Dressed in slacks, a white shirt, smart red corduroy waistcoat and grey blazer, Shahrukh Khan looks every bit the debonair Bollywood star that over a billion people around the world adore.
Starring in romantic super hits like Om Shaanti Om, Main Hoon Na and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Shahrukh’s trademark outspread arms, watery eyes and dimpled smile are probably as famous as his remarkable acting versatility. From his slick villainous performance in Don to the tragedy-ridden romantic in Devdas and the harsh but inspiring hockey coach in Chak De! India Shahrukh’s enviable ability to produce hit after hit has earned him the title King of Bollywood and safely secured his position in the Bollywood hall of fame.
But India’s biggest star has another side to him. In addition to being the nation’s favourite actor, starring in an average of two to three releases a year, he also runs several successful business and most recently secured a deal worth £125m (Rs 98 crore) with Fox for the global rights to his latest film My Name Is Khan’. The deal is one of the biggest in Bollywood history.
In an exclusive interview for Asian Enterprise Puja Vedi speaks to the star and gets the full low-down.
You’re Bollywood’s biggest star, set up your own production company, own an IPL team, you’re Ambassador of TAG Heuer and you’ve just been given an honorary doctorate – am I missing anything out?
(Laughs) No, I don’t count myself like that. I have two beautiful children, a lovely sister and a wonderful wife, I work very hard and that’s my way of thinking of myself.
Everything else, in terms of commerce and the job that I have, is down to the goodness of the people who’ve accepted me. And I’m not being modest or humble, that’s just the way it transpired. Five or six years ago I realised that I have a lot more than I deserve and its not because of me, it has to be because of the love of the people. So whether its Tag Heur, IPL, or the audience who watches my film, I think I’ve had more than my share of kindness from the world and that’s a nice feeling.
With big Hollywood studios like like WB and Disney turning to Bollywood and with Reliance making production pacts in Hollywood, are you planning to go into partnership with a Hollywood studio?
We are a very small company. All the names you mentioned, Reliance, Warner, Sony, Fox, they are big people and I don’t have intentions like this and I don’t think I have the business acumen to do that. I started my production company because there were films that I wanted to make that no one else wanted to make. There were films that I wanted to make a certain way, like Paheli, which have bombed, they haven’t done well, but then there’s Om Shaanti Om and Main Hoon Na, which have done well.
We’d love to work with the big companies, but would I be able to do business on that scale? I don’t think so. I don’t think I have the brains to do it. Why do you say that? You clearly have strong business acumen.
More than business acumen, I don’t have the intention. I don’t look at numbers or figures or conference board meetings. It’s a specialised job and I should be the creative person. I take great pride in the fact that I know creativity and also someone who gets very focused on things. So if I shift my focus to business, which a lot of people anyway believe I do, then I’ll miss out on the great simple pleasures of film-making, like getting the scene right, or getting the shot right. These are some really warm and wonderful things in the films that I do. So I can’t think like that, I’ve tried, but I’m a big failure at board meetings.
How would you say you are doing at this stage of your business career, compared to your acting career?
I know nothing. I haven’t been to my office in two years! My accountant came down last month and he told me what was good and what was bad and I told him to sort out the bad and thanked him for the good. I don’t do many things for the business, but we’re planning to expand and building a big office in Bombay and I want to expand in VFX. I’m planning to expand a little into television.
I’m unwell now because of the [shoulder] injury, so I can’t work for the next six months. I told my accountant last night that I’ll have time to set some new things in place. So I’ll look back at the Kolkatta Knight Riders, I’m meeting with Saurav Ganguly later. The business part I don’t really handle. I’ve got really good people who do it. And they really are good people because we don’t lose money. But we don’t make great money either and if we lose money, they tell me and I’ll do an ad or a show and get the money back.
But I think I’m going to restructure everything, because I think God has given me an opportunity with this injury to assimilate and organise everything I’ve done in the past five or six years.
What’s the plan?
I want to produce a few smaller films, without me in them, so I have a few plans. There are two or three young boys who want direct films, so I’ll set that up. I have two big films happening in the year.
There’s KKR, for which the business part is ok, but the team part we need to organise. It’s not doing well. We have a new coach, new players, new practice sessions. I spoke with Saurav and met the other players, like Ricky Ponting, and set up a system to address how to go forward and how do these senior players take care of it, because they all feel bad they lost, I’m assuming.
Then I need to organise structuring my office. I spoke with KPMG and they’re giving me some feedback and small things like human resources, security. I need bigger offices and put everything under one roof.
Do you ever worry that you might fail in business, especially after what happened with Amitabh Bachchan?
I don’t think Amitji has ever failed, I think its just a little bit that proved to everyone that if you’re Amitabh Bachchan you can even beat failure every time you want. Honestly, I think he’s the most successful human being as far as I’m concerned, forget the business part of it. And to be honest, I don’t think I’m as good as him or can ever be.
Everybody is scared and I have failed so often that that’s why I’m so successful now.
Failure gives you two options: one – you have to believe that either it was never meant to be and you failed, so it was fate and the second part is that maybe you’re not good enough.
So when my production company started and we failed three times in a row, I said ok, this is fate and secondly I’m not good enough to do this. But now I think I’m good enough to do this because I do it for other productions. My films are successful through other productions.
With cricket, I can’t do anything. It’s a game that’s being played, I can’t go and take wickets. I would and try to hit sixers. But you can’t, so one part of the business is to create things that are much bigger than the cricket part of it. I need to create these platforms, I need youngsters to understand that sport is wonderful, like I do.
You are in the entertainment business, why go into the sports business?
When somebody asks me why I do something, I always say ‘why not?’
I like sports, I’m a sportsman by nature and I have always played sports. I want to provide a professional stage for youngsters to have the option to be a professional player who earns enough that they can dedicate their life to it. When you don’t have the option to dedicate your life to something that you can’t sustain yourself with, then you don’t go for it. I think its part of my job to do this because I want youngsters to play sports. So when the opportunity came I took it.
At this point it’s making money also. Of course we’re not playing well and that’s pathetic. I’m very sad, I don’t like it, it disturbs me and I’m very depressed about it. Second, it knocks you flat out, but I have this ability that I can mess around with failure and it’s a masochistic thought of mind. That I want to go and win this.
What percentage of your time and effort is spent on your business?
I do my acting prep in the car driving to the location, I don’t prepare too much. I prepare when I’m doing the scripting. I spend 60 per cent of time with my kids, 35 per cent on film and the character that I’m doing and 4 per cent on business. One per cent I have no idea what I’m doing – it’s Shahrukh Khan time. I just show off and say how good I am in interviews. (laughs)
What specifically are you doing with KKR?
I read the papers and people are giving me lots of suggestions.
But are you following any of them?
No, not one. (smiles)
We have a new coach, new players and I’m getting the senior guys to take more interest and telling them to work things out, because they feel worse when we lose. And they all love the team – Brendon McCullum, Ricky Ponting, Gayle, Dada (Ganguly) – and they always say how frustrated they’re feeling. But sports is like this. Nobody rated Pakistan to come and win the World Cup and they won. India was supposed to be the dream team. The game is like that.
People who don’t play always write suggestions of what do to with the team. But people who play, they just go and play. So we’ll just come back next year and play.
How does a doctorate rank along with the numerous awards you have won?
It’s very nice – I love all my awards. I don’t know if it’s an award, but it’s a different kind of honour. It’s great fun, with people calling me doctor. I’ve been telling everyone that I’ve been working in the industry for 21 years, hoping that people start calling me an actor, but before they call me an actor they’ll call me a doctor.
What is your vision for Red Chillies Entertainment moving forward?
The vision is very simple: don’t lose money, that’s all. How much we make is not important.
I’m just hoping to do a lot of work, make a lot of money and everybody who wants to make films within those 100 people makes all the films they wish and I hope we get more organised and remain a small company.
I’m anti-corporate as far as filmmaking is concerned. We don’t believe in numbers of films. I believe each film is very individualistic and creative. You cannot make a mass production of films! I truly believe that. It is personality driven. It’s not about the good product, it’s about the good people in the company. So it’s taken me years to get good people, hopefully we’ll get even more good people and we’ll make some good films and not lose money.
How do you relax with so much going on in your life?
This whole interview has been lies, I don’t know anything about business and I don’t pay attention to it all. I don’t carry a phone, I don’t even discuss business. I discovered my secretary was making a documentary on me and I saw it and she was telling me that I do all these multi-million dollar deals in the lift while running away with my children, without answering any questions.
I’m always relaxed. I don’t think I’m looking at the share market or the price of petroleum, I’m not thinking about expanding or taking over Warner Bros. I just want to tell good stories and when you tell good stories you become relaxed. And when you tell a story like a grandma you’ll be very relaxed. And I’m just like your grandma, I’m just very relaxed and tell good stories.
Grandma’s tell the best stories. Grandfather’s tell the good jokes, I think. My only worry at night is that will I have a good story to tell tomorrow? And invariably I have. I tell good stories, so I’m very relaxed and I don’t have any issues.