Shah Rukh Khan on staying power
Once we make inroads into the market abroad, I'm sure we can have Julia Roberts dancing with me on the streets
Who am I? What am I doing here? All of us are very self-centred, we all want to be respected and liked. We all have a certain sense of worth surrounding us, we want all to accept that and maybe buy that. All of us sitting here are brands. My brand begins at home. There are certain values and expectations that my son has from me. He sees me as a package of hugs, kisses, toffees and toys. He looks up to me as someone who plays with him. Someone he can jump in front of, knowing fully well that I will protect him.
All these virtues and traits he misses when I am not around him. He yearns for me and at times cries too. He wants me at all cost... He loves me... I am his trusted brand... I am his father. Extending this example, I form an integral part of many lives at home. My servants think of me as their all-giving boss. My sister looks up to me as her only living relative, whom she loves immensely. My wife looks up to me as her punching bag and someone to shout at. These varied roles I perform... sometimes very well and sometimes not very adequately. But there is always the attempt to perform the various jobs or qualities I have been entrusted with.
I am sure thoughts must be arising in minds of those, I deal with, to change their brand at times. I know my wife would love to change as soon as she can. But at the end they stick around. The efforts to keep them happy or content are varied... ranging from a little reprimand to a big diamond. Sometimes cajoling, sometimes with authority and at times by letting them know that there is no better alternative. But these are just methods and modalities... what really works in my favour is that I have instilled a sense of trust in my family about myself.
Now, as far as business parlance is concerned, I have become a brand without making a concerted effort to do so. One fine morning I woke up and I was an actor in Hindi films. Next morning, a star and before the day ended, I was a brand. It all happened in a jiffy... just 10 years really.
There's nothing like over-exposure... The only way to be in the public's mind is to be in their face
Somehow some invisible forces worked to bring me to a situation like this. But I know for a fact there was a young boy from Delhi wanting to work very hard and please his customers, his viewers, and even his detractors. I wanted everyone to like me and want me. I wanted to be owned and wanted the owner to feel proud to show me around. I wanted everyone to love Shah Rukh Khan, whatever the garb may have been! As the lover, as the killer or as a teacher, I want to please. I knew from the very onset that if I have to please, my outer appearance or packaging needs to be the best. I am not talking about my looks, 'coz if I was then I should have packed my bags and left Bombay many years ago.
By packing I mean the films had to be made by the best teams. The teams had to be Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai and Mani Ratnam. Whatever product one needs to take in the market, its central driving force has to be of the highest quality. I was fortunate enough to get that, from there onwards the brand was ready to kick arse.
To win some, you have to lose some. Most of the good quality products have a cost. In my line of work the cost was to forgo some fast bucks. I am not saying big producers don't pay well, I am just stating that they don't pay you your so-called market price. But they make up for it by giving you a film that is worth ten times your highest salary. This is the price I paid too. So to develop a brand you need to spend some money in terms of opportunity cost. Good things don't come cheap.
But greed is an inherent human trait. Yeh dil maange more... whatever you have is seldom enough. So to overcome that I worked out an alternate source of income or quick bucks. Live shows, ads and even dancing at weddings. I know lots of people look down upon these vocations. I know a lot of my other actor friends would never do it. There is an enigma and aura that needs to be attached to a star. You cannot break the myth of being a star. I agree with that. But I don't agree with the myth that a star must be cloaked in secrecy and mystery. There is a strange mystery to an open friendly next door neighbour kinda guy also. It's just a matter of presentation... and of course the work that you do. Unfortunately, we still have not been able to see that an actor need not be confined to an ivory tower... isolated and powerful in his own small world. He needs to come out and form an alternate source of business thereby widening your audience. Believe you me, there is nothing like over-exposure. Whenever you feel scared of that, remember that the only way to be in the public's mind is to be in their face. Also, did you not set out wanting to be loved by all... then why hold hack... just go the whole hog. Even if it means dancing at a wedding... as long as the song is Mehndi laga ke rakhna and Chaiyya chaiyya.
I decided to make my own films to reinvent myself. In other words... put my money where my big mouth is
One has to evoke a sense in your buyer that the product will be complete and delivered in time. In my case I have forgone very good projects and deals to make sure older ones are completed first. There has to be a certain respect involved in your delivery capacity. Gone are the days when a star could finish a film when he wished to. Come drunk or with a hangover on the sets... unless it is Devdas. There has to be a removal of what endearingly stars call tantrums. Because when the going is good for you everyone will give you some leverage. But when times are difficult only your commitment to your buyer can help you save the day.
Once a brand is established, one cannot just sit back and watch. One cannot rest on laurels of your good film-makers and great films you once did. The consumer has a small attention span. The consumer is restless. He expects that once he trusts you, you will not only deliver, you will deliver new stuff all the time. Just like my son, who loves his play horse but expects me to give him new games all the time. The love is there, but it needs to be refurbished and presented in novel ways... all the time. Reinvention is the mantra--whether it is making newer kind of films, a la Asoka or creating a new character like Shah Rock on the Website. We started a company called Dreamz and Arc Lightz just to comply with this dictum. Since I cannot ask my producers to take risks on my behalf for reinventing myself, I decided to make my own films. In other words.. put my money where my big mouth is. That's when I started making products which I believed in... products which were an extension of my brand. Clean, straight from the heart and economy conscious films. The films were to be made fast... made within the wallet's reach and reflect a certain quality that is always anticipated from my brand. But over and above it all, also offer a newer dimension so that you can have them clued on for the very important--NEXT TIME.
Chances are that some may succeed, others won't. Like in our case Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani did not. But we made sure that the direct buyer was not affected badly. We can go back to him and ask him for another chance. The buyer will give us another chance because he kwows that we respect his money. If not Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, it will be Asoka, if not Asoka it will be the next.
Internationally as we all know... entertainment is big and India has a two-pronged advantage. We are the biggest market and we can also be perhaps the cheapest producers also. I am trying to make films in India, at our kind of cost and hope that Asoka can be marketed abroad and sold there.
Maybe we can create a brand if India films abroad... give them what they think of India already. Mysticism... Kamasutra... elephants and a technically savvy film. No point in trying to break a mould or mindset. But once we make inroads to their market I am sure we can have Julia Roberts dancing with me on the streets.
Whenever I fail as a father or husband... a toy and a diamond always work
In primitive cultures wearing the skins of one's prey or consuming the flesh of one's enemy was believed to endow the consumer with the power of the consumed. The basic idea today also is the same. Consume and BECOME! Let us get open to the idea--as a star, as a film-maker--that we need to be eaten, tasted and relished if we have to own the consumers of the world.
I have spoken a lot for a person who claimed he did not know why he's here. I have to speak a lot, that is a part of my brand image... otherwise my sponsors get disappointed. I must have confused a few of you. And that's also the state of the film industry right now. And those of you who don't agree with what I say I am giving away free Omega watches as gifts. I believe whenever a brand slips... offer a free gift.
Because whenever I fail as a father or husband... a toy and a diamond always work. Works wonders?
Shah Rukh Khan