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Man on Top- Back where he belongs

Man on Top
Back where he belongs... Shah Rukh Khan
He walks the walk,
He talks the talk,
He looks the look.
Shah Rukh Khan. Now that's real entertainment.
After a one year god-knows-why hiatus, the media's ultimate print fantasy is back. Part of Shah Rukh Khan's success has been his grasp of what the media needs. He'll provide grist to the glossies, infotainment to the news magazines... and blah blah bluster to his buddies. Rapier retorts and high voltage banter come with the SRK territory. His liquid eyes always remind you of sadness. But probe into them and he'll deflect you swiftly. Yes, he's frenetically funny. His laugh is a sort of foggyish huh-huh-huh. And best of all, there's a childlike enthusiasm about him. In and out of the movies, he is the life of the party, the king of quippery. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Shah Rukh Khan. It'll be exactly ten years on June 26 2001, since SRK made the TV to cinema progress. Television could never contain him. Not the winking intimacy of soap operas for him. From a PG dig at Asuda Kutir in Bandra, to his bungalow Mannat at Land's End, SRK's dreamz have turned real. He was meant to be BIG. Larger than life. Just like the movies. Right now, he burns hotter than a hand grenade. Mohabbatein has slayed the box office. SRK's performance transcends the film's flimsy premise. This is a controlled and sustained piece of acting. He is vulnerable. And never once can he be accused of being a smart-ass, his trademark attitude. Even the smoke emerging from the actor's cigarette is unreined, coiling above this boy-man, far more boyish than any of his film roles. On a good nippy night, his peppery tongue and devastating wit flows like a river in spate. My golden jubilee interview with good old SRK. Smells like old times again...

So you've finally turned businessman too?
Okay, I'm a businessman. But I'm not a hard core entrepreneur. Hey, I feel slightly strange. Thanks to the media hype, I've become a brand name now. But wearing a business suit, carrying a laptop and having power lunches don't make a businessman.

Have you bitten off more than you can chew?
I can do my job as well as any guy with an MBA degree. My heart's in the right place. I love experimenting. If I do ten things, maybe eight of them will fail. But at least I've tried. Also, others will learn from my failure. Listen, I'm not a pucca businessman, I'm just very busy. Ha! When you're in the entertainment business, you have to be a businessman. Business plans... revenue model... venture capitalists... are just names. So much jargon. At the end of the day, you have to succeed. There are so many people like Jai Mehta, Kishore Lulla and Bharatbhai Shah helping me out. Now the business has got complex. Earlier too businesses existed. Then people were called retailers, today they're called entrepreneurs. Acting, I was born with it. Business, I'm still learning.

Please evaluate your ten years in showbiz.
On June 26th 2001, I'll have spent 10 years in the business. Out of which quite some time has been spent in explaining my stance to everyone. Now, I finally don't need to. Yeah, success has humbled me, but not my arrogance. I always asked the biggest of producers for scripts even then. I still do. My only advice to my so-called well-wishers is that even if my life may not be right, at least get yours in order.

The media has got your goat?
No, on the contrary, they've been too kind. Sometimes going overboard with praise, sometimes killing with censure. It's what I call the stretching effect. You raise a person to the skies, then bring him back to earth with a thud, then console him. I'm a part of this game too. Journalism too has undergone drastic changes. Half the time, I'm trying to explain my state of mind to some college drop-out who already has a take on me. Then there are the self-styled analysts who have an opinion on everything from what films I must do to my bowel movements. What to do? I refuse to suffer fools gladly anymore. Not the most apt of comparisons, but I feel a bit like Salieri, Mozart's arch-rival. Salieri tells God: "It's okay if you made someone else more talented than me. But you shouldn't have given me the brains to recognise that someone is more talented than me." Likewise, I have the brains to see through stupid oafs.

Okay, let's do a quick run of the oafish questions you've been asked in recent times. Plenty, but top of the mind are--
1) Where do you see yourself 10 years hence?
2) How do you react to being such a big star?
3) How has fatherhood changed you?
4) What do you feel about competition?
5) Lately, your films haven't been doing well...are you losing your touch?
6) It's said that you've become repetitive in your acting?
7)You come across as an arrogant person, but you're not.
8) Your most embarrassing moment...when people ask embarrassing questions about me turning a businessman.
9) Has the media been unfair to you?
10) Has the media been fair to you? Eeeauuughhh.

I don't have a chip on my shoulder. I have watermelons
I'm not a pucca businessman, I'm just very busy
I can even romance a hippopotamus
Success has humbled me, but not my arrogance
I have the brains to see through stupid oafs
I've moved away from Tommy Hilfiger to Bernardo Bertolucci

I wish there had been more of you in Mohabbatein. Honestly, Mohabbatein was a wonderful experience. Out of the 18 scenes I did, 12 were the very fulfilling for me. I was in pain. I fell down during the harmonium scene, the pain showed in my eyes. It was a winning film from day one. I breathed the same air as Amitabh Bachchan. Aditya (Chopra) could have copped out after Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge...but he didn't. Mohabbatein was a risky film. He didn't pander to the big stars in his films unlike so many other directors in recent times. And at least he wasn't making Dilwale Dulhania...Part II.

Are there many sides to you as an actor?
I have an emotional side, a physical side and even a sexual one. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was dominated by my emotional side. Duplicate had a more physical side. Josh was more sexual. The scene where I ask Aishwarya Rai whether she was seeing someone had a sexual element. It was almost incestuous. Darr too was very sexual in its approach. I liked the way Max walked in Josh, it was a sexual swagger... almost like a panther. Something like Richard Gere's in American Gigolo. I like the small pleasures of life, I like acting, I like constantly doing something new. That's what has made all the difference.

In Ashoka, do you move from the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai Tommy Hilfigers to the no-shirt look?
(Laughs) No, I've moved away from Tommy Hilfiger to Bernardo Bertolucci. For the no-shirt look, I don't have a great body. Not yet. So I'll leave that to the others. And we have quite a few of them, don't we?

Why so much brouhaha surrounding the film?
Listen, we aren't making an epic like Spartacus. It's an episode in the life of Emperor Ashoka. My film starts where Ashoka's life ends. It's neither a historical nor a bio-pic. I mean, it doesn't have the sweep of a Gandhi or Schindler's List. It's a personal account of a warrior king. I was in New York when the controversies erupted. We are neither representing nor misrepresenting historical facts. Ashoka, at one level is a love story between Kareena Kapoor and me. It's a smaller film made by my company called Arclights. When Santosh (Sivan) was shooting Chhaiyan chhaiyan with me atop the train for Dil Se, he narrated the gist of Ashoka. There and then I'd decided to do it.

Do you feel slighted that you're answerable to so many people at one time? Does it irk you?
I don't have a chip on my shoulder. I have watermelons on them. No seriously, I'd like to travel light, leave the excess baggage out of all this. People don't let you do that. It's like Joseph Heller's Catch-22 situation. Today I have more to lose than ever before. That doesn't matter. But I don't want my 10 years of work here to be belittled. Just because Mohabbatein is a superhit, it's being called my comeback film. Excuse me please.

Is acting still a lot of fun? Will your interpretation of Devdas be something akin to Nicholas Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas?
Yes, it is. I like doing things differently. I'd like to reinterpret all my roles, be it Devdas or Ashoka. I will play Devdas with a mean streak. I'm sure women will love him. I don't mind people saying it was not as good as the original or that Dilip (Kumar) saab was infinitely better. That's okay. I would rather sink trying to swim differently than just stay afloat like everyone else. Actually even my son doesn't understand when I tell him I'm a good actor. Being a good actor isn't enough at all. But I will not bend. I've decided that what I like to do, I do best. And if I don't try, I'll never know what I've done.

Please go on, this is getting exciting.
Till today I don't know which is my better profile, my left or right one, I don't even want to know. I don't care. I just act...straight from my heart.

What's your mantra to stay cool in showbiz?
There was a publicity line for a foreign film. I like that--"For anyone who's ever won...for anyone who's ever lost...and for everyone who's still there trying." It's so apt for those in showbiz. I may not make a Mona Lisa but nothing stops me from spraying bottles of colour on the canvas.

You are surrounded by some of the most mediocre minds. Hey, that's not a polite thing to say. But yes, sometimes I feel that way too. I have a series of smashing ideas, but unfortunately the execution leaves a lot to be desired. So I have to take a personal interest in just about everything that I do. It becomes stressful, yeah maybe I have bitten off more than I can chew.

And does that mean heartache too?
Sure thing. With death threats, extortions, death of someone close, bad press...yeah, of course showbiz is all about heartache. But I still love it soooo much.

I believe you had actually won Rs 1 crore on Kaun Banega Crorepati. Then why did you settle for only Rs 50 lakhs? By the way, were you and Juhi Chawla offered to co-host a gameshow by the TV channels?
My time ran out on KBC. It's okay. I won 50 lakhs. And must admit that celebrities got an easier set of questions. I believe we were offered some show by the Sony or the Zee guys. But I feel why try to so something when the best is very much around? Yeah, since I'm considered to be money-minded I must say that I gave up a lot of money. Ha!

You're working with three generation of actors in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Isn't that amazing?
The class of '70s with Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. There's so much respect for them. Then there's Kajol and me who represent the class of '90s. We are an all-heart batch. Then there's the class of 2000--Kareena Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. They are a healthy mix of heart and mind. I stare in amazement when I see Hrithik and Kareena perform. They're so confident. There's none of that haanji papaji feet touching bullshit with this generation of actors. I was looked upon as an aberration when I didn't suck up or do the feet touching act. Also, this generation of actors come from film families. They can go back to their rich and somewhat famous lifestyles even if films don't work out. The insecurities are not so evident, which is a good thing. They can concentrate on acting. To extend a business metaphor, the '70s actors were the retailers, the '90s were the yuppie actors, the class of 2000 are the corporate types.

Haven't you noticed a sea-change in attitudes as well?
Sure I have. Today hard work has become sophisticated. Hard work is about going in your sleek BMW and pumping iron for 3 hours, hard work is going to dancing class and rehearsing. In my time, actors were just born, you didn't have to train yourself to become an actor. I remember an English film Soldier. Kurt Russel the real soldier is made to compete with an automated wooden soldier. He fails miserably on all scores. But in the end, when it comes to using the heart, Russel wins hands down. Similarly, I look on our generation of actors as all heart.

I sensed that the unnecessary comparisons with Hrithik irked you.
I'm really happy for Hrithik. Why should I feel even the slightest rancour for someone? I've seen him as a young kid, an assistant director on King Uncle, we 'd spend hours together. Today we spend hours acting together. So much was made about me watching Hrithik at the Filmfare Awards nite. Believe me, the shots were taken in isolation. They were not even my reactions to his performance. It was made out to be that I was getting insecure. Please, some smart-ass TV channel and organisers wanted to poke fun at my expense. Hey, that's not on at all. Like I said, it's not important to displace Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan. It's important to be like us first.

What's it like shooting with Kajol after a gap of two years?
It's like old times. As if nothing has changed. In Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, we take up from where Kuch Kuch Hota Hai left off. It's so much fun. Didn't Kajol say somewhere that the chemistry bit between her and me is over-rated? Maybe she's right. I can even romance a hippopotamus. And hey, I'm not even into animals at all. Ha!

Your son Aryaan will be making his screen debut in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, no?
See, it's things like this which bother me. I mean, it's a one minute walk-on. Karan wants him to be there as a good luck charm. And everyone's already making heavy weather about it. I want my kid to get all the good things in life. That's his prerogative. I don't hold it against him at all. But I also want him to grow up normal. He should earn his spurs, not lord it because he's Shah Rukh Khan's son. I've seen so many star kids spoilt rotten. When you travel in a Mercedes from the age of two, chances are that you don't value too many things in life. Actually, sometimes it pains me when I hear star children on the threshold of a movie career saying, "Hey, I don't know much about my father's or anyone else's movies. I don't see movies...I never really cared about them." Oh god, my heart bleeds when I see and hear such callousness. Movies are my life. It's okay if my son doesn't want to become an actor. But I'd be shattered if he despised or looked down on my profession. That would kill me.

Okay, give me one more choco nugget on acting.
Know what? You should feel like an innocent child while acting... because any way time off the camera is spent in scheming and manipulation. My child is amazed when he jumps from a height of four feet. He says, "Papa. I did it." It's the same thing with me when I act. I try not to look at the dark side of the moon ever. For once give me a dark side of the moon quote. Death is better than defeat. You have to live with defeat all your life.

Jitesh Pillai