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Reluctant Businessman

Actor, superstar, producer, businessman and ‘King of Bollywood’ Shah Rukh Khan says he is not a typical businessman who is after multiplying wealth. He calls himself the ‘Idea’s Man’

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At around 1.48 p.m.,  we get the final call. “Please be ready,” says one of the executives handling the media interactions with superstar Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). We (me and my chief photographer) are ushered in to a separate cluster of VIP rooms adjoining the Durbar Hall at Delhi’s iconic Taj Palace Hotel. “You have about 20-25 minutes. That is the most being allowed today by Mr Khan’s team,” I am told. “Your profile was cleared by the team. They required detailed brief of who you are, and what you do,” the PR executive adds. She then goes on with her instructions. “He is not in a good mood. Hopefully you don’t have any pictures of him for signing, etc. His team is furious. Please don’t carry external flash lights, too,” she says in a requesting tone. “We are business journalists. Don’t worry. If he does not wish to talk, we will say ‘hi’ and leave,” I reply. By then, the big door to Khan’s room opens and I enter followed by my colleague with the camera. To my left is Khan, standing in a grey waist coat, crisp white shirt, hair well done and getting ready for another round of media interaction. Surrounding him are members of his team, couple of photographers and private security personnels. As soon as Khan sees me, he says, “Hi” in a mild voice barely audible to others extending his right hand for a handshake. I reciprocate and introduce myself. “Hi, Ashish. Can I just finish my smoke? He asks. “Of course Sir. Please do,” we reply as we settle down for the interaction.  

Zero, Scripts and Focus Groups
By the time I move to a seat closer to where Khan would sit, the conversation starts as my  colleague compliments him on his energy level and his next big project Zero. For Khan, Zero is a special film and the most expensive Hindi film produced till date. And enquiry into Zero was a natural conversation starter. How is it taking shape? We ask. “It is looking well I think... it is looking like something new. Hopefully something good will come out of it,” says Khan.  

“By now you must have got the hang of knowing which film will work and which will not?” “Not really Ashish, it is still a challenge to know that even good is not enough sometimes, that creativity is still being judged on the annals of commercial success. There is always that dichotomy. Nothing can be said about the success or failure of the films at least not with complete surety before it is released,” Khan talks candidly about the film business having seen the highs and the lows for the past 27 years as one of the leading man of Hindi cinema. We still try to get specific. “But a good promo tends to attract footfalls. A lot can be decided by a good promo these days. Isn’t it?” “Yes people have been saying that for the past two years or so but big stars acting in a film tends to get an opening. Inshah Allah that way god has been kind enough. Take, for example a film like Dear Zindagi. It was a film where I had a small role but people liked the promo and came to the theatre. So, it worked. But the bottomline remains the same – a good movie will always work,” Khan says finishing his first cigarette.

We continue talking to Khan about the scientific approach adopted by some stars in gauging the success of key scenes in the script via focus group audience during the filming process itself. “Aamir Khan said somewhere that he does focus group and dip sticks with select audience during the making to observe the reactions in certain scenes. And he does incorporate the feedback in the script. Do you too do something similar? We ask. “Not really, Ashish. As a matter of fact, I was supposed to meet Aamir to understand from him how he does that? A lot of people are doing that these days. But somehow I could not find the time to do that for Zero. In some films, you can do it when you have complete control. But for a film like Zero, where there are number of special effects, we will keep working till the end, it is a bit difficult to re-do it,” Khan explains. And he elaborates further: “There are about 4,000 to 5,000 people working on Zero across the country in 24-hour shift. Also while undertaking such a big project, we tend to become vulnerable...If we do discover something needs to be changed we have to go along as it may not be practical to redo the scene. Sometimes we have to go with our gut that what we have done is good and hope it will work.”

“Aamir, that way, is much  more organised. He always has 4-5 months with him where he can do such things. We are not that organised. We will keep working till the end trying to finish things,” Khan says.

Fan, Red Chilles and More 

Zero has lot of special/visual effects. So did your earlier film called Fan. So, you had a prior experience of working in a special effect film before getting into Zero? Has the Fan experience helped you in Zero? We ask. “Yes Fan was a special film for me. And we did get a few things wrong in the second half. It happens. Yes, special effect-wise, Fan was something great and I am not saying that because Red Chillies is my company. I don’t see it as my company but when it comes to VFX, special effects, it is leaps and bounds beyond anyone else in the country at the moment. I think what we are doing at Red Chillies is very superior work at least with no match at the Asia level,” says Khan.

Speaking of Red Chillies Entertainment, where do you want to take it businesswise? We ask. “My CEO, CFO and the team at Red Chillies must be having some numbers, goals, targets, etc. I am the ideas man. I give ideas to them. They figure out a way of implementing them. In fact, I am not a businessman in the true sense. I am the guy who has a great idea, who comes with it to a company called Red Chillies, which also happens to be owned by me, but I don’t run it. If I lose money for them, I lose it for myself and not for the company,” says Khan.

By this time, Khan lights up another cigarette. We ask him, “What does money means to SRK, who is a businessman—film producer, IPL team owner and an entrepreneur?” “For me, money is just a transactional unit. My advice to all youngsters would be this: ‘Do not let the money lie idle. Money has to be utilised to create value from it.’ As I said before, I am an ideas man. I think the idea is the business, rest of it is execution. If I don’t have an idea, there is no business. Every film is a startup if you do it the way I do. I can do run-of-the-mill films just to make money for myself and my company but that is not who I am. I am a different businessman that way.”

On 21 December, when Zero releases worldwide, a lot would be riding on the film, even more than the commercial returns. As Khan puts it: “With Zero success hopefully more filmmakers will be willing to incorporate VFX and special effects into their scripts and offer better cinematic experience to us for which we will feel extremely proud.” Amen to that!


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