A meeting with Shah Rukh Khan is nothing less than interesting, informative and full of anecdotes. We caught up with the actor during a recent media interaction where he spoke at length about his upcoming film Raees. The film stars Khan as a bootlegger who slowly rises up the ranks as a powerful Mafia don and is being pursued by an honest cop (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

After several delays and controversies including a political row owing to the presence of Pakistani actress and Khan’s co-star in the film Mahira Khan, the Rahul Dholakia directed film finally hits the screens on January 25.

Despite not being in the best of health (by his own admission), Shah Rukh Khan was all smiles as he addressed the media during the interaction.

From prepping up for his role to the flip side of being a celebrity in the times of omnipresent social media, the actor answered varied questions with his trademark wit and demeanour.

Below are excerpts from the same.

Shah Rukh Khan in Raees

You played a gangster earlier in Don and now in Raees. How different is your role in Raees from the one you played in Don?

Don is a slick, smart and larger than life character, who had audiences rooting for him despite being bad. Farhan (Akhtar) had created the character in a way that it conned audiences into believing that they know what his next move is. It’s kind of a fourth wall where you think you know what he is upto, but Don will outsmart you too.

But Raees is rooted in reality and has evolved from the research on bootlegging, which was rampant during the late 80’s to early 90’s. Don was urbane and flew in private jets. While this (Raees) is very earthy and sees the character travelling on cycles and motorcycles. The dialogues have also helped to contribute to the realistic setting of the film.

As an actor you are always put on a pedestal and are constantly being judged. After being in the industry for so many years, how do you react to these things?

You are going to glorified, vilified, nullified and held responsible for things you say and you don’t. This is a part of the public life you choose. And it all boils down to how do you lead your life and what do you believe in. Many things are written about me every day out of which some are good, some are bad. We all are regular people and I don’t think I am as good or bad as these things make me out to be. I believe I lie somewhere in between these two extreme spheres.

At the end of the day, acting is a job and I don’t think it ends when the shoot ends and I head back home. I think it ends when you become a public figure. On your birthday, when hordes of people come to wish you and get a glance of you in person, you should also be ready for the people who have bad things to say about you. Because this is the path I have chosen. I am a public figure, whether I like it or not. So along with the adulation I should also be ready to take the brickbats.

For me, the struggle finally comes down to, “Can I expose myself as a person within the character I play?”

Shah Rukh Khan shares a candid moment with Rahul Dholakia and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

But do you think is it difficult nowadays for celebrities to speak their mind especially on social media, where a single statement can lead to endless controversies?

I think it is necessary to speak on a platform that is relevant to the things you want to say or address.  It is a world where hashtags, first lines, headlines take centre stage and you need to take things with a pinch of salt. But having said that, one should be careful about the platforms they choose and the issues they address through it.

For instance, if I am releasing an ad for Lux in a bath tub and people ask me about the economic situation in India, then it is a wrong platform. But if I go to IIM and talk about the ‘Economics of India’, then it is the right platform. Hence, we need to be careful about the platform we choose.

Suddenly, we have found a new toy in our hand called as ‘Social Media’ and we all are excited about it. But when the excitement subsides, things will settle down.

For an actor, what ultimately matters is whether I am able to entertain as many people as I wanted to?

Having been in the industry for such a long time, how do you prepare for a role? How has this process changed or transformed over the years?

I have been working for 25 years and have done theatre, so I obviously have a process. I know the craft a little more than I did 25 years ago. For an actor, the struggles are always in different phases.

Initially I felt I knew a lot. Halfway through I realised, the more I act, the less I know as an actor and there’s so much more to do. Then there comes a time when I think I have killed a character, nailed it or slayed it. Then I realised that there are many more ways I can actually expose myself as an actor.

For me, the struggle finally comes down to, “Can I expose myself as a person within the character I play?”  After making all the great portraits he’s known for, Picasso had said that he wanted to paint like a child. I do not intend comparing myself with him, but I have understood now what he meant by this statement. I did not understand it when I had first read it. I want to act with the same rawness I had when I did my first film, which you lose somewhere down the line.

I have a different process from many actors. I read a script, then I go into a shell and I come present the character to the director. There is a physicality involved in the character which I want to use. Like in Raees, there is a voice which I have used. So there are lot of things that go into the process.

For instance, Imtiaz Ali’s (upcoming) film is a love story. But I want to play a love story differently, the way Imtiaz would like me to. So I had to get into a certain state of mind, which also involved getting into long and intense discussions with Imtiaz talking about our lives in general.

Shah Rukh Khan and Mahira Khan in a still from Raees.

Rahul Dholakia is known for making realistic films such as Parzania and you are a very commercial actor. So how did the twain meet and could you talk about your experience of working with him?

I think a film selects an actor. I come from a more commercial arena and I am not considered a more serious actor. But I am an extremely serious actor. My dimples actually screwed it up for me (laughs). If I didn’t have them, you would think I am Nawazuddin (Siddique).

Talking about Rahul, he’s extremely sensible and educated. The script he narrated was so well researched. Sometimes, the script is so well etched-out, which makes the actor’s job easy. Rahul is very easy to work with. He does not come with any preconceived ideas and is confident of what he’s written.

He wanted this film to have a broader spectrum and wanted to make the transition to the other side because the script offers that scope.  At times, when we were doing a scene I would ask him to do it in a particular way, he would say ‘yeh commercial ho jayega, but it’s nice’. At times, he would ask me to do the scene in a more artistic and honest way. We would laugh about this often and enjoy the fact that we are coming from very different spaces.

I am a public figure, whether I like it or not. So along with the adulation I should also be ready to take the brickbats

You have earned name, fame and money. What else do you desire now from life?

I was going to say Kim Kardashian (laughs).  It’s very simple and I can’t explain it enough. But, I just want to entertain people. Externally, it seems like name, fame and money and it’s very nice. And I am really thankful to Bhagwan, Allah and Lord as everything went really nice for me and I have a lovely family, good friends and everything one could ask for.

For an actor, what ultimately matters is whether I am able to entertain as many people as I wanted to? When I started I thought I may be able to entertain maybe 100 or 200 people at best. Today I feel that too many people have given me too much love and I need to entertain each one of them. So the struggle is always about that. I can sit back, relax, watch movies or go on a holiday and enjoy my life. But for me, the enjoyment of my life boils down to can I make audiences enjoy with my film?  Everything else is incidental.