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Magnificent Obsession

Magnificent obsession
Shah Rukh Khan's movie mantra
He's the original Thief Of Hearts, a romantic legend indeed. Shah Rukh Khan's sculpted from the very finest heart- throb genes. His allure's in his wittism, superkinetic energy and an inimitable persona. Small wonder then that he's the envy of a whole generation of males who must be wondering how it feels to be Shah Rukh Khan. Sounds and bugles because this Shah has now started exploring more of the world. The beautiful strains of his romantic flicks Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Devdas wafted all over Cannes at the recent festival. People there succumbed to his champagne eyes which have captivated the nation for a decade. Back home, Shah Rukh is as usual pressed for time. He's leaving for London where he'll check out whether his back requires surgery. There are interviews for Devdas to be done, dubbing for Shakti to be completed, sittings with producers, plus he has to look into his production company and income tax accounts. In his inimitable style, SRK finds time to do everything without a fuss. Including my q-and-a session. Balancing a cup of coffee, he stretches out on the sofa, ready to answer my questions.

You're a household name in Cannes after Devdas and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham were screened at the festival there. There was a counter for Asoka too. I don't know how to react. I didn't go to Cannes for self promotion, I went there because it meant better exposure for our commercial films. Film- makers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Karan Johar feel their films speak an international language. Asoka was supposed to be screened at Cannes last year, but we didn't want to make a commitment we might not have been able to meet. It feels great when every year Cannes chooses a film I've acted in.

How important is the success of Devdas to you?
Firstly, let me make it clear that our aim wasn't to make a classic. Classic means one of a kind and the earlier Devdas with Dilip Kumar is already a classic. The success of the film is more important for the producers who've invested their money. To me, the fate of every film is important because I leave a part of me in every film I do, be it Asoka, K3G or Devdas. After all the problems Devdas was besotted with, it would be nice if the adage "All's well that ends well" applies to the film. I'm not only referring to critical acclaim, the movie should do well commercially. Sanjay Bhansali deserves success. If film-makers like him see box office success, they'll make even better films. Otherwise, no producer will be willing to make films on this scale. They'll only make B-grade films. Several futures ride on the success of this film. I hope it does well.

Will you be disappointed if the film doesn't do well?
I don't run a race to come second. The stakes are high, it's important for it to do well. Yes, I do every film to win. But I wouldn't kill anyone to come first. In fact, I've nearly killed myself trying to come first. You want to know how the fate of the film will affect my rating? To be honest, I don't know how powerful I am. Am I going to be more powerful if Devdas is a hit? Will I step a few notches lower if it flops? I don't know. Individually speaking, it's an important film and it should do well.
Does lack of success scare you?
No film scares me. I don't do films out of fright. I look at it this way, I've 10 gunny bags of success, if one goes I still have nine and if one is added, I'll have eleven. It's not really scary because I've not reached the last gunny bag of success. Neither have I reached 99 bags of success that I might go, `Oh God, how much more?' I'm happy with more and yes, I'll be sad if it's not successful. I think I'll get by whatever the fate of the film.

90 per cent of the love stories of the world are tragic. Very few end in happy marriages, that's why they're called fairy tales

Why are you working with only a certain directors like Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar?
For the simple reason that they think like me and make nice films. I vibe well with Adi, Karan, Aziz (Mirza) and now Sanjay. My director and I know exactly what the other wants. For both Adi and Karan, I was the least problematic in their films. They knew that Shah Rukh was taken care of so they could concentrate on the rest. No, that doesn't make me feel neglected. Also, when guys I've worked want to repeat me in their films, I agree because we've got along so well.

Will you be happy working with the same guys for the rest of your life? Yes, I'd be quite thrilled. Because I'm confident that we'd make different films. We can make a lot of difference to each other too.

Are your directors in awe of you?
They're just happy I'm doing their film. I'm very good with my directors, I understand what they want and I never question their shots. If they ask me to show five different ways to do a scene, I'll do so. I'm not so stubborn as to insist on a right shot or wrong one. I don't need explanations, I go with whatever they say. Check with any director I've worked with, he'll tell you I'm very easy to work with.

Weren't you approached for Rajkumar Santoshi's The Legend Of Bhagat Singh?
Yes, Ramesh Taurani did come to me with the offer but they wanted immediate dates. I was in the middle of Devdas and K3G. They wanted to make the film at a stretch. Rameshji said that if I gave them dates, they'd start shooting. I couldn't. Bhagat Singh is an important period film. They needed an actor who could give them the time they required.

Are you doing Farhan Akhtar's next film?
I'm not signing any films at this point. I listen to every film-maker who comes to me. It's not fair to either of us to say that I'm doing their film. I'm very clear that I'm not doing any film right now. No matter whether it's being made by Farhan, Farah Khan, Aziz Mirza, Karan, Yash Chopra or Nikhil Advani. And I say this fully aware that pre-production work is going on for some of the films since I'm producing a few of them. See, I don't know when I'll do my next film. Once I've met my doctors and worked things out, I'll know where I stand. Then maybe I'll do 17 films, but for now I'm not doing any.

Why do you only do love stories?
They're not the only films I do but they're the films I get noticed in. I did Asoka and One, Two ka 4 also but nobody talked about them. I believe in every film I do, the character I portray, whether or not it's a love story.

How much do you believe in the character of Devdas?
I believe in the character totally but from the point I visualise him. I believe in him in today's context, not the way he's etched in Sarat Chandra's novel. Maybe if I'd lived in the 1940s or '50s, I'd have been like him. Today, I'd be like Devdas if I was obsessed with a girl. There's a strange amount of ego in the character of Devdas which can lead a man to destroy himself. Ego can kill you. Devdas deals with the egos of two beautiful people, madly in love who destroy each other's lives by choosing the wrong partners--she weds the wrong man and he hits the bottle. Both suffer till the end. I think 90 per cent of the love stories of the world are tragic. Very few end in happy marriages, that's why they're called fairy tales. Devdas is not a fairy tale, it's a real story. I've seen friends of mine destroyed because their love story didn't culminate in marriage. It's depressing, but real.

Would you be affected if anyone called you a bad actor?
Not anymore. I wouldn't have done so well for 10 years if I was not a good actor. After eight Filmfare awards, no one can say I'm a bad actor. I have got all the pre-requisities of a good actor--I'm focused, I can concentrate and I try to create magic. I may not be a good method actor but I'm a hard-working actor. I think Naseeruddin Shah's fantastic technically. Govinda, Paresh Rawal and Johnny Lever are marvellous. Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan are very right. Technically, I'm not a good actor but maybe that's what makes me different. It's easy to say that I didn't want to be like Naseeruddin Shah but I think it's impossible to be like him. You either have a frivolous star or a serious actor. I'm somehwere in-between. I'm a serious star. No one can tell me I'm a good actor because I'm a good guy. Personally though I believe you can be a good actor only if you're a good human being.

How did you react to the nasty press you received after Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai?
Coolly. By and large, the media has been nice to me. I've bagged extra awards and rewards and been called on platforms to speak mainly because of the way I've been projected. I could have held the bad press against them six years ago, not today.

Did the industry treat you differently then?
The same way I treated them. Okay. Professionally, the written word's never been a consideration. It has never made a difference to what I do in the studio. Everyone in the indsutry has experienced nasty press. I can't let these things affect me.

Have you been nervous of anyone you've worked with?
(Smiles) I've never worked with anyone more famous than myself. Since I've not considered myself famous, how can I imagine anybody more famous. No one can make me nervous. The more famous the person I work with, the easier I am. Because while his or her stakes are higher, I have nothing to lose. I may be nervous for other reasons but never because I'm doing a scene with X, Y or Zee.

How do you react to constant comparisons with new heroes?
Everyyear I'm compared with some new hero... every year someone's ousting me... I've no clue what they're talking about. Comparisons are confusing. When I joined showbiz, Ajay Devgan and I were the newcomers who were compared with Aamir and Salman Khan. I was said to be losing my grip when action heroes Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty came in. What grip were they talking about? I was said to be out with the arrival of Booby Deol and Akshaye Khanna. With Devdas, I'll be compared with Dilip Kumar. At one point it was Mr Amitabh Bachchan. It's strange but the comparisons make me feel that I'm the constant.

Most newcomers want to be like Shah Rukh Khan.
That must be because they'd love to have some successful films like mine and work with some wonderful directors. That's why they want to be like Shah Rukh Khan, certainly not because they want to look like me. I take it as a compliment that they'd like to do what I've done. But they'd also have to get a few discs and bones removed. Nothing comes without a price tag