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BW Businessworld

‘Utilise Money To Create Value From It’

Shah Rukh Khan talks to Ashish Sinha of BW Businessworld about film production, brand endorsement, and his dreams

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma

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Actor-producer-entrepreneur Shah Rukh Khan believes in dreaming big and utilising money to create value. That is why perhaps he is co-producing and acting in India’s costliest film till date Zero. Khan talks to Ashish Sinha of BW Businessworld about film production,  brand endorsement, and his dreams. 

Excerpts:

What are your plans for Red Chillies especially on the VFX side?

I hope I am able to financially sustain Red Chillies for the next five-six years and then we will have a company which will perhaps influence more filmmakers to think and create maybe an entire film around special effects and VFX. And that is my dream. Doing VFX is a costly proposition. Right now there are very few people who believe in spending the kind of money I would spend on visual effects and VFX. At least one film of mine in a year always involves special effects and VFX, which keeps Red Chillies going. Earlier, we did a lot of special effects work in films like Raees, Krishh, Ra.One and a few others. VFX requires money. It is not something that’s done for the sake of it. It is not ‘aiyashi’ (extravagance) . If you try to do this in America it will cost you 10 times more than what it takes in India. Zero has kept Red Chillies busy for two years. For Krishh we were involved for almost a year. I am working on Rakesh Sharma’s biopic called Salute which will have some VFX/special effects.

Can you recall the days when the Hyundai commercial first came to you in 1998? What was the brief then?
Mr  Subbu was heading Hyundai India back then. He was very enthusiastic. We also had a team from Korea working on it. All I knew was that the Hyundai brand was very big. I knew that a car was coming. But nobody had any idea what it will do to this country’s automotive space. In fact, advertising at that time was new, the country had just opened up and private channels were just expanding. Today, I tell everyone that I am the forerunner of advertisers in this country. I was from the mass communication institute in Jamia Milia Islamia and I loved advertising. So I wanted to try out advertising. Hyundai said that they will make five ad-films with me. They also had a television star from Korea called Kim who was supposed to hand me over something and I kept asking them what this concept is all about, what is he going to hand over to me, etc. The first film was shot in Mumbai and subsequently in Barcelona and in Malaysia. I feel proud to be associated with Hyundai for 20 years.

Over the years you have endorsed dozens of brands. How do you go about the association as it is not physically practical to know all aspects of a product/brand, whether it is good, bad, or harmful, etc.? 

I have been very fortunate when it comes to brands that I have endorsed. Many of the brands that came my way were already big, responsible, and well-established and wanted to foray in India at that time — when India had just opened up. They came to me because they wanted to associate with someone who stood for quality, reliability, etc. Today, I have a simple formula. Look, I do not know the technicalities of the brands or the products I endorse, and I say this with due respect to the Consumer Protection Act. For example, I do not know how this camera is made or what it does (pointing to the camera held by BW’s chief photographer Ritesh Sharma). But if something does go wrong with it and if I have been endorsing it, I will convey to them very decently that I will not be available for the brand any longer. As long as the products are made and sold legally, I try my best as a brand ambassador to promote it. There have been some exceptions. Like gutka or cigarettes. They were offered to me as surrogate ads but I did not do them. I did Frooti for a year. As a child I liked Frooti. I did the Sunfeast ad long time back. Of course, there was Pepsi too. Basically, I keep it very simple. I will not endorse something which I will not personally consume.

BW Businessworld is widely read by youngsters. So I have to ask you this: what does money mean to you as a businessman/producer/entrepreneur? 

For me, money is just a transactional unit. For youngsters my advice will be: “Do not let the money lie idle.” Money has to be utilised to create value from it. Of course, being an Indian I respect the fact that we need a safety net, a home for the family, savings, jewellery, etc. But once you do that, it is necessary to utilise the money to create more value from it. I believe in dreaming big. If I dream big, the scalability will automatically come, and so will the returns. If I fail, it will mean the business idea has failed but not the dream of doing something big. I will dream again and again till I succeed.  

But you are averse to borrowing, or getting funding from a private equity firm for your business. Aren’t external funds required for growth and scalability? 
I come from an educated middle-class background with a lot of dreams. Becoming an actor was not one of it. It happened. Getting into sports was a dream, film-making was a dream. I have so many dreams and ideas of my own. So when I get into a business my team often tells me that we do not have the required funds for it. Take the example of Zero. I don’t like saying it but it is the most expensive film made in the country till date. My director keeps reminding me and I say we have come so far, we can stretch a bit more. Because if I am able to create a value out of this film, not only me, there will be five other filmmakers who will be inspired to create a new product that will touch your life. It is very easy for me to keep doing run-of-the-mill films like Baazigar, Chennai Express etc. I do these films for the company and for myself. But I know I can do them today or tomorrow. But to execute something like a Zero is very exciting. Every film is a startup idea if you do it like I do.

Aamir Khan said somewhere that when he takes up a film project he ensures that people associated with it do not lose money. Profit etc. comes later. Do you also approach a film project like that? 
I am okay with losing money for myself but not for anyone else. In the last 15 years our company has lost a lot of money. We have made some too. But it gets the loan from me. I am okay losing my own money. It could mean not taking fees for a project or something else, which is okay with me. I have been blessed that when I go and dance at a wedding (which I am doing less and less now because of health issues), or give a talk somewhere, or endorse a brand etc. I also make money that way. For me, my face is my money. There is no raw material in it. There is no hard-work into it. I wake up and go somewhere, meet people. They are happy to see me. Sometimes they pay to see me. Sometimes I tell my team I will give talks and earn money if we fall short of funds for a project. For my film called Dilwale one or two distributors lost some money. While I did make a small profit, I first paid them from it as I do not want people associated with me to lose money. If you are in a business for long, you have to cater to your partners. My partners are my distributors, directors, and theatre-owners.

You say you are not after wealth creation, multiplication, or scalability of business. How do you ensure the future growth of Red Chillies as a business entity? 

Possibly you are right. I have not given it that kind of form or perhaps such an analogy to my team so far. I understand what you are saying though. And it can be done. We, at the most, can do five films in a year. And that is the extent of scalability. But let me tell you something which I believe in. Scalability, business strategy, acquisitions, cost-cutting, all this I fully believe are nothing more than ‘executions’. When you are executing all this, what are you actually working on? You are working on an idea. So I think the idea is the business. Rest of it is execution. If I don’t have an idea, there is no business. When I came to Mumbai, I had Rs 1,500 in my pocket. I did not think of scalability then. My wife never tells me to buy gold because it is appreciating or it will multiply our investments. It is not in me to convert two into four. Some 13 years ago, when my first venture Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani under my production house did not do well at the box-office, we lost a lot of money. I remember I had to dance at the wedding of two of my distributors in order to repay. Businesses fail and we may lose money but I have always believed that money can be made again.

How much money is actually needed to live a good life? 

People keep writing that I am part of some list of highest paid actors. That I have billions of dollars. May be it is true, maybe not. All I know is today I have more than Rs 1,500. I believe you do not need more than Rs 10 crore to live a comfortable life. When I had started, I recall telling Mahesh Bhatt (film director) that once I make Rs 1 crore I will be set for life. Today, I feel the amount is around Rs 10 crore. Some years from now, Rs 50 crore may just be the right amount. The bottom line for me is that my dream of making films, doing something better than before continues. That is the most important thing to me. A lot of business people today, with due respect to them, have forgotten why they started the business in the first place. Wasn’t it because they had an idea, a dream?