Blast from the past: My chat with SRK

There are superstars in Bollywood. And then there is Shah Rukh Khan. But then, you already know that.

In the month of November, exactly a week before Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) released, i was at Mannat. Yes, inside Shah Rukh Khan’s fabled mansion across the sea at Bandra. The interview was scheduled for 8.30 pm so i showed up at 8 as being on time is late. There were other journalists in the lobby waiting for their turn. Wasn’t hard to guess how much the schedule was delayed. Two gorgeous paintings, one by MF Hussain, kept me occupied for a while before i revised the questions i had scribbled in my journal. Outside, i also kept myself busy talking to my favourite PR in Bollywood, wondering how it’s going to be like. Mentally preparing oneself for an encounter can be a drag. I was finally called into the room—AIB’s recent podcast featuring SRK brought back memories from that venue — at 10.35 sharp. I’d seen the beloved actor before at several media events but this was the first time we were introduced. He looked weary, thinner than i assumed he’d be and clad in black. On first impression, i felt bad that he appeared tired from all the previous interviews he had gone through.

I was about to be proved wrong.

With a burning cigarette in his left hand, he addressed me as ‘beta’ (son in Hindustani) while directing me to take a seat on the couch. There were two other people in the room: his manager who had reminded me i’ve got only 20 minutes with him and another lady whom i couldn’t identify.

I turned on the voice recorder in my phone and the interview took off with a zest unknown to me until that night because i’d neither waited that long for a famous personality before nor scheduled a meeting that late.

Instead of the generic movie-related questions, i started asking stuff drawn around him as an artist. It’s a strategy i adopted during my days as an entertainment journalist mainly for two reasons:

  1. They get bored answering the clichéd questions again and again.
  2. They will answer the clichéd questions again and again because they have control over their answers, not your questions.

I had a hint that it will be fun talking to him — my editor called him a conversationalist’s delight during the morning brief — and boy, was she right! You ask him something and he listens to you very carefully but he won’t give you a straightforward answer. He’ll take you on a journey of his experiences and in the process, coaxing you to learn more about his craft and decisions. One of my questions knocked on his fondest memory of Mumbai (Bombay back then) and he reminisced how director Kundan Shah ran out of reels while shooting Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994). He warmly remembered how he was busy sourcing film equipments in Khar Danda; something you won’t associate a Bollywood star to be bothered with!

If i were to describe Shah Rukh Khan in one word, it would be sharp. Sharp words. Sharper memory. He wants you to challenge him with tough questions, unlike most other celebs. Not because he thinks he’s always right but because he always does his homework. His wit is a mere reflection of his preparation. He is, as the bookshelf behind the couch suggested, a wild reader too. If that wasn’t enough, in the middle of the interview, he referred to a piece i had written, mentioning him, earlier that year. That’s how thorough he was. Back then, you couldn’t expect something like this with Salman Khan for two reasons:

  1. He is too cool to care who writes what about him.
  2. By the time he wakes up in the afternoon, morning news has turned stale.

Anyway, we eventually moved to Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Yash Chopra’s last film as a director. And SRK revealed the father-son equation he shared with the veteran filmmaker. He chuckled while regaling a shoot in Switzerland when both of them sat on a bench waiting for the sun to tear out of the gloomy sky. Self-effacing at times, he was anecdotal throughout. He had so much to say and with so much passion.

I had already asked 6 questions on my list when SRK’s manager, standing to his right, started gesturing to me that my time is up. 20 minutes, remember? This is when something epic happened: King Khan lit another cigarette and said, “Arre, it’s OK. Let him finish!

Wow. Simply wow.

If that wasn’t awesomeness, i didn’t know what was. I still don’t. A 20-minute interview went on for 57 minutes. We spoke about why he seldom does movies like Swades (2004) and when he went against the tide by investing in VFX when nobody else in the industry would. He revealed how Ashutosh Gowariker’s dad was the reason why he chose to be a part of Swades. He wished to see SRK as Mohan Bhargava. So, they went ahead and did one of the more sincere Hindi films of the 21st century.

The most admirable bit about SRK was his complete consciousness of his superstardom. He understood the depth of his global recognition but he didn’t let that shadow his intellect. He was extremely wise in his answers and cracked jokes throughout the interview. I walked in nervous whether i’d be able to cover all my questions but he ensured that i walked out feeling better about myself. I had the pleasure of interviewing a lot of big names from the world of cinema, books, music, theatre and arts but then, it doesn’t get bigger than SRK. Everybody knows that.

Fortunately, i learned early in the profession that hobnobbing with popular/powerful people doesn’t make you popular/powerful. You are just another journalist trying to leave a mark. It’s a privilege, yes, to be allowed a peek into those who capture our imagination. Individuals who have earned the highest — quite literally the highest — sobriquet possible in the form of stars and superstars. But as a journalist, it was my job to bring out something worth reading; something i’ll be proud of when i revisit years later. The edited version of this interview was published a week later on the day Jab Tak Hai Jaan released. It was supposed to go full page but eventually got truncated thanks to ad placements. You can’t have it all, now, can you?

I never mentioned this interview anywhere on social media because during my stint with mid-day, i was keen on keeping my profile as a person who posts random shit online and as a journalist who gets to meet really interesting folks separate. Now that i’ve been away from journalism (2 years and 6 days but who’s counting?), i look back on the byline hustle from time to time. Although the process was sometimes difficult on my tiny pockets, it was incredibly fun. You build memories for a living. How’s that for a job description? Particularly when you’re done interviewing SRK, he hugs you and asks, using the word ‘beta’ again, on how you’ll get home. “Will catch the last train, sir” was the reply . While heading out of the room, i could overhear his gang discussing their plan to attend a party later. Their night was about to begin whereas i couldn’t sleep later. I kept listening to the recording, going to and fro, unable to fathom how i ended up with an hour of material. I guess it was only after meeting him that i became a huge fan of his as a person.