Two things catch your attention when you come face to face with Shahrukh Khan. The first is his build. He’s not a big man. In fact, he’s positively wee.
It’d be nice to write that he makes up for this with huge charisma, but that’s not immediately obvious either.
When he steps out of the lift and brushes past at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace hotel, he’s only instantly recognisable by his hair.
His hair, of course, is the other attention grabber. It’s immaculate – each strand seemingly grafted into place, as though he borrowed it all from his Madame Tussaud waxwork replica.
It’s also the reason, we suppose, that he’s two hours late for our meeting. Having eaten all his sandwiches while we waited, he’s just in time to catch us at our sleepy best.
We have our backs covered, though. As he reaches out to shake hands, apologising for his tardiness profusely and exuding his legendary graciousness and charm, we explain that we are merely vessels for today’s interview.
The questions have been posed by the good readers of Time Out Abu Dhabi. He smiles and sits back, adjusting the Time Out dictaphone to ensure we catch every pearl he cares to offer. Thankfully, there are a few.
At home are you like a normal father? Do you shout at your kids if they get low marks? Disha Dadlani
I am a very normal father, but I’m a normal father who is a little guilty that he doesn’t spend enough time with the kids, so when I do, I pamper them. But I’m very strict with studies because I truly believe that there is nothing better than education, so I teach them. Earlier they were very excited because I guess mum kept saying, ‘study, study, study,’ and I started teaching them in a fun way. But now I’m very strict when I’m teaching, and now they know that. So when they want to study hard, now they come to me if they have something that they know needs strictness. So they are very well trained now.
I never shout at anyone. I never get angry with anyone, actually. Once in a year I get angry, so I try not to do it with the kids. What sets me off? The silliest of things. I think it all just collects, and one fine day just the colour of somebody’s coat [strokes Time Out’s assistant’s red coat, which she offers to remove]...[laughs].You know, some small thing can trigger it off, but it’s all pent up there. About six or seven years ago I stopped getting angry because I think it’s not worth it, and you feel bad, and you want to say sorry, and you spend too much time socialising... I like to be alone and reclusive, and I feel worse. So I don’t get angry. With the kids I never, never, never get angry, and they both know that. Yeah, I spoil them a lot, but I’m like a regular father. Very regular.
How do you cope with the challenges that you face as a superstar or a film actor in general? Rekha Dayalal
You see, I’ve never thought of myself as a superstar. I keep it very simple and basic. I wake up in the morning and the only odd thing that I do is that I’m 44, I’m a man, and I wear makeup to work. That’s the only odd thing that I do. Otherwise, it’s so simple and basic. I get very excited if I get that one shot right. The days that I get it wrong, then I’m looking forward to the next one, so that I can make sure I get it right. The days I get it right, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can repeat it again. It’s very simple and strangely straightforward. I’ve never thought of the frills of stardom, though I enjoy it. I love being a star. I understand the demands on my time by people when I meet them. I’m happy to do that. I enjoy a lot of alone time, which I get when I need to. But I have no issues as a star.
Too many people? I love it. I like people being around when I’m outside or when I’m working in a public place, which is most of the time. I don’t have issues at restaurants because I don’t go to restaurants. Whenever someone says, ‘Don’t you like the simple things in life, like walking on the beach?’ I say, ‘No. If I want a beach I’ll buy one [laughs].’ It’s as simple as that. As an actor there is no challenge. I don’t of it as work, so I don’t think of it as a challenge. I think of it as play and enjoyment. Many times I’ve told my wife that I must be the most overpaid for just playing what I like to play. So it is really strange.
What is your take on Thackery? Do you plan to meet him and apologize as demanded by him? Raphy John
I have no issues meeting Mr Thackery or his son. I’ve met them. I know them personally. They are very gracious and very kind whenever they meet me. But on this issue I have nothing to explain or say sorry for. It’s an ideological difference. It’s not a stand, as people think. It’s not even a matter of principle. It’s just plain, basic truth. I can’t be explaining my nationality, my credibility as an Indian, because I’m very proud of it and I’m very confident of it. And if it has been misconstrued or misinterpreted by them, I think I’ve clarified it enough times whenever I’ve spoken about it.
So the reason I won’t apologise is not because I don’t want to apologise, it’s because I don’t see any reason to apologise. If I were to ask them, ‘what do you want me to say?’ I’m sure, because they are good thinking people, they’ll say, ‘I dunno.’ This becomes an issue as far as politics is concerned, and I’m not a politician. I’ve never taken stands and I don’t intend to now. But somewhere in the whole noise this has got lost and become an issue. If you just go back to where it started from, there’s nothing to it at all. And I think of it like that. But I guess in politics a lot happens from very little. And I’m not participating in that. I really have no point of view. It’s a matter of really not knowing what to apologise for, and I don’t think there is a reason for it. But I’d meet them whenever they say. I’ve met them often before, but we never had an ideological discussion. We’d sit down and chat about photographs, caricatures, books, which I’ll do whenever I’m called upon to.
I would love to be an extra in one of SRK's movies - how can I do that? Diane Hagan
Anyone who acts with me is always an extra! The film is always about me! [Laughs] I’m joking. I don’t know. I think we have a union there like they do in every film industry. You need to register with it, then you just hope and pray that you get picked up according to the kind of role he or she will fit. But there is no way I can assure it. I stay away generally from the casting of my films, from the principle actors to anyone, because I’ll have a bias for a lot of actors and actresses that I’m very fond of, so I’ll leave it to the director completely.
You have attempted to converge the sensibilities of varied regions like Delhi, Mumbai, London and New York into a film that will be of international appeal? Was this the aim? Deepa Rajan
You see, I’m not really responsible for this because it’s Karan’s story, and Shibani Bathija’s. They worked really hard on it. I think the story deals with issues that are actually universal rather than London, New York – though we don’t touch upon London, really, or New York – the film is set in LA and San Francisco! But it’s across America and parts of India, where it starts, because the character starts from there.
But one didn’t set out to make a film about X, Y, Z regions or countries or nations. The subject is such that it’s very universal, so it touches Japan also, China also, Mongolia also, Timbuktu also. Because it’s about humanity, which I guess kind of covers the whole...thing [laughs]. It was never something intended for any one person. Obviously, whatever film we make in India we are always hoping, whatever level it is, that our films are liked internationally. That aspect is there for every film we do. But I don’t think this subject has been chosen with that in mind. The subject was chosen for its inherent quality of what we want to say in this film.
Now that you’ve achieved your status as King Khan, where do you see yourself going next? Aparna Chadha
Well that’s very kind, but you know, I’ve worked for 20 years now, I think, and everybody asks me, ‘Have you achieved all that you wanted to?’ Of course, if you ask that differently, it’s, ‘What else do you want to do to achieve what you want?’ I always say, and it sounds a little philosophical, that I’ve never kept an end line to success. Success is very subjective. If I was to count my success, I was successful on the day I landed in Mumbai and could afford to rent a house. I was homeless, parentless, jobless. I got married and looked after my sister. I rented a house after marriage and I could pay for it. It means I was successful. I’d started life. So, it’s always already achieved. I have a good family now and if I look back [I’ve been successful] many times over. I don’t have an end for success.
I don’t think that if I get 17 awards and X amount of money, or that amount of houses, or that amount of films that I do – these kind of fine rules – I’ve never thought of it like that. All the titles attached to me – they are very kind. You know, they call me ‘Bacha’ or ‘King’, and it sounds really nice, but it’s something I don’t really believe in. If I was to believe in all that people say, then I have to take the good and bad, and I feel both of them are exaggerated. So I’m not as great as a king, and I’m not as bad as some people say. I’m somewhere in the middle. I have a huge amount of respect for people who like me.
Can I, though my work, show my gratefulness for all that you’ve given me? This is said with a lot of humility and genuine recognition of the fact that I am nobody – king, or whatever. I’m just Shahrukh. I’m very humbled, and I feel very responsible – though not in the sense of doing the right thing; responsible in terms of giving the right entertainment. Making people happy. There’s a thing that I have in my heart, which I believe: the most beautiful sight in the world is to see people smile. And the only thing that is better than that is if you are the reason behind that smile. So I really work hard to watch that. When I had just started, when I was very young, I had just started a TV series. The first two episodes had come on television. I didn’t know the power of the media.
This mother and her daughter were passing me and they just started smiling. They didn’t even know my name. Actually, the series was so new they didn’t even know my character’s name. They just started smiling. And I felt so happy, I went and told my mum. She said, ‘What did they say? Did they ask for an autograph?’ I said, ‘No, nothing.’ I really believe that, more than the autograph or anything people say to me, it’s the smile. If I can do that – which I’m noticing even now – I can meet people in a smile. I ought to just stand there on the screen and smile? That’s a good idea. I’ll tell the next director that the fans want me to stand there and just smile!
My Name is Khan is on general release in the UAE from Thursday, 11 February 2010
By Jon Wilks
Time Out Dubai, 11 February 2010