'Don't do it if you only want to wear good clothes and drive a flashy car. Get into banking, then.'
Usually, a Shah Rukh Khan interview will start at least four, five hours from the stipulated time.
But the superstar surprised everyone by coming right on time for the promotions of his latest film, Zero.
How did this miracle happen?
"Suhana has disciplined me," Shah Rukh answers with a smile, referring to his daughter and clearly the apple of his eye.
Dressed casually in green cargos, a black tee and a grey jacket, SRK seems very excited about his VFX-heavy film, which will see him romance his Jab Tak Hai Jaan co-stars, Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif.
In an hour-long chat, King Khan tells Rediff.com Contributor Urvi Parikh, "As an artist, I have never felt complete."
Zero looks different. Are you trying out experimental movies?
No. It is like how you try to create a different character with every film.
It is like growing a moustache.
But the technology to do a dwarf movie is very long.
This film's basis is different.
All of us spend our lives thinking I wish I could be happier or I wish I was like this.
We don't realise that no one is perfect, except Katrina Kaif -- that's something I always joke about!
But nobody is perfect -- mentally, physically or emotionally.
We should accept that so that we don't try to be like someone else while life passes us by.
Instead of thinking of it as an incompleteness, you should think of it as a uniqueness.
If I am short, it's not an incompleteness, it's uniqueness.
To convey this, we needed three kinds of incompleteness -- Bauua is a physically challenged person, then there's a genius who has cerebral palsy and then you have the most beautiful woman in the world, who is emotionally incomplete.
Me, playing Bauua, helps the story.
Aanand (L Rai, director) and I didn't want it to be a gimmick. There is nothing offensive.
Secondly, we didn't want the movie to be sympathetic towards the physically and mentally challenged characters.
Throughout the film, we haven't shown anything, which will evoke sahanubhuti (pity) from the audience.
Aanand, as a story teller, has also not done that.
We wanted to bring out equality.
Do you feel complete, as an artist and human being?
As an artist, I have never felt complete.
If I am complete, why would I wake up in the morning and work hard?
I always think that within the commercial cinema set-up that I am working in, how can I bring in something new, as an actor or as a producer?
If you think you are complete, you are boring.
As the saying goes, the journey is important. If I cross what I feel is an achievement, I don't think of it as an end-line. I think of it as a milestone.
But I don't plan for it.
I don't think that I should earn so much or win so many awards or make so many hit films.
If you have worked in films for as long as I have, specifics become less important.
After 25 years of working, I have realised that the only reason you should be working on is the happiness of your art.
Was it difficult shooting a movie with such heavy VFX?
No. The first seven-eight days, we took time to shoot.
It took us longer than we realised.
We took 200 days to shoot, instead of 140. But nothing beyond that.
It is a very cozy, small, emotional film. We did not want to lose out on the coziness of the movie by promoting it as a VFX movie.
The VFX crew told us to shoot it our way and they would manage.
Of course, I had to be careful about some small things. Like, if I had to climb stairs, they made a ramp, which would then be made into stairs otherwise the leg would go higher up.
Most of the time, I was in the pit, so the rest of the people could see me at that height.
What was it like shooting against a green screen?
We had to import a machine from the US called the TechnoDolly. It's used a lot in Game Of Thrones.
Buying the machine wasn't enough; we had to also get the person who runs it.
When the TechnoDolly team arrived, we realised they had their own way of running the machine.
So our director had to learn working with the system from scratch.
Moreover, we couldn't see what we had shot until it was edited two months later.
In the song with Salman Khan, the scene where I jump on to Salman, he was standing on a platform and we had to hook him up because he had to be stable when I jumped on him.
But Salman is so strong, he didn't need any hook.
That solved many of our problems.
Did you meet with dwarfs for research purposes?
We had someone named Ashish; he's an actor from Delhi.
The idea was not to use a body double, so we did not want a duplicate.
We wanted my body and face.
But he did a lot of mehnat (hard work).
He would set up the shots for scenes with girls as tall as Katrina or Anushka, so that the camera people knew the basic movements and angles.
We needed the right perspective, so he was very helpful.
Do you get nervous or excited before a film release?
Normally, we are working so hard that we are very tired and there's no feeling left!
You just hope that what you have made is liked by people.
And you never know, sometimes people like it, sometimes they don't.
Do you think movie-making has become more challenging because the audience is constantly judging the content?
VFX has to be made prominent in Hindi films for better story-telling.
I think the new influx of audience that will come, say kids who are seven-eight years old now, they will not be forgiving of the cinematic VFX and sound effects because they are used to the best.
They are watching the latest things on the mobile (phone).
Most children, even in the rural areas, will grow up watching the best movies from around the world.
They would be very unforgiving of the excuse that 'Hindi film main sab chalta hai.'
We will be the last generation who will see a tacky film and say, 'Pehli baar thodi bani hai.'
We are used to such films.
Now, I'm used to those recliner seats in multiplexes, that popcorn, the foyers.
When I was growing up, the theatres were run down.
Now, if you take me back to them, I won't be able to adjust.
We are used to quality now. And now, youngsters have become used to it.
When I say VFX, we only think of Baahubali. But that should not be the case.
We have to use VFX in the smallest of films.
Do you agree that sometimes your movies have been ahead of its times?
When a film flops, it is best to say it was ahead of its times (laughs).
Three-four months ago, somebody asked me, 'What does "ahead of its time" mean? Time toh yahin hai. How do we know what will come later?'
But yes, you are right.
Swades flopped. In retrospect, was it ahead of its time? Or maybe we realise its relevance now.
At that point, people went with different expectations, and they were disappointed.
I hope that people like Zero. It is not based only on technology, it is more like an Aanand L Rai story.
What were the challenges of shooting for Zero?
I shot in a one-and-a-half foot deep pit.
So, personally, I didn't feel short.
In the trailer, there is a line: 'Rishta barabari ka hua hai'. That is because both of us are of the same height -- she when standing and me when sitting.
But I had to take some precautions.
My hand and feet movements had to be precise and controlled.
My props were made slightly bigger in size: If the others were using an iPhone 8, I was given an iPhone 10. If we were reading a book, my book would be bigger so that when they shrunk me in post-production, the objects looked natural in my hands.
My clothes fitting size was different.
We also wanted Bauua to have a little paunch, but not too prominent because he is still a Hindi film hero and had to look attractive.
Your character Bauua Singh has a wicked sense of humour. Is it a reel life reflection of Shah Rukh Khan?
It could be because Himanshu (Sharma, writer), Aanand and I have that wicked sense of humour.
When the girls saw the film, they were like 'He is so wicked. We are not used to seeing Shah Rukh like this'.
But there is a reason for it.
There is a line in the film when his friend says, 'Bhagwanji tujhe punish karenge', to which Bauua replies, 'Aur kitna karenge? Ab kar toh diya.'
So there is a certain kind of cynicism in him.
Sometimes, people -- due to their inabilities -- get angry or irritated.
We didn't make him antsy, we made him funnily wicked.
He isn't educated, so he's a little crass also.
Personally, I would never be able to say this... and it's such a rude thing to say... 'Hamare yahan plot dekhne ke paise thodi lagte hai' (Bauua tells Anushka's Aafia as he seems to be scouting for a relationship).
As the film progresses, you will take Bauua's rudeness as honesty.
In fact, when I was new in the industry, people didn't understand my humour and would often think I was rude.
A lot of journalists thought I was rude and arrogant.
When I look back at those quotes -- 'I am not junk food, I'm tandoori chicken'; 'I have come to rule, not to be ruled' -- I realise I wasn't arrogant.
I had the lack of knowledge of the art and craft of acting.
If you know very little about, say, science, you tend to speak a lot.
You assume that the atomic model is all there is -- you don't know there's also quantum physics, the string theory, the wave theory... So I was like that.
Today, I find a billion things to work on and perfect in my craft.
I may not have the same capability, talent, time or stardom as the years go by, but there's no dearth of things I want to improve upon within the commercial set-up.
There's a lot to achieve as an actor.
I'm doing a biopic on astronaut Rakesh Sharma next. I am already wondering how to bring dignity to the character.
Should I copy him?
Should I mimic him?
Or should I play him differently with his permission?
I wish I knew earlier in my career that there's so much to do as an actor.
Do you think the audience has become critical of what you do?
You need to tell different stories.
For instance, Chak De! India did well, but that doesn't mean I should keep doing the same film.
That is safety.
As an artist, you cannot keep making the same painting.
We keep making the same films because commercially, we need to have a similar format. It has to be two hours long, there has to be songs, two action sequences, some romance...
Now within that, if I get caught into this idea of making a movie like the one before, it will not work.
Chak De! India wasn't liked by anyone of us, but the audience loved it.
DDLJ, we had thought that people wouldn't watch it listening to that title, but it is going on still in theatres.
During Devdas, I remember we were at Cannes and a critic wrote that it was over the top. But people loved it.
So you never know.
Sometimes, the reaction of the audience is important.
I have to make sure that I strike a chord with the audience and it should touch their hearts.
Also, because of social media, you hear more about this. Maybe people criticised films even before, but that did not reach us.
I will tell you about an instance. Dil Toh Pagal Hai had released, and Yashji (Chopra) came to me and said, 'Beta, yeh picture achi nahi bani. Critics are saying it is bad.'
We called up Adi (Aditya Chopra) and told him about it. He told us to wait till Monday or Tuesday.
On Monday, we learnt that the movie was a hit and the audience loved it.
Nowadays, due to social media, the reactions come very early.
The same thing happened when Deewana released.
I was shooting King Uncle with Rakesh Roshan. He had told me, 'Arre yaar, teri picture hai na Deewana, wo chal gayi.'
Then I walked from Mehboob studios to my house, when Salim (Khan) uncle said, 'Yaar teri picture chal gayi. Logon ko tera wala haircut chahiye.'
I got to know on Saturday that the movie was a hit. The reactions back then were quick, but not like social media.
It's quite possible that 10 people in Bandra (the north west Mumbai suburb where he lives) wouldn't have liked Deewana, but there was no place to voice their opinion.
However, information need not be considered as true reactions.
Now, we hear 100 people talking. Earlier, it was two people talking.
So information should be understood properly, and not taken negatively.
In a career spanning almost three decades, you have worked with some of the best directors. Do you still have a wish list?
I really enjoyed working with Mani Ratnam. I wish he has a film where he thinks I can work in it. He wanted me to do Raavan, but I couldn't do it.
Aanand sir is someone I want to work with again. But this time, it will be an action film.
(Sanjay Leela) Bhansali is a lot of fun. It's been a while since I did that kind of movie.
I want to work with Rajkumar Hirani.
Suhana was present on the sets of Zero. Does she want to act?
She wanted to gather some production experience because a part of learning acting is to spend time on production.
I was shooting the song Mera Naam Tu for Zero when Suhana came on the sets.
I wanted her to watch Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma because both are such different actors. Katrina has charm and Anushka has her way of enacting things.
I wanted Suhana to benefit from spending time with them.
But Suhana became more like a manager and made sure I reached my sets on time!
Ground work is good for an actor, but only when you are an intern.
Studying is equally important and I want her to finish that first.
In India, we don't give importance to studies. We assume we have 'talent'. If you drive fast, you are not going to be a Formula One driver. You have to learn it.
Acting is not just a job, it should be a turn-on every second. It is about how desperately, longingly and crazily you want to act.
Don't do it if you only want to wear good clothes and drive a flashy car. Get into banking, then.
So I want Suhana to learn it.