Shah Rukh Khan: I still have some acting left in me
As he sits in his library at Mannat, his residence-cum-office in Mumbai, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan is smiling, thanks to the immense success of Chennai Express.
While running his Red Chillies Entertainments company for more than a decade, Khan has matured as a businessman.
In an interview with Urvi Malvania, he talks about the business of films, how entertainment is recession-proof and about the industry’s obsession with the Rs 100-crore box office tag.
Chennai Express hit the Rs 100-crore box office tag in just four days, a record. What does this mean to you?
It’s nice to know people are watching the film and liking it. As far as the Rs 100-crore benchmark goes, I feel it is limiting. It may sound philosophical but when you are aiming for something, I feel the sky is the limit. With the distribution and ticket prices today, Rs 100 crore is attainable if you have your content and strategy right.
I feel if you want to aim, aim for the next unassailable figure; aim for Rs 200 crore or Rs 500 crore.
The numbers will keep changing. A few years ago, Rs 100 crore was a rarity. I think it’s time we start aiming higher and I am sure in the years to come, these would be attainable figures. I feel when you make a popular film today, Rs 100 crore should be the starting number.
Image: Shah Rukh Khan in Chennai Express
'Lipstick and entertainment don't suffer even during an economic slump'
The economy is facing a severe slowdown. But it has been a great year for Bollywood. This was the case in 2008, too. Is there an indirect correlation?
I read somewhere that during an economic slump, two things that don’t suffer are lipstick and entertainment. Their sales never dip.
So, I think when you are going through a (bad) phase in the economy, the only vent you have is participating in some unwinding activity. I think entertainment provides that.
It could be television or sports or movies or just dressing up -- you feel good about yourself. I think entertainment is like the lipstick of the economy — it makes people feel good about themselves.
I think movies are the greatest escape and I feel it’s alright to escape for a while. Different people have different preferences and movies are the most effective means.
You mentioned strategies. Budgeting, too, is part of the strategy. How crucial is it while making a film today?
I always tend to go a tad overboard with budgets in my films. Here’s the thing -- you need to set a budget and stick to it. But sometimes, the scale and size of the film require you to splurge.
As a producer, I know I have to justify the spends and so I do my best.
Sometimes it works; when it doesn’t, I listen to the ‘we told you so’ lecture from my team and move on to the next project.
Also, strategy helps your film reach audiences in a more effective way. Ideally, I would suggest there should be a creative team and a strategy team so designed that they complement each other to being the most effective strategy for a release.
Some films require a widespread release, while some need a targeted release.
Also, with foreign studios coming to India and taking an interest in Bollywood, it has become easier to take our movies abroad. Now, we not only have the advantage of a massive audience at home but can also expand Bollywood’s footprint abroad.
Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Shah Rukh Khan/Twitter
'With Chennai Express, we now have funds to pump money into our other productions'
Do you see scripts in India changing? Is there more ‘mature’ cinema available?
I think mature cinema, as you put it, always existed. What has changed is observers.
Suddenly, people are taking note of offbeat movies. I strongly believe there is a market for all sorts of movies. Just don’t compare movies. Each movie should be seen as an individual entity.
What are your plans for Red Chillies Entertainments?
Red Chillies is my baby.
I started the company 12 years ago with the intention of making movies that might not find backing from most producers. It is where I can channelise my creativity into production. Over time, we have had hits and misses; in fact, more misses. But it’s a venture I am proud of and intend to grow.
With Chennai Express, we now have funds to pump money into our other productions and I hope we make at least three movies a year. I started it with the intention of making at least 25 recognised films and, at 11 films, we are almost halfway there.
For Red Chillies, my focus is also to develop VFX (visual special effects) capabilities. We have the technology. In fact, we are the only ISO-certified production house for VFX.
We have a trained staff of 150-200 people, who have done great work for Chennai Express and Krrish 3.
Also, the deal here is to be creative.
I don’t want a VFX unit that simply removes the wires from the scenes. No! I want my team to be able to put their talent to work, to create something. We have trained these people for four-five years and they deserve to be doing work that excites and satisfies their creative instincts.
We are also in talks with some foreign films for VFX work and there, too, the focus is to get work that is not run-off-the-mill and something that stimulates my staff’s talent.
Image: Deepika Padukone, Shah Rukh Khan and Rohit Shetty on the sets of Chennai Express
'When I stick to what the director tells me to do, I deliver hits'
You are an actor and producer. Any plans on direction?
Not yet. No! I still have some acting left in me.
More, I am not sure if the audiences would receive my writing or direction with the same acceptance as they do my acting.
Over the years, I have noticed when I try to be involved behind the camera, things don’t go so well. When I stick to what the director tells me to do, I deliver hits. So, till the time I regain my confidence on that front, I’ll prefer to stick to acting and producing.
A lot of actors are turning producers. Do you see a trend there?
I don’t think it’s a trend. I think a lot of people are becoming producers because they can. I mean no offense to anyone and I have nothing personal here but I have been a producer for 12 years.
I set up a building for Red Chillies, I invested time, money and energy in it, I was there with my team in the failures we faced and I am there to enjoy the success. But then, everyone has their own way of looking at it. Like I said, nothing personal; it’s just my point of view.
Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Chirag Wakaskar/Getty Images
'I will take up any business through which I can entertain people'
How are things on the Kolkata Knight Riders front?
We have the advantage of being a celebrity-backed franchise but the team has also come together so well. We have been able to get some fantastic brand on board and so far, it has been great going.
Any other investments?
There’s Kidzania. It’s a novel concept and I am glad I could get it to India. It’s a fun place for kids -- they can learn not through books but through real-life experience and role play.
The one thing I know is that I love entertaining people.
So, whatever I do, even if it is not films or sports, I shall make sure I entertain people. Kidzania is close to my heart because it has to do with kids.
Similarly, if there is a business prospect through which I can entertain people, I’ll take it up.
Image: Shah Rukh Khan
Photographs: Abhijit Mhamunkar