He’s someone who will call a spade a spade and tell you to go to hell if you don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Do all these things make SRK a lesser man? I think not.
In fact, I believe it is these qualities that make Shah Rukh the charmer that he is. They add to his persona and separate him from the rest. But most importantly, what they also do is prove to the world that just because you are a public figure, it doesn’t mean you’re not human.
I meet Shah Rukh at his palatial bungalow, Mannat, in Bandra, Mumbai, and he is in celebration mode. After all, his Indian Premier League (IPL) team, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), recently won the fifth edition of the tournament. Before we begin, SRK plays the perfect host by asking me if I have eaten something and after looking at my plate that has traces of sugar syrup on it from the delicious kaala jamun his workers served me, he smiles and says, “This has come all the way from Kolkata. It is yummy.” As I nod my head in agreement, he takes a seat and we start. But, before I get to it, I must warn you, if you’re looking for a motivational speech or an overdose of sweetness, stop reading right here. This is SRK—raw and real. Yet inspiring, if I may add.
Since KKR has won the IPL 5, the celebrations haven’t stopped in his home. Ask Shah Rukh how it feels to finally win the coveted trophy and he happily says, “Somewhere, I always knew that we would win. I had this feeling all along. It was just there in my head. Chennai (Chennai Super Kings) made 190 in the finals against us. But before that, I kept thinking that if they make more than 196, we’ll lose. I don’t know why I felt that. It was just a number in my head. So, when they made 190, I just knew that we’d win.”
What was different about KKR’S approach to the series this time around? Did he keep in mind to not repeat past mistakes? “See, you can’t learn from your previous mistakes in T20 cricket. In fact, you can never take previous victory or defeat as a lesson because each pitch and each strategy for the game is different. The difference in a T20 match and a one day is that a 50-over match gives you ample time to rectify a mistake you’ve made. But, a T20 match doesn’t. Plus, I think Gautam (Gambhir, the KKR captain) is very steadfast and disciplined. He’s clear about what he wants and he knows the game. You know,” he says fidgeting with his phone, “Gautam doesn’t call me for cricket. He calls me for things like, ‘Bhaiya, make sure this kid gets a bonus,’ or, ‘Bhaiya, this kid will be very happy if he gets this thing.’ But, during the auction, he actually asked me for something. He told me that the team was fantastic, but he only wanted one thing from me. He wanted Sunil Narine in the team. He insisted on it and believe you me, once the teams were announced, 90 per cent of the cricket experts condemned our decision to play him but Gautam always said that he’d be great. And well, he was.”
Not many know that after the finals, SRK even went to meet Dhoni. He adds, “Dhoni is really close to me. I have done ads with him, so we share a certain bond. In fact, last year, Dhoni told me that I had the best balanced team in the IPL. I like Dhoni. So, when we won the finals, I went up to him, hugged him and said, ‘Tu bahut jeet gaya hai, so it’s okay that we won.’ And, he sportingly told me that our team deserved to win.”
During the presentation ceremony after the match was over, Gautam went ahead and stated that a captain is only as good as his team. Question Shah Rukh on whether he thinks Gautam was taking a jibe at the Chennai captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and he immediately says, “No, I don’t think he was. See, they see cricket very differently from someone like you and me who know something about the game. They are very technical about it. In fact, Dhoni, Dada (Saurav Ganguly) and so many who I have chatted with, are very technical about it. They have specific bowlers for specific players in their heads. It may seem stupid to people watching the match, but that’s how it is. Gautam is very clear and he believes that a team has to have a formation where x is supposed to do this much and y is supposed to do this much. When you sit in a team meeting, you are surprised at what all they think about. As outsiders, all we say is that this player isn’t in form, this guy doesn’t have hand-eye coordination, etc. So, Gautam really believes that the captain is as good as his team because if they don’t play to the plan, then it’s a bit of an issue. In fact, Dhoni does too.”
So, how much was SRK’s contribution to his team this time around? “Well, when you’re an owner for so many years, you can’t interfere, because it’s like telling a cameraman how to light a shot. You can’t even do it when you’re sitting around the dinner table and having a casual chat. You can’t say things like, ‘Gautam, don’t you think we should play him?’ That’s not right,” he pauses. “I haven’t spoken to any captain like that. I just told Dada once that everyone is saying that we should take fielding first if we win the toss because it was going to rain and he agreed. I think that’s the only time I’ve even said something like that. Jay (Mehta) and Juhi (Chawla) also never talk.”
That he’s overjoyed about the fact that his team has won the tournament is obvious but Shah Rukh will never forget how tense things were. “I pray a lot but I was hugely praying that night. I don’t know why but I just thought that I had to make this happen in my heart and head. I truly believe you can bend souls.”
Well, it did happen and considering that KKR was facing the flak for almost four years, he must have felt a sense of vindication after the victory. “Because you’re a writer,” he cuts in, “I am going to tell you what I wrote after we won. I wrote this at five in the morning, the day we won. This will answer your question about whether I was feeling a sense of vindication or not. One of the reasons I also wrote this is because I wanted to know what I was feeling. I tried to analyse my feelings because I was feeling very empty and weird. I wasn’t feeling any of the things I had imagined I would feel after I won the IPL. Here goes,” he opens his smartphone and starts reading aloud: ‘I have realised that I have never been able to learn cold-blooded objectivity. I am extremely subjective. Good things, bad things, selfish, self-centered, but I have never been able to learn cold-blooded objectivity about things—like how I should behave because this is what people think of me… I am really sorry to say this but I realise that people exist in very small boxes of judgement and limitation. Very small boxes.’
He continues in the same breath, ‘I was watching TV after the entire MCA incident and I realised that their boxes are smaller than my 42-inch plasma TV and they hurt me. For years, they have hurt me. They have no power over me, but they hurt me. So, I wonder why I am not feeling anger or vindication now but whenever I see them, each one of them, they symbolise my hurt. Why do they symbolise my hurt? Because I have wanted nothing more as an actor than to be accepted by them. I am a small middle-class guy, who just wants to be universally loved. That’s an issue I have,’ he admits honestly. ‘I have always given and they have taken. I am not scared of a journalist, an anchor, an opinion maker or anyone, but I have given because I feel that this is how I’ll be liked by them all the time. They still don’t see it. You know why they don’t see it? Because I symbolise their hurt. I remind them of the things that they didn’t have the capacity to get.’ Looking a bit more serious, he scrolls down his phone and goes on. ‘My anger has passed.”
As he finishes reading this out, I can’t help but ask him how often he writes, and in true SRK style, he says, “I keep writing whenever I am sitting alone. I don’t know what else to do. One day, I am hoping that I will start my own tabloid.”
There you have it—the only actor in Bollywood who can be witty yet philosophical at the same time. A real gift. Still thinking about what he just said, SRK instantly adds, “I know that people will think he’s a very narcissistic guy or they’ll say, ‘Does he think he’s God?’” he says frankly and just when he is about to go on, his wife Gauri enters and tells him that he is late for a dental appointment. To which, King Khan laughs and says, “Please, he’ll wait for me, baby. I won the IPL. Okay, promise I’ll go, just give me 15-20 minutes.”
Taking his word on it, Gauri leaves the room and Shah Rukh smiles. “Okay, so where was I? Yeah, I was saying, I am not narcissistic. I am, in a strange way, a symbol for all things happy for them. I want to tell people who pass judgements and analysis that it’s okay to be happy and you can be happy without drugs, alcohol, without fucking heroines. I am like that. I don’t have to find a reason to be happy. This is what I have worked for, universally wanting people to love me and I want to give back happiness. So when I won, every feeling that I had of anger, of vindication or proving a point—all got washed away.”
Besides the fact that he won the trophy, one thing SRK will never forget about this year’s IPL is the incident at the Wankhede stadium, where he got into a scuffle with a Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) official. “I am not justifying my actions, but I am very sorry for it. I can’t understand why it was made to be such a big deal and what kind of ownership this is. If you’ve come to my house and you go to the other corner, I am not going to scream and reprimand you for it,” he says matter-of-factly. “I mean, you’re not going to take away something from my house just by looking at it. Yes, of course, you can’t jump on my couch with your shoes on and I will not jump on your pitch with my shoes on. I know the rules. Plus, I didn’t go there as an owner. I went there to pick up my kids. I am not abusing a little girl, I don’t. I will abuse a man, I did but you can’t speak immoral, non–secular things to me ever because my kids are not brought up like that.”
After the incident, many negative things were written about the actor. He was, in no diplomatic terms, condemned for his actions. “You know, my family doesn’t even want to watch my films. My kids haven’t seen so many of my films. It’s never like papa’s film is releasing this Friday, so let’s call all our friends and watch the film with popcorn. I have never told them or explained to them what a big day it is for papa on Friday. They don’t understand that. As a matter of fact, I am not their favourite hero or even the second best. The most important part is that they don’t even think of me as a hero,” he says seriously. “But then, they are getting taken in under the shadow by so many things that are being written, said and talked about me that I find it so unfortunate that a person, who’s only working to make people happy, has to now work towards making his children happy by explaining things as a joke to them.”
That these things deeply affect the actor is obvious. In fact, initially, SRK’s dream to win the IPL had one sole motive—to shut the mouth of his detractors. He states, “I get very angry and very disturbed by all this. At one point, I even said, ‘Okay, I’ll win the IPL because people are saying that I don’t know how to run a company.’ I have never claimed to anyone or given a perception of doing the right kind of things or saying politically correct things. Now everyone is turning around and saying that you shouldn’t be what you used to be, please be correct. There are a lot of actors who are fucking correct. I want to be me.”
Probe him on why he thinks all this is happening now and he says assertively, “Because I guess it’s boring now that I am successful. I’ll give you an example, look at Dhoni. The guy is a great captain, he’s a great cricketer, he’s India’s dream because he’s come from a small area. He has become famous. He’s rich and he has a swimming pool on his terrace but since the past four or five months, he just isn’t good enough. People have even been trying to pull down Sachin (Tendulkar) for so long but Sachin is a smart guy. He’s all there. He keeps quiet and does his own thing. He is what a role model should be. He is the perfect human being. Not me and I don’t want to be. I am not questioning someone like him, but most stars give a certain perception about themselves.”
Another thing that really bothers SRK is the character analysis that people do of actors. States Shah Rukh, “I don’t like anyone’s analysis about anyone. I don’t analyse. If I say something in an interview like, ‘Come here, you asshole,’ the world will end. They will say, ‘Oh, SRK ne aisa bol diya. Woh uth ke chala gaya’, etc. So, I go to the MCA, I get angry and it’s like the worst thing that could have ever happened after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for fucking four hours. I want to tell them that you are news readers and I am the fucking one who makes the news. You won’t have news if I wasn’t born. So don’t pass an analysis on me,” he says firmly. “Now, if I meet you (to a fellow journalist), and say, ‘Come here, you chut,’ it becomes a big deal because I am a role model and he’s not but they are the ones with bamboos up their arse. In fact, I really want to do an article on the celebrityhood of being a newsreader. They are bigger celebrities than us. They have suddenly become stars and now that they have also become stars, they have no reason to look down upon me. They are brash, they wear make-up and they are outspoken. They are stars. And, they are more on TV than I am.”
Before I can ask him my next question, his pretty daughter Suhana enters the room. Wearing a purple Burberry t-shirt and black slacks, she hugs Shah Rukh and coaxes him to teach her maths. He looks at her lovingly, gives her a kiss on her cheek and promises to teach her as soon as he comes back from the dentist. Does he think Suhana was lucky for his team? “No, Suhana is lucky because she’s my daughter. Suhana was there by SRK’s side through most of the matches, but his son Aryan was missing because of his exams. He is like me. If you break his heart with something, he gives it up. He said, ‘Arrey yaar yeh kya team hai, jeet hi nahin rahi hai.’ So, he was hurt and when you’re hurt, you get so heartbroken that you move on. And he did. Now obviously, he has a different take on it. Now he thinks that because he moved on, we won. He says that now he’ll just keep moving on so that we keep winning. He has made this great sacrifice. That’s his superstition. I like my daughter because she has the resilience. She’s small statured, but strong.”
The IPL has faced quite a lot of criticism in the recent past. Before I finish what I am saying, Shah Rukh replies. “Some Parliamentarian said, ‘Bollywood should not be a part of cricket.’ But Bollywood can be a part of the Parliament? What are you saying, dude? If Rekhaji walked out in front of you, your tongue would be hanging out or you’d be asking her for an autograph. Apparently, they had to send her through the Prime Minister’s door. In the Parliament, there would be Parliament people only, I am assuming, and not outsiders. So they were the ones hanging around her with the press and they wanted to see her. It’s very silly because no one person stands for Bollywood. I don’t stand for what people perceive Bollywood to be—drugs, sex, rock-and-roll, booze, beating up, madness, retardation, selfishness,” he thinks for a few seconds. “Suppose I get into a fight with you at a bar for personal reasons, I am not going to start equating you to journalism and say that it should be banned. You’re not bad because of being a journalist. That’s a part of your job. You’re just bad because you wanted to be bad, which is also alright in its own way. So, you can’t use Bollywood as an excuse for something wrong that has happened. Besides the many things we are known for internationally, Bollywood is one of the main things. So, you can’t deride it, but here in our country, we use it as a bad word now and blame everything on it,” says SRK animatedly and goes on, “Recently, Preity (Zinta) got angry and started questioning the umpire’s decision in one of the IPL matches. But she didn’t say that because she’s from Bollywood. She said that because she loves her team and wanted her team to win. Even if she weren’t a movie star, she would’ve done it. Or maybe, people do believe that wherever you are from, there should be this confinement of being correct all the time.”
Though he can do that because he’s an actor, SRK doesn’t believe in being correct all the time. “Actually, I believe that if I start doing it, there will be the educated, lower middle-class boys, who will start thinking that to be famous, you have to be politically correct. And, that’s not true. To be famous, you have to believe, you have to work hard, you have to be retarded and mad, whatever, but you have to do your shit. I don’t want to give an impression to anyone that to be famous, you have to be proper.”
I couldn’t agree more. Just as we are about to finish up, Gauri walks in again. “Oh no! She’s going to kill me,” smiles Shah Rukh. I have to wrap it up. The dentist is waiting. Smiling at him, I tell him to complete what he was saying. “See, it’s alright to have a big house. It’s alright to have a flamboyant car and it’s alright to wear torn jeans and go for a tuxedo-clad dinner. I am not saying I am him but we’re very proud of the fact that Gandhiji said that he’d go everywhere in a dhoti. And actually, he was not only being patriotic, he was being anti-establishment and it’s alright to be anti-establishment,” ends SRK.
No, he isn’t being defiant. He’s saying what he believes in. In a day and age where almost every public figure wants the perfect image, here is someone who’s standing up for what he believes in and sticking to it. And that, I think, is truly commendable.
By Raedita Tandan
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