25 years of SRK: 30 directors' take on Shah Rukh Khan
30 filmmakers put pen to paper to ruminate on an actor, friend, talent powerhouse for a new book that traces 25 years of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan's life
Shah Rukh Khan
SRK is a combination of all the characters he has played," says filmmaker and former journalist Samar Khan, who is out with a new book that's quite a challenge to hold thanks to its weight. It holds within it memories and reminiscences of 30 directors who Khan spoke with to reveal what it's like being around Shah Rukh on set. "The directors in my book talk about the journey they have gone on with him. It's not Shah Rukh, the father, or human being, but the actor."
Khan's relationship with the superstar has been long standing. The actor chose him to head Red Chillies Idiot Box, the television entertainment division of his production firm. Khan also directed him in a 10-part docu-series called Living With a Superstar. "They [directors] all speak about Raj or Raju or Gopal; it's about the characters that made us love him. It's these characters who have built his personality," says Khan. Which explains why instead of photographs, the book is punctuated by traditional film poster style portraits of his various characters. For Khan, speaking to stalwarts Mani Ratnam and Subhash Ghai was most fruitful, but it was Aditya Chopra who he loved interviewing.
"It's really fascinating to know what Aditya Chopra thinks of him, and I got that chance, thankfully," says Khan. When we ask if SRK is a just an "average Joe", Khan laughs. "Offline, he plays with his kids, is on Play Station. We have chatted about food, clothes and cricket. Well, actually, he is as similar or different as any other person you may spend time with."
Select excerpts from the book:
Karan Johar (Director, Kal Ho Na Ho)
Right now, unfortunately, all the big stars are trapped in the '100-crore trap. There is a great deal of pressure to deliver in a certain manner, which doesn't allow them to take risks in the current system. But, I get the feeling that very soon, Shah Rukh is going to just tell everyone to get lost, leave him alone and let him do his own thing.
Breaking through the clutter is as much a responsibility of a director as it is an actor's. While people complain that actors aren't taking risks, a lot of great actors are just waiting for directors to write characters that they can get excited about. I think the day Shah Rukh comes across a script that excites him, he's going to automatically shrug off the baggage of his stardom. As a director, I'd like to work with him on something unusual myself. But, that has to come organically to me.
One can't plan reinventions. It happens when you look at a script and you want to cast Shah Rukh because it's something he hasn't done. The feeling has to come on its own. At some point, I think Shah Rukh will definitely become a director— and a superb one — at that. I think he is a born director but he's reluctant to take that step because he's scared. I think he'll make the most unusual films, completely different from what one would imagine.
Kundan Shah (Director, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa)
Similarly, Shah Rukh made the choices that made him a superstar. But that was always the dream, anyway. Yes, he does an Asoka and a Billu once in a while. But they don't work for him. Because Shah Rukh has manoeuvered his career in a way that when people go to the theatre, they go to see him, not the character or the film. He was brilliant in Hey Ram but, by and large, his experiments don't work. Like in Devdas, there wasn't a single scene that really spoke to me.
There was just too much Shah Rukh and very little Devdas. A very long time ago, I overheard a conversation between Shah Rukh and Dilip Saab at an award function where he was giving Shah Rukh an award. Shah Rukh said to him, "Sir, how did you do it?" Dilip Saab said, "Don't mistake the shadows for the substance." I think those were the wisest words I've ever heard about the film industry.
Aditya Chopra (Director, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge)
OVER the years, as a producer, a director and a friend, I have seen Shah Rukh perform multiple characters and portray all kinds of emotions. But I've always felt, and still feel, that Shah Rukh doesn't laugh whole-heartedly. His laughter never reaches his eyes. Somehow, it's always a bit hollow, a bit fake. I think, maybe that has something to do with the fact that he lost his parents very early in life.
I don't think he ever got over that loss. As an actor, I think he is the best actor in the whole world and that we've seen only 10 per cent of his talent. That 90 per cent is still to come and blow us away. As a film-maker and a friend, I hope that soon he is offered roles that tap into the remaining 90 per cent. I hope I can give him roles that tell the world, "You've seen Shah Rukh the superstar, now see Shah Rukh the actor."
Mani Ratnam (Director, Dil Se)
Sometimes I think his stardom is a burden. In the sense that he has too many expectations riding on him. It's a little difficult for a director who is still in the experimental space to feel comfortable enough to approach him. But despite his stardom, I still believe that he can play the average Joe convincingly. Because deep down, I think that's who he is. When you meet him in person, you realise what a normal guy he is.
The problem isn't that he can't play those roles; the problem is that the people around him can't ignore what a big star he is. As a film-maker, you start feeling like you have a responsibility towards his fans, like you owe them something.
Excerpts and illustrations reproduced from SRK: 25 Years of a Life, with permission from publishers Niyogi Books
A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli