He may have entered his 25th year in the movie industry, but Shah Rukh Khan is in no mood to slow down.
The global superstar still has the same energy levels he had when he made his debut back in 1992. He has poured all that enthusiasm into his latest big budget Bollywood blockbuster Raees, which will be released globally next Wednesday (25).
The gangster drama sees him portray a bootlegger who rises to the top in a ruthless manner and how he affects those around him in different ways.
Shah Rukh says he enjoyed challenging himself in the gritty role and is confident he has delivered a very different cinematic experience for his many millions of fans around the world.
Eastern Eye caught up Shah Rukh to talk about Raees, his love for cinema, endless energy levels, unfulfilled ambitions and more.
All of us are getting old and tired, but you are getting younger and more energetic. What’s your secret?
(Laughs) You say that Asjad, but I still don’t make it high up in your annual Sexiest Man’s list.
You are always in the top 20.
I eat well, I don’t sleep well, I have a lot of black coffee, which I don’t think you should have. I don’t know, I feel awkward when somebody says this to me. Now a man saying it to me is even more awkward, but I hope I can continue to look the same way. (Laughs) I exercise a bit, but I feel awkward talking about how I am looking better.
You have done so much but still continue to work so hard. Are you as motivated and energised as when I interviewed you for Asoka back in 2001?
I am dedicated to work, Asjad. It’s been 25 years and I still love what I do. Some keep working and it becomes routine for them and they are not as excited. My excitement levels are there. Maybe I have not been able to hone all my skills, so I still keep looking for something new to do within the parameters of what I know. I find that very exciting.
I don’t think of work as work. I am here now working. We shot until about three or four in the morning. I woke up early to be with my kids and I am here again, and will shoot until late at night. I am happy doing it because I really like doing it. I don’t know what else to do if I am not working or just being with the kids. I have no other interests in life.
Really? You must have some others.
(Laughs) I tried to do stamp collecting, but that went out of fashion.
You probably get offered more movies than anyone else in the industry. What made you say yes to Raees?
I don’t think I am offered the most films. I am sure others are offered as many or even more, I have not checked on that. But I do get offered some interesting things.
Raees was signed a long way back when I was doing Happy New Year. That was an over-the-top happy commercial masala kind of Hindi film made on a large scale. I wanted to do something that was a little more intimate; more actor-like and soul-searching as a performer. You’ve got to keep on doing that mix.
Raees was delayed after you green lit it?
Yes, unfortunately it was because I had this injury. So it has come much later. This was right after doing a happy-go-lucky film like Happy New Year where we were just having fun. Now with Raees, I am being more of an actor and a performer. Suddenly I wanted to be in a zone where I kind of can reflect within and do a film like Raees.
The fact you haven’t played a character like Raees must have been very appealing?
Yes it was. My friends (producers) Ritesh (Sidhwani), Farhan (Akhtar) and (director) Rahul (Dholakia) dropped in and told me about this interesting film. I found it very gritty. Also, I thought I had not done something like this. I have done mostly urban characters even when I was in a village-set film.
I was happy I got something that was a little bit out of my comfort zone in terms of my upbringing and the way I am. And it has some amazing dialogues.
Talking of the writing, it is about a bootlegger and that must have been interesting to do?
Raees is based in Gujarat. I think this film is written by a journalist who did a lot of research about bootlegging around the country. It has a lot of instances about how people do bootlegging. It was something new and different for me. It is not like a regular Bollywood film. It has its masala and songs, but it’s in a more realistic zone.
I have heard the film is based on an actual gangster?
It is based on a lot of research on different people doing bootlegging in various parts of the country. Certain incidences like how they hide the booze; it’s quite interesting how they do it. They have been researching it for some time. (Laughs) I have also heard that is based on a real guy, but which real gangster sings a song like Zaalima?
These days you seem to be hiding your face behind a beard. How did you decide the look of Raees?
The look of the film is decided by the director and the creative team. One part of it was that he is short-sighted and that plays a kind of role in the film. He wears glasses but doesn’t like people teasing him about it, and it’s a complex he has had since childhood. Rahul has used that very well in the film. There are three looks because it spans a timeframe of seven years.
I have my normal fluffy hair and bell-bottoms like in the 1980s. Halfway through when he gets older, he starts wearing pathanis (traditional suit). It is not a traditional kind of pathani, but more filmi. So we tried various looks and used the ones that worked. His beard greys as he gets older and so on.
Do you have more fun playing bad guys like in Raees?
I hope I am not morally judged for saying that I like to play bad guys. I enjoy them because in everyday life I am nice, fun-loving and not mean, have lots of patience and a sense of humour. The things that you are, you kind of want to break out from that and get into the zone of what you are not. Acting allows that, like the role I did in Darr.
I am from theatre and had training for nine years. To me, the character is the most important. I remember being warned against doing Darr and people telling me only to do hero roles. I don’t think being in your face and a good person is the only way to be heroic.
What do you mean?
I think if you overcome your limitations, own problems and demons, even that is heroic in its own right. (Laughs) But sometimes I just want to play bad like in Don, who has no excuses for being really vicious.
I enjoy it and it’s nice because these are people you don’t encounter or normally interact with. You read about them or watch them in a Godfather-like film. I am not saying this is comparable to that, but it is a world we all get intrigued by. I get to read about them or watch a movie, but sometimes I get the opportunity to play them. (Laughs) I like to be a little bad once in a while.
Mahira Khan looks incredible in Raees. What was it like working with her?
Pretty amazing. All the actors in the film are incredible. I was talking to Rahul the other day about the world that was created in this film because of actors like Nawazuddin (Siddiqui), Zeeshan (Ayyub) and Mahira. It has been helpful to me because they are three different kind of actors and very realistic.
For an actor who does more performance-based films in terms of commercial cinema, it is really helpful when you have actors who come from a more-healed zone of acting when you are trying to be realistic too. So there was a lot of bouncing off all three of them. They were all nice to work with.
It was very short time because this is very different to a regular film. I didn’t get enough time to spend with them, except on this big huge set of the colony that we live in. It was nice, very endearing and sweet. I hate being patronising, but they really helped me enhance my performance. I hope they feel the same about me doing it for them.
You have, of course, achieved a tremendous amount, but what is your greatest unfulfilled ambition?
It may seem like that from the outside, but I have never been ambitious, Asjad. I would still like to believe that I am, deep down inside, a creative person. But creativity is very dissatisfying on its own. It has nothing to do with an award, the money that you make, how famous you get, how many hits you have or the box-office return. It finally gets down to what is the new thing I will be able to do with the limited access I have to my talent. So I just hope that one day I do something which creates an interesting watch. I have done it in a few films I think.
You have done it in a more than a few films.
(Smiles) Every time, the holy grail is trying to find that one little moment or performance that kind of defines you not only as an actor, but as a person. You feel like this one came from the heart without me even fully understanding or comprehending it. So that ambition is very strong. The unfulfilled breathlessness of doing something new and not getting it right, but making it count.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
For me, it is extremely personal. I had this growing up period where we used to watch a lot of films on VCR; my evenings with my mother and sister because we lost my father early. I never thought I would be known and had no interest in working in films. I acted in theatre just as I played field hockey and soccer. I liked doing it. I have this strange feeling towards cinema as I feel closer to my parents in some way. My mother wasn’t alive to see one of my films or know if I became an actor.
The second part is I am a very shy person. I am very awkward. I find it a great opportunity to vent all those pent-up emotions or thoughts or beliefs.
Really? Most people would think you are super-confident in everyday life.
I don’t even go out swimming in a public place or in a hotel because I feel awkward taking off my shirt and wearing swimming trunks. I feel very shy, but in a movie I could do a whole dance with my shirt off or something even sillier in my underpants because I can be someone else.
The third part is more generic and clichéd maybe. Cinema is a reflection of the times that we live in. It is interesting to be part of those times as an actor or a producer. I just love making films.
Raees is in cinemas on January 25