And Shah Rukh Khan, having put the kids to bed and packed off the last of his visitors, is in conversation with me over coffee and cigarettes. He’s most at home in low-slung jeans from under which his briefs boldly peep, a loose tee and sneakers. But then he is at home! And we are in his living room.
Gauri Khan’s living room, actually, whose size, furniture, colour, lights and other trappings are so amazingly spectacular, they take the breath away. Shah Rukh and the kids are not allowed to run wild in here. “But when Gauri’s not around, we do everything, we even let the dog pee,” he says, eyes crinkling in mischief and the mouth twisting in that famous lop-sided grin.
At this hour, he’s wide awake and sharp as a whip. Somewhere in the house, his trainer Prashant is asleep. When he feels like it, even if it is 2 am, Shah Rukh will wake him up and workout for 35 minutes. “I like to sweat,” he tells me. “I train non-stop, there’s no rest break, no music, this is not rocket science — I just do a circuit of exercises, then have a bath and eat some food.”
But we aren’t talking workouts, nor films, not even Salman Khan. We are talking about Shah Rukh himself. He surprises me by saying, “I’m a schizo on the loose. I’m two people, Shah Rukh 1 and 2. One works for the other. The guy I’m working for is hugely successful — but he’s not me. People say I play Shah Rukh Khan. My roles are a means to an end. Not true. My work defines me. But I have no identity of my own. My identity is that of my employer who is employed by the audience.”
This is the same actor, the story goes, who manipulates people and controls Bollywood. “Control is a strong word,” Shah Rukh protests, “I don’t have power, though I’m listed on the power list along with Mukeshbhai and Laxmi Mittal. Yet, because I’m a giver, I’m able to draw a lot of people on my side. Greatness and goodness lies in giving. I like to believe that a lot of people come on board because they want to do things for me. They’re givers, too. I don’t have to ask people to join me. So if I control Bollywood, it is by giving — not taking, nobody gives to a taker. I’m giving, these people are giving, somewhere there is a symbiotic relationship. But, I think, your idea of ‘control’ is me picking up the phone and saying, ‘Bhai, mera picture ka sab show full jana chahiye,’ right?”
I dodge the question by asking, at 43, how many years of good cinema he’s got left. Poker faced, he replies, “Eighty-seven! I believe that physically, emotionally, and cinematically I’m unbreakable. Time is a measure of frailty. And good cinema is like good thoughts... not bound by anything. Acting can’t be written about, talked, discussed, analysed, because 90 per cent of the words used to describe acting are expressionless. You’ve got to feel acting. That’s what I do. I’ve stopped giving time to myself. The last 20 years have been my best period. I run my own race. If you run long enough, you can beat the rest, because this race is of length... not time. I enjoy making films. But I’m not attached to their success or failure. In fact, I’m detached from my films. Once they’re made — I let go. Films are mini life. By Friday night, I’m already moving on. My directors get disturbed!”
He never even sees his own films, at least not with the thought of enjoying them, nor anybody else’s either... unless it’s important to them. Ditto the family. “Gauri and I have brought up our kids to think their Dad’s films are nothing special,” reveals Shah Rukh. “And that, in life, it’s not special to be special, but it’s special to be ordinary. My films are all about that. I show the inside of a good outside hero. You know, the Clark Kent behind Superman. If he were to fly and save the world would you think less of him because he isn’t cool and doesn’t wear tights? My life’s like that. I may live like a king, but I’m ordinary in my beliefs, I’m simple, ugly and boring... yet I’m happy to be me.”
And, why not, which ordinary man romances the sexiest heroines on screen? “So what,” Shah Rukh asks, “I love them all, I share close relationships with them, but I don’t kiss them on screen, and I don’t have sex with them off screen. I’m somewhat conventional. I don’t think sex outside is bad. But I have a beautiful wife at home. I think real men are those that respect women; those that make no external show of their manhood; those that are gentle and kind... it’s okay to be dandy and look pansy instead of trying to be macho; and, those that open doors for women. If you can be charming, laugh, and don’t let them feel all you want to do is get them in bed... the girls will love you. I’m a ladies man. I’m okay with talk of my being gay and bisexual. I’m man enough to be in touch with my sensitive side. I can be happy and still cry. I don’t need to prove I’m heterosexual. Except to my son... when I show him I still have the six-pack.”
He’s opening up now, but it’s late. He steps outdoors to see me off. “I go to the rooftop and pray to the stars,” he says, surprising me for the second time that night. “Two of the stars are my parents. But I pray for simple things. That my son does well in his tae-kwon-do championship. And that my daughter is happy with her painting. I tell my mom, ‘Where you’ve gone, you can put yourself to some good use.’ There has to be some kind of trade-off for the loss of my parents. But I also read the Quran, I pray in Arabic, English, Hindi hoping that God is multi-lingual and understands at least one of my prayers. Gauri recites the Gayatri Mantra. Our kids do both. This house is amazing. My daughter asks, ‘Are we Pathans or Punjabis?’ I confuse them by saying, ‘We are Christians!’’’