Issue / King Khan

King Khan

Aug 10, 2013

By nature, he's a warm, candid man. And this evening, as he relaxes at the uber-trendy Nirvana restaurant in Beverly Hills, stories roll off his tongue like honey from a spoon. Stories about Bollywood versus old world Hollywood. Stories about life, liberty and the pursuit of love while breaking out into a roadside dance number. Over the course of our midnight chat sipping chai, intelligent anecdotes spill forth in a random, spontaneous fervour, all illuminating one central fact: at the age of 40, Shah Rukh Khan is bringing forth his finest work, showing us why movie insiders consider him to be one of the most accomplished and exciting actors in Bollywood…and why Hollywood needs to pay attention.

Described by Time Magazine as "the world's biggest movie star in terms of recognition”, Khan is getting the global recognition he deserves at last. With approximately fifty films to his credit, his star power rivals that of Tom Cruise. His recent film, Paheli, was chosen as India's official entry for the Oscars Foreign Language Film category. In Paheli, Khan's smooth, seamless performance showed his ability, once again, to play the sophisticated leading man.

King Khan, as he is known in the industry, has been able to assume all sides of his on-screen characters while developing his talents from serious roles that stretch his acting abilities. But in the end, he yearns for a place in cinematic lore that reminds us how to feel. The desire is honest. You can hear it in his words. Between his pre-Oscar screenings, Khan and ANOKHI reporter Navdeep Mundi had the chance to discuss the impact of the Bollywoodization of Hollywood.

NM: Do you think Bollywood can or does influence Hollywood?
SRK: I think the word influence is wrong. I don’t think we influence anyone as of yet. But yes, as a trend, a country making 900 films a year, perhaps being the only surviving film industry, Bollywood will make an impact and be noticed by the western world. The impact will not be creative but be more commercial.

NM: Commercial in what sense?
SRK: Hollywood decides if the Indian market is large enough for it to invest in. Only then would it garner some support. I don’t think creatively Hollywood would look elsewhere. They are quite happy with what they have.

NM: Could Bollywood themes that are often referred to as ‘escapist’ transfer to Hollywood?
SRK: Hollywood is just as escapist. The President of the U.S. sitting in a rocket going to destroy a meteor is escapism. Star Wars is escapism. King Kong is escapist. Lord of the Rings is escapist. Cinema is escapism as a whole. It’s easier to say Bollywood is escapist and it’s all fantasy but at the end of the day, Hollywood films are more fantastic, and Bollywood films are more realistic. There are more chances of people breaking out into a song and dance number on the road than of people sitting in a launch pad in NASA and fighting in space.

NM: But aren’t themes of life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness found in Bollywood today reminiscent of 1940s Hollywood classics such as Casablanca?
SRK: The scope of life you have here has moved on. It’s more mechanized. I was in Germany and found out that Indian films are very popular in Germany now – more popular than German films. I met a group of young women when visiting Germany, and they said they loved Indian films. I asked them why. They said because you can make us cry. We’ve forgotten how to cry. When mechanization happens, one of the few things you leave out is a bit of reality and rawness. So, the only thing that can come from Indian films is reality and rawness. Our stories are a little more real. I don’t think there can be any teachings from Bollywood to Hollywood.

NM: So, if you were to bring one film from India to Hollywood, which would it be and why?
SRK: I think DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) is nice, Veer Zaara too, but if an American made it, they would make it about a love story between Germany and England because the knowledge of the tensions between India and Pakistan is so little here. So it’s silly of us to assume Hollywood would be impressed by a Bollywood love story.

NM: What is Hollywood impressed by?
SRK: It is impressed by the market that India can provide. The Japanese film industry has not survived. There’s a lot of optimism in the fact that we are the only film industry in the world that has survived. But, maybe I am the wrong guy to ask. I’m personally very proud of Indian films.

NM: But you are the right person to ask. After all, your fan base outnumbers even the top Hollywood actors.
SRK: But, the fan base is Indian. It may be global by numbers, but Americans don’t recognize me. Brits recognize me, Germans recognize me and Indians do. I don’t want to deny anyone, but Americans don’t see beyond Americans. They are quite self-sufficient and satisfied with that. I wish my country was selfsufficient, but it’s not, so we have to accept it and live with it. I’m not being pessimistic, but that is the truth.

NM: What would be the catalyst for Bollywood making its mark in Hollywood?
SRK: The catalyst would be the stories.

NM: What would be the perfect story that would translate well?
SRK: Any love story.

NM: Are Indian love stories any different?
SRK: Love stories are never different. It’s how they are narrated. I see the narration of a love story in Hollywood more straightjacketed, a little briefer, to the point, clear, not so mushy. Our stories are a bit mushier, a little convoluted, a little louder, a little more black and white.

NM: I feel Hollywood movies are sometimes more black and white.
SRK: See, sometimes, screenplay writing requires you to be more straightforward. Our screenplays meander because we have songs and less characterization.

NM: And I thought Bollywood had more characterization seeing as how they go into more character depth with their longer story developments.
SRK: You are an Indian movie fan. You don’t see realistically. (Laughs)

NM: Do you have any forthcoming projects in Hollywood?
SRK: Nobody has offered me a film in Hollywood…yet.

NM: Would you do a Hollywood film?
SRK: If it’s good enough, then yes. I don’t think I’m geared towards spending a lot of time in Hollywood. And, I’m not being pompous, but I am very well ensconced and very happy with what I do as an actor. I don’t understand the game of agents, ICM (International Creative Management, Inc.), etc.

NM: Well, we definitely look forward to seeing more of you here, especially for us ABCDs, who identify with Indian sensibilities through your work.
SRK: What is an ABCD?

NM: American-Born Confused Desis.
SRK: Confused is the catchword here. Understand me from my point of view. Don’t try to bring me here and confuse me as well!

NM: Don’t worry, bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti…


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