'It takes a lot to beat me'
Why Shah Rukh Khan believes in competing with himself
Shah Rukh Khan was in Cannes when his latest film, Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, starring Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan hit the screens in India.
For Khan and for several others, including Madhuri Dixit, the success of the movie was crucial.
More crucial is Sanjay Leela Bhansali's epic, Devdas, which enjoyed an an out-of-competition screening. It was the first masala film from Mumbai to be screened at the world famous festival. How the film fares in India is a matter of importance for Khan and Bhansali.
Khan addressed this and several other issues of his career and his experiences at Cannes in an exclusive interview with Kryztoff de Breza:
How does it feel to be in Cannes?
It has been wonderful for two reasons: we have a film here. Second, we are walking on a strip of land where everyone is doing the same
thing --- making films. They may speak different languages, but all of them have a story to tell.
What is the response to Devdas from the audience and your colleagues from the industry?
They have been very gracious and encouraging. Everybody seems to have liked the film. Remember that it is nearly a three-hour film, with a style and language totally different from what most [Western] people are used to.
For them to accept that, watch the film in one go and appreciate it made me feel good.
I look at it as a sign. Finally, there is a beginning of an understanding of our language.
Were you surprised by the response?
I am not surprised by the graciousness of the Western audience. I have been to other festivals at Venice and Toronto, where they have all been very nice. But the fact that they are responding to a different style and language [mainstream song-and-dance formula, as opposed to art house films previously screened at Cannes], is heartening and encouraging.
How do you think Devdas will do in India?
When I do a film, I don't normally think about its commercial angle. I do them because I want to do them. Some are nice; some are bad. What counts is that I feel fulfilled having done them.
Devdas has been so fulfilling that I have decided to take six months off for the first time
in ten years. I have decided not to work, just to soak in what I have done in the film and what it has done to me.
To answer your question, you have no control over how the audience will react to a film. But I am very sure people will react well.
Do you think Devdas has opened the gates to Western markets for other Indian films?
Opening gates is an all-encompassing term. I don't want to sound discouraging. But what it did is at least put us on the road to the gates which still need to be opened.
You had Aamir [Khan] taking Lagaan to the Oscars; Asoka was also appreciated internationally. Even [Mira Nair's] Monsoon Wedding, though not a typical Hindi masala film, has done well.
This is the growth of a trend in Hindi or Asian cinema.
We should build on it, not let it die. We have been offered a platform. The road is there; the gate is in sight. We should now work towards opening it.
Have you been approached by Western directors? What would your response be, if approached?
I met [filmmaker] Martin Scorcese yesterday. I was incredibly happy just to shake his hand.
I don't want to sound pompous or strange. Of course, I have been approached. The UK market is very big and many want me to work in films there.
You see, in Cannes, everyone has their own dream. I don't want to steal their dreams or become part of their dream. I am ok with my dream: to work in Hindi films. For me, the dream would be to get an Indian film, made Indian-style, and have it appreciated by people all over the world, like Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful.
I have not been offered anything concrete, but if it does not happen, I am not going to say, "Oh my God!"
Is Cannes just another film festival for you or is it something special?
You know, if your film is showing even on the television, that television becomes the most important thing for you. So yes, Cannes is important because my film is showing here.
What I really really loved about Cannes is the way everyone appreciates films --- from the guy who is taking your photographs on the red carpet and the man who heads Cannes to the lady escorting you around. From the audience that applauds at the end of the film and the press you talk to, you know they are all here to encourage you.
It's as if they are just waiting for you. You know there are better known filmmakers and stars around you. But people make you feel just as important as the others. That is the single most outstanding experience at Cannes. I will remember Cannes all my life for that.
Are you happy with the way your life is moving ahead?
I could not have asked for more. I have been working for ten years. I like my job; I get paid well; I am doing well. I travel all over the world. My films are being liked or disliked, which happens in every line of work.
So it has been happiest ten years of my life. Asking for anything more than this would be greedy.
What about competition? There was a time you were considered the unchallenged number one. But now there are other people?
I was never the unchallenged number one. I have never been number one. I think Hrithik Roshan is number one; Aamir Khan is number one; Amitabh Bachchan is number one.
I am the least qualified of all the film stars, and I am very happy to be that way.
You mean you don't compete with others?
No. I compete with myself. [Olympian] Carl Lewis did not compete with others.
I think that is the best way to remain focused. I need to be better than myself. It takes a lot to beat me. I don't have time to think about others.
More on Cannes 2002:
Why Devdas is a troublesome, but dear child
Issh! The new buzzword at Cannes
Indian delegation happy at Cannes
A Kapoor moment at Cannes
Ash shines at Cannes
India's first animation gets Cannes nod
Devdas' moment of fame at Cannes