What's the best thing that can happen to you as a journalist when you fly down from London to Mumbai in the month of December? Attending Page 3 parties? Eating hot and spicy curries? Going to the best ever New Year's bash? Meeting celebrities on the sets? Naah! But imagine you getting a text message one morning which reads – SRK interview tomorrow at 3.15pm at 'Mannat'. You have 15 minutes. I then call the YRF PR to confirm the message. They reply to me in positive. What once was a distant dream becomes a near reality! What happened in the next 24 hours was truly one of my most fulfilling experiences as a Bollywood columnist. Every time you come to Mumbai city and pass by the lovely Bandstand area, you just cannot move your eyes away from Mannat. It could be 'Mannat' to the world, but it is 'Jannat'. I mean, which person wouldn't want to live there? I enter the Mannat Annexe, SRK's new multi storey office behind Mannat. Security check takes place, identification proof and then I enter. All this and I felt like I was in the Heathrow airport, checking in. Off I go to the second floor where three to four journos were waiting for their turn to meet Datuk Shahrukh Khan. He is no more a King but way beyond that. For me, he is the matinee idol look combined with the sex symbol loveliness. That sums up SRK's pin up appeal since two decades. Whether he plays a lover boy in DDLJ or a music teacher in Mohabbatein, he possesses an all-too-nice guy charm. He's willing to put that charm to test too! In Chak De India, we didn't see SRK, we saw Kabir Khan - no pretty love interest, no wisecracking sidekick, not even a comic genius. And, such is the weight that Shahrukh carries with a worldwide audience, such is the skill that he has developed over two decades plying his trade...he pulled it off with amazing ease. His latest release Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi hopefully will take this further. Sitting in his black V-neck T-shirt and jeans, he poses for the photographers, goes to the terrace on the third floor to get some more natural shots, comes down, shakes my hand and humorously asks me, "Are you the same Observer journalist who reported about the terrorist?" I say, "No". He orders a hot cup of coffee for himself, talks about the hot Anushka Sharma, talks about the hot parathas and much more in what should go down as the best ever interview of SRK in ages. As he aptly said, "You are here to interview me and you'll hope that this one is better than your last one".
We don't start with ABC here but with SRK. So tell me what makes an extraordinary SRK ordinary?
I think the reason people become extraordinary is because their roots are ordinary. I don't think it works the other way round that you happen to be an extraordinary, and then, with humility and modesty talk about your ordinariness. First of all, I don't believe I'm extraordinary. My very good friend and writer of Chak De India, Jaideep Sahni told me yesterday that the irony of your life is that when you tell people the truth, they believe either you're being too humble or honest, which is true. I don't find anything extraordinary in what I do. It's a job like everyone else does. I wake up every morning, apply my make up and try and get my best shot possible. You are here to interview me and you'll hope that this one is better than the last one. That's what I'm doing since last 20 years and our film Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is akin to that.
Is that being diplomatic or simplistic?
I always say this; I am an employee of the myth of SRK. For the first time you will see the worker behind this myth and Rab Ne's Surinder Sahni, the character, is that worker who is a little boring, hard worker, may be not good looking but he is actually the engine what drives the myth. It's being simplistic.
What characteristics do you think are most important for having a fulfilling jodi?
If you are talking about my own experience, it's the space. Allowing the space that your partner wants and still occupying it with love is crucial. Besides that, it's very subjective. It's different strokes for different folks. Overall, everybody likes to have that space. When I start making a film, I tell everyone, "Listen guys, we are hundred of us and we are going to formulate a team. There are two of us, a director and an actor. We are trying to make a film but are we making the same film? Are we both doing this film for the same reason? Are we telling this story to earn money from that or just want to tell a story? Whatever the reason, it should be on the same page. Then anything you do, whether it's your personal life or professionally, you become one fulfilling jodi.
What ideas, values or experiences did you and Aditya Chopra bring along with you from 2000 to 2008, from Mohabbatein to Rab Ne...?
What we've realised from DDLJ days is that a lot of faith has been put in our creative ability to entertain. For years, what we've tried to do is cater to what we think people want to see. They've always said that we'd like to see a cool guy singing 'Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam' in Switzerland and we gave that to them. It's not important that we keep giving them what they want to see, but the question is, can we give them what we want to show them and ask them whether they liked what they saw. That is the difference from Rab Ne... to DDLJ. When we made DDLJ we were very anxious. We tried to show the Lamborghini or the Harley Davidson, but now we want to show them the engine that drives these things. We are now challenging the status of faith given to us by the audiences saying, 'You guys told us that you like us, now we will show you what we like and not what you like to see'.
And what is Adi going to show them this time around?
Rab Ne is a big entertaining film and the funniest film Aditya Chopra can make for the simple reason that he is not a funny guy. Even during DDLJ, I had to bring in a lot of humour. We've tried this time to bring this same humour in an ordinary way. People, when they travel abroad eat chicken in KFC or a burger in McDonalds or some grilled food in some restaurant. But when they come home after a month or two and sit down and are being served hot paratha and curd, you feel it's the best you've ever had. Rab Ne... is the best you've ever had.
Extending on what you said that there was a Lamborghini, Harley Davidson etc... all YRF films have seen rich NRIs. Since Chak De, we are now seeing an emerging trend of a middle class Indian in YRF films, more closer to our home. Is it a planned move or what?
It's not like that. As time goes, you get attracted to different kind of stories. I am still attracted to a super hero story that I still want to tell, I am still attracted to a fun film like Om Shanti Om. I was never attracted to love stories to be honest. I just do them because my friends really believe in them and I do it for them. Lately, I loved the idea of Don. I think it's really cool. There was an anti establishment time in 70's and 80's when Mr. Bachchan used to act in films. Then come 90s, our economy prospered, people went abroad, they did well for themselves and wanted to achieve their dreams of having a big house, a big car and a big family happily settled in the UK or the US. So, films like DDLJ came and made those dreams come true on celluloid and now the time has come where people don't want a big car. It's fine for them to travel in a bus. What today's people want is their status identity, whoever they are, they are heroes.
But what about today's kids, let's say...Aryan, will he identify with his extraordinary status?
When I am trying to show my son Aryan heroes of today's day and age and even heroes of our mythological era, he is not interested. For kids, a hero is a guy who is normal and ordinarily extraordinary. They don't need their hero to be in flashy clothes. But as long as he performs he is a hero for them. Like the footballer Ronaldo is a hero for kids because his actions are performance based. 'Hero toh woh hota hai jo Shahrukh Khan hota hai', that's not true. Hero is one who does his job well. For Aryan, I might be his hero too because he knows I do my job well. I've seen that an ordinary man is very secured about his status. The purpose of life and your existence is becoming more important. I tell my kids that I did Om Shanti Om because I believe that if it's not happy, it's not the end.
What's your status then?
It's strange but the people of Malaysia knew what my status was when I went there to receive my knighthood. They were holding these huge banners which said, "The person who likes to see people smile - Datuk Shahrukh". That's what I am. It's another thing that I get paid crores for doing that now. But I got Rs. 5,000 for my first film to do the same thing and will continue doing that in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
Chak De garnered a great deal of attention from fans and critics, especially in the overseas. Do you think Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi will tread the same path?
I don't know but I think that the film is too entertaining for the critics to like it (laughs). It'll make you laugh and cry. Honestly, critics have been really nice to me, they give me much more than I deserve. I'm sure in Rab Ne... too they will think that I've acted well. I truly believe that Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is Aditya Chopra's bravest film. So I hope he gets the feedback. We've made the film, it's our baby now and it's up to the audiences to say whether they like it or not. It's an important film for Adi and me.
It's strange to be working with a stranger. You expect the unexpected from them. How did the debutante Anushka Sharma come across?
All these girls are really wonderful. They are in a world which is very well informed, more informed than my world when I was 20. They have access to information and because they have access to information, I believe that they have access to expressions that I didn't have at that age. I've grown up with some expressions of life. I didn't know what a terrorist was; I didn't know what an internet was. I had to first access it and then learn it. So when you're working with new comers as talented as Anushka what happens is they express themselves in a language that I'm just getting to know. Over the last couple of years, I've learnt not to correct them (new comers) because I need to correct myself. When I said a line in DDLJ which went - 'Zindagi mein do raaste milte hai, ek sahi, ek galat'. Everybody told me how beautifully I had said those lines. I don't think Anushka will say the same lines like I did. But when she says it the way she says it now, it'll be as beautiful. I truly believe that new comers are great actors because they do things completely out of the box. I just thanked Anushka and her parents last night by saying, "Thank you for allowing me to do something different.
So, how different is Rab Ne as a film?
Rab Ne is very believable and different because of Anushka, more than me or Adi.
Apart from your cameo in Bhootnath this year, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is your only full length feature role and film of 2008. Is age catching up haule haule?
No, that's not true. I messed up on dates this year, big time. I was doing two films this year, Robot with Shankar and Three Idiots with Rajkumar Hirani and both didn't kick off due to some problems. Suddenly my dates got free. Now if I get to know just now that I've given up a film, I can't sign a new film next day because the people who make films with me plan their films in advance. So I started a small film with Irrfan Khan called Billo Barber which we are ready with. I postponed it because Rab Ne... was releasing in December. We are releasing it in February now. Plus, IPL was there too. I spent a good couple of months just concentrating on that. Then My Name Is Khan got postponed because of dates in America and times. Next year, I'll still do three films. I am flying to L.A on the 18th December for My Name Is Khan and will be back in February before Billo Barber's release. So if everything goes by the paper, you'll see me in three films in 2009.
Shah Rukh, you go that extra mile, for the different look, for the different style or be it a different film. You bend yourself out of the shape just to get it right. But what difference does it make?
I don't know, I guess the director wants me to do it. Everyone who wants to sign me now says that they don't want "SRK". They want me to look different and act different. Farah Khan came up to me because she wanted a six pack from me for 'Dard E Disco'. So I did it. Shimit Amin wanted me to have a beard in Chak De. I did that too. For Rab Ne... I had to shed a lot of kilos. I didn't like doing it but it was work. Now Karan Johar wants me to have short hair and a bit more weight for My Name Is Khan. I am doing it. You tell me I'll do what people want from me now.
Luck plays a significant part in everyone's life. It has played in your life and mine too. I want to know how luck has affected Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi?
Adi says that this film is made by 'Rab' and not luck. I just called him and told him that should we just postpone the release of our film keeping in mind the situation in Mumbai right now and he said, "This film is made by 'Rab' and we will let it release on time as planned. All what is happening was made to happen. Rab knows what He is doing". I never planned to work with Aditya Chopra and he never planned to make a film. It all just happened. The reason I did Rab Ne... is because Raju Hirani's film got cancelled. So Adi came to me and said that he had written a film in 12 days and wanted me to be a part of it. I agreed and we finished the film in 47 days. Rab Ne is 20% better than what we planned to make. It's all in Rab's hands!
You have people in this profession whom you trust and have made a difference in your career, YRF. What say?
Rab Ne... is the seventh film I've done with them. The last six films with YRF have never failed business wise and keeping in mind audiences reactions. They've all loved it. We started with Darr and ended with Chak De India. Now it's Rab Ne. People keep blaming us that we make similar kind of films. I doubt that. When you look at Veer Zaara, Darr, DDLJ and Chak De, the roles ranged from a 65 year old man to a villain to the romantic hero to the patriotic Kabir Khan. To have these four variations is doing something different and not similar. But the good thing about me and YRF is that we never try and work together. We always try and tell a story together which we love to tell. 90% of my stardom is because of YRF. Hopefully Rab Ne will take it to 100%.
Any parting message for all the beautiful jodis out there?
Love you all, be happy and don't forget to eat some parathas and curd as I said earlier. This goes out especially to my overseas fans (laughs).