance and not being secular are the worst kind of crimes that you can commit as a patriot.
This is precisely the kind of censorship — censorship of thought — that I am talking about, which seems to be happening all around us.
Censorship has been a problem for a while. As a producer, I have gone through some issues myself though not too many as I have never made un-familial films. Different committees appointed by different governments will have different interpretations.
See, having a different interpretation of a rule is alright, but when there is a misinterpretation, then it’s time for the rule to change. In the case of Udta Punjab, Pahlaj-ji and team went according to one interpretation of the rulebook and, maybe, you cannot question them on that. The rulebook though is something you can question and work towards changing. The rulebook should be so well-written, so clearly written, so specifically written that whichever government is in power, it shouldn’t have any room for misinterpretation.
Also, the industry must remember that by having Twitter wars and ticker fights, you’re devaluing your own fight. The fight is not with one head of an institution, but with the rules of the said institution. The head may be asked to leave and a new one appointed, but the rules are still going to be the same, right?
Yes, but a progressive thinker is likely to have a more liberal approach towards art, something that need not be bound by the shackles of morality.
Maybe. But you must understand that we live in a country which has places and people that get enticed too easily. Living in a city, we may not understand it. If deleting a few things doesn’t make a huge difference to your film then it’s okay if having it will cause a problem. I had the same problem with my film Billu (2009), which was originally called Billu Barber. In Australia, the title of barber is as prestigious as being a professor but here I met people who felt it was derogatory. They said it embarrasses us. I said I’ll take it off. It cost me a lot of money, it hurt me also. But I did it, despite no legal compulsion. The film didn’t work anyway. So my point is if you sit with people and explain them your point of view, it’s easier to understand than coming across arbitrary and autocratic, which just pisses people off.
Yes, I remember you had reached out to news outlets when a picture of your daughter on a beach in a bikini went viral recently. You wanted that removed.
Right. She was in a bikini, she was on a beach, and she was with her little brother. You went ahead and wrote a headline, “SRK’s daughter flaunts her body.” Is it a little cheap? Maybe I felt it was. I reached out nicely and said, dude, your website is not going to run on my daughter’s bikini body, can you please take it out? People saw where I was coming from. My daughter was a little awkward about it. She’s 16, yaar. And the headlines some sites use are… wow. We’re very liberal people and even had a laugh about it. But it’s still awkward.
You think the media needs to exercise more restraint, especially in such scenarios?
That is there. But when my daughter’s pictures were splashed everywhere online and when I jumped to get it contained, I wasn’t protecting her from the media — I was protecting her from me. It’s my stardom that was the reason that picture made it to the news — it wouldn’t have if she wasn’t SRK’s daughter. There could be someone running naked and that wouldn’t be news.
There was a time when you would show up at the doorstep of a journalist, abuse reporters, and generally call out the press for the way they presented you. With age, have you now mellowed down in your temperament?
You know, I dangle between two extremes. Either I am calm or I am a storm. I am not in-between. And there are moments when my calmness suddenly bursts into a bout of madness and it’s very dark. I’ve been everywhere – I have yelled and abused and beaten up people, and I have also gotten beaten up. It’s not a good place to be in [laughs]. I’m not apologetic about it and I am not ashamed of it. Sometimes when I am giving life advice to my son and telling him, “You gotta be patient son, you gotta show restraint.” And then we both burst out laughing when he says, “Really, Papa? You’re saying this?” And I’m like, “Ok, bro, do what you have to.”
In an interview with GQ in February 2010, you said, “There are days I feel lonely on the inside. I guess that’s the way I am. I’ve never gotten into relationships because I’m scared to. I have a shield. I’ve lost my parents, so now I don’t like to lose relationships. I have to admit, at the age of 44, that I am socially and emotionally inept.”
Has the arrival of AbRam help filled that void, or helped change that aspect about you?
Till the time your kids are 7 years old, they bring about a sea-change in your life. Then the idiots grow up and leave and do their thing. Now, I can’t be having a kid every 7 years although that does sound like a solution to my loneliness. (laughs). I love children as whatever they do — misbehave, shout, swear — you only feel love for them. That’s also what great acting does and I believe my final destination as an actor is to have child-like honesty. There’s so much of beauty in their untainted, uncorrupt words. Even when they say ‘Fuck off’, it is not destroyed by the worldly meaning of the term. A lot of time goes to my children. I spend a lot of time with AbRam, his three friends and also friends of Aryan and Suhana. I am glad I don’t make them awkward.
But in today’s times, a star needs to be accessible at all times. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. Do you feel the pressure to be on top of these modern forms of social currencies?
I can’t, yaar. I don’t know how to give a ‘shout out’ on Twitter or tell people things like, ‘You’re killing it.’ I’m bad and weird about it. I can’t return calls or text messages. If I like something, I’ll just tell you when I see you, ki acchha laga (I liked it). I am quite socially inept although I am good to talk with. Sometimes, I just want to be in a place where nothing is expected out of me. As a star, it’s almost impossible other than when you’re in the company of a 3-year-old. All adult relationships are full of expectations. AbRam has filled in much more than I could have imagined.
Are you scared to live up to those expectations or is it that you don’t have any will left to invest in people anymore?
Relationships kill love. Relationships have rules. And rules are misinterpreted. Relationships have conditions and boundaries and, yes, expectations. You can’t go by what others expect. They may do a lot to you because they can or they have the time. But the best kinds of relationships are the ones without conditions. Not the ones that go, “We have to meet ya, like once a week.” No man, we don’t have to. We’ll still be good. Love should be free of conditions or it isn’t love at all.
One of my closest friends lives in LA and we don’t meet for years sometimes, forget birthdays and anniversary greetings, but when we do meet, we start off from where we left. Even if he doesn’t have my back during my times of trouble, he’s still my friend. “But where were you during my times of trouble?” they say. “I was dealing with my own.” “But yours was work, mine was emotional." “Fuck you.”
I have a lot of love for a lot of people but I can’t say if I have a relationship with them.
Film industries over the world are a hotbed of lost love, broken relationships, infidelities. How has your marriage survived?
I’ll tell you something — it’s a little difficult to be a movie star’s spouse. Our lives don’t belong to our partners. They belong to the world. We’re called public figures because we not longer have a private life the way it’s meant to.
To be able to take that for so many years and be able to carve an identity and space for yourself is extremely difficult. And Gauri has been great in making a space for herself in which she is not identified as Shah Rukh Khan’s wife. By not doubting, talking, or doing anything, she’s made her own identity and that takes a very large heart.
To be a partner to a movie star means that you don’t own them. And to continue to be like that without feeling belittled, smaller or unimportant takes a lot.
Gauri and my relationship has been geared entirely towards raising our children. That’s what eventually happens. Parents become parents at one point and that changes it all. We have a badass 18-year-old, a dainty 16-year-old and then there’s the 3-year-old little gangster. Our conversations, our life together is through the prism of our children. They’ve been our focal point and have literally kept our world intact.
Would you have wanted it any other way?
I don’t know. It’s different. I can’t ruin their weekends because of my bad Fridays. I can’t make them jump with joy on a jubilant Monday that I have. I can’t take them to the bathroom and cry because my IPL team lost by one run in the finals. Why should I take them on this rollercoaster ride? They didn’t sign up for this. I can’t make them realise that Fan meant a lot to me and that it didn’t do well. I know they sense it. But I still don’t allow my day to walk into my house. It’s a difficult balance to keep. And that’s what makes me lonely. I can’t even take them — my own family — through my emotional upheavals. It’s not for lack of love, it’s for the lack of choice. They didn’t get to choose this, they had to.
As an actor, I am the seller of dreams. But that doesn’t mean that if the dreams don’t sell, I bring the nightmares home to my wife and children. No, I will never do that. It happens in a lot of Bollywood families. But not mine.
There’s a lot of talk about Suhana wanting to become an actress. Will you launch her when the time comes?
I’m a selfish actor, I only launch myself [laughs]. My kids, whatever they want to be, need to educate themselves. There is a minimum education requirement in this house. If you can’t hold a conversation with me, then you’re not just cut out for it. I am a believer of education — 80 percent of what I am is because of education. My kids have been brought up very well, they’re very dignified. Suhana wants to be an actress and she says that she doesn’t want to learn it from me. Which is an amazing thought to have. Because it means that she wants to do the same thing as me but with an independent and a unique voice.
What is your relationship with her like?
I have written a book for her. That’s the only way I felt I could approach her. I am awkward, even with my own family. I will never encroach on a girl’s space so she has her privacy. Some of it is strange, some of it is technical, and some of it are just dad-to-daughter conversations. She finished reading it recently and told me to write some more. I am on it.
Have you seen her act?
Yes, she participates in a lot of theatre and she’s quite good as an actress. In fact, she’s just done a play and I may get a call any minute about how she fared. I feel you must not be an actor because your father or mother wants you to be — you should be an actor because you cannot be anything else.
Bollywood’s top stars have maintained a stoic silence on the gender-based wage disparity in the industry.
I feel every woman in this industry works three times harder than the men and gets ten times lesser the money. But not in my company. I can’t enforce that in the films that I act in and don’t produce — but the ones that I produce, there’s equal pay. Plus, their name appears before mine in the title credits.
I don’t talk about the change. I am the change. In my films, the girl’s name always comes before mine. On my film’s set, the girl is always in a higher position than men – nobody can call them “tu”; it’s always “aap.”
You’re often called the greatest movie star in the world and as befits that claim, you live a charmed life. A house with more rooms than you’ve probably utilised, fancy cars, luxurious travel – it’s a life of such dizzying opulence that most people will never know what it’s like to be you. Doesn’t that also come with a sense of depressing world-weariness since there isn’t anything left that you want but can’t get…
I am aware of the fact that I enjoy a unique space in people’s hearts and I get more love from them than I probably deserve.
But that’s what wakes me up every morning — to ensure that kind of love stays. The first five years of my career, I was clueless. These current five years I want to ensure I do things that make me feel loved and prove to myself that I am deserving of everything that you spoke about. I want to sit with all these people — 3 billion — who supposedly love me and make each of them feel special and worthy of the time and affection they gave me. I want to ask them, “Did I entertain you enough for all the love you’ve given me? Are we good?” I want to know and feel better by hearing that I probably did. That anxiety keeps me alive, keeps me awake, puts me to bed and wakes me up to go to a movie set.
And that’s anything but world-weariness. It’s excitement.
Is there ever a real moment, a moment of absolute privacy, which involves SRK sans the stardom?
Oh, yes. When I am not acting, I am a chilled out guy hanging in an old pair of jeans and messy hair. Many tell me, “What are you doing looking like this?” and I go like, please. This is a moment when I am not acting and I want to savour this moment of being me.
This was part two of the interview. Click here to read part one.