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“If you dislike my film, Okay… if you like my film, Thank You!”

Post the super success of Chennai Express, Shah Rukh Khan in a tell-all mode with Vajir Singh

Let’s start with the obvious question… Did you expect Chennai Express to be such a big hit?

Not at this speed and consistency. We heard the film, we liked it and we believed in it. Once we started making the film, various versions began to surface. Some said it would be a comedy and some said it would be an action film. So I told Rohit (Shetty) when we market the film, we’ll tell everyone that it’s a family film.

There is also a love story in the film but when the audience saw the shot of me in a white shirt in the trailer, doing an action scene, they assumed it was an action film. When we saw the first cut, we all loved it. And we could convey what the film was all about during the promotions.

Thanks to a few breaks, the business soared. Like, in the South and the holidays we got when the film released. If there hadn’t been another release at the same time, mashallah, business would have soared faster.

I think families have taken on to the film. When we visited cinemas, we got the feeling that kids, their moms and a few older men and women were appreciating the film. But the truth is no one knows the formula for a successful film.

Apart from the climax sequence, you do not play a ‘hero’ in the film. What made you say ‘yes’ to such a film?

People tell me that I don’t play characters but very few actors will play this role. He is a darpok, a wuss. And I have encouraged that as well. Jitna Rohit aur uske writers ne likha tha, usse zyada kiya.

In Chennai Express, the hero’s shortcoming is that he is shy and scared and circumstances put him in a completely alien place. So when he overcomes his fears, he emerges as the hero because there is no villain in it. Even Tangaballi is not a villain. My character’s shortcoming is the villain itself and the way he comes back. I think that is heroic.

In RA.One, you were a superhero; in Don 2, you were the biggest villain; and in Jab Tak Hai Jaan (JTHJ), you went all out to woo your woman. But, in Chennai Express, you play a really meek character. Were you not skeptical about that?

I think its charming when the girl is tough and the guy is a little dumb. And in the end, the guy assures the girl that he will save her but in his own stupid way. And even when he fights, he doesn’t exactly pack a solid punch; he throws things at the people he’s fighting with.

Coming to your question, JTHJ was Yashji’s romantic hero who would do anything for love. I personally liked Don a lot because there is nobody in the world who keeps coming back as a bad guy. He can fool anyone, even the best of the best. I feel like a Don, that’s why I find it very interesting. And RA.One is a superhero.

No, I was not skeptical about this role because it’s a sweet, romantic comedy with Rohit Shetty’s brand of humour.

Rohit Shetty’s never made the kind of movies you have attempted. Moreover, the two of you did not know each other before this film. Yet, Chennai Express is dedicated to you and your journey. Were you surprised when he narrated the film to you?

You have to work with a director who loves you. It’s a rule I follow. So I have worked with 90 per cent of people who love me. So Rohit’s love for me shows in this film. Maybe he couldn’t express it but the way he has gone through, his writers, maybe they have watched all my films.

I noticed that Rohit would ask me to do numerous retakes but he would okay all the love scenes after only one take. When I insisted he do a retake, he would say, ‘Sir, main baat bhi nahi karunga iske baare mein aapse. Aapka jo domain hai sir, woh aapka hi rahega baaki sab main dekh lunga.’ Even the scene where I say, ‘My name is Rahul and I am not a terrorist.’ He was okay with that scene in one shot.

And my love for him is very clear – ‘Tu mujhe bata comedy kaise karni hai, mujhe teri duniya sikha de aur main waisa karunga.’ After the first few days, he walked up to me and said, ‘I was a little worried ki aap karoge ke nahi but aap toh kiye jaa rahe ho.

He taught me a little about his work and I am very greatful that he has shown something which I was not a part of. But I think thoda sa pyaar mohabbat maine use sikha diya hai. Opposites attract and so we clicked. Like, in the film, Meenamma and Rahul have this love story. I think after this film, Rohit and I now have a love story. Iss shaadi mein, maine kuch daal diya aur thoda usne kuch daal diya, so it’s a perfect mix.

It is said that when there is great chemistry between an actor and director, the outcome is brilliant. Does that explain why the first half is Rohit Shetty-ish and the second half is your kind of cinema?

If left to me, I would have liked the whole film to be Rohit Shetty-ishtyle. When he explained how he was planning to cut the trailer, I told him I just wanted the trailer to have two things. One, the bench shot, because my son Aryan really liked it. And second, the tag – Come Fall In Love Rohit Shetty-Ishtyle. I told him this would not be a Deepika, SRK or XYZ genre film; it would be Rohit’s-ishtyle film because he has his own genre. And that is what I learnt while working with him.

As for the second half, not many are aware of this. One night, Rohit called me and said, ‘Sir, sabko bula lo, everyone right from UTV team to Red Chillies to Bhushan Kumar… main kuch dikhana chahta hoon.’ He had incorporated a song in the second half. And he showed us the edited song Tera rasta main chhodun na, which was not part of the drive in the film. He shot the song on his own with some people and some shots in green and we were amazed to see this side of Rohit Shetty. We all loved it and he was more proud of it than the big comedy scenes action scenes in the film.

All your films are promoted as ‘An SRK Film’. What made you to promote Chennai Express as a Rohit Shetty-Ishtyle Film’?

I have never promoted my film as my films. My Name Is Khan was promoted in the name of autism. At that time, both Kajol and Karan (Johar) were not available for promotions, so I thought I should go out and talk to people about what autism is. Don was promoted by its character. G.One in RA.One was a superhero. I feel first the actress’s name should appear, then the director’s name and then the hero’s name because the film actually belongs to the director.

I genuinely feel that neither Deepika nor I have done a film like this before. You know, a full-on comedy masala film. Kareena (Kapoor) and Ajay (Devgn) have done it and they understand that genre. It was an enlightening experience for me. This is another genre in my journey.

In an interview to Box Office India, Rohit had told us that during the making of the film, no one from Red Chillies had asked him how much was being spent on the film.

Rohit would call us, not me but my team, every week, and tell them how much was being spent. Rohit and his team had prepared a budget and I had told him it could go up a little but not too much since UTV had invested quite a lot of money in the film. So, every week, he would sit with us and tell us, ‘Sir yeh thoda zyada ho gaya hai and I think I will reduce this here.’ Woh khud hi itna dhyan rakhta tha. I think he is very conscientious. So when you have someone like Rohit Shetty on board, it is very wrong to keep asking about the budget.

When you know you have the market helping you, a producer like UTV assisting you, and actors who want to give their best, it is wrong to ask Rohit who himself is so concerned. So I left everything to him. He would often scold me, saying, ‘Sir, aap samajh nahi rahe ho, the film will become too expensive.’ But I told him, God willing, we will also earn a lot.

After the film released, you have been unstoppable, marketing and promoting the film after its release.

(Laughs) Idhar hi khada hoon, rok sako toh rok lo!

You even Tweeted this.

Yes, I did tweet rok sako toh rok lo. It’s very simple; Chennai Express a beautiful film and the genre is so nice that you can promote the film on every platform. Everyone says I am a marketing guru. RA.One se zyada kya kar sakta hoon. RA.One had a one-year-long promotion.

We promoted Chennai Express for two reasons. One, I was afraid people would mistake this as an action film. I wanted to clarify that it was a family film. And second, the promotion of a film is a celebration. Promotion should be like a beti ki shaadi ka bidai party.

Taam jhaam bhi hoga and there will also be some pain but the celebration should suppress the pain of that separation. My logic is that every film has a two-week life cycle. One pre-release and the other post-release. So I feel that when we take such pains to make a film, why not do this?

No one has promoted a film after its release as you are promoting Chennai Express. And you’re still at it.

Har picture ke pehle logon ko bata do ki aa gayi aur jab aa gayi toh bas chhod dein? I will take the same example. If your daughter has got married, don’t you feel like calling her up, visiting her relatives, inviting her relatives, keeping get-togethers? It has to be like that. You have to talk about the film. Then, lots of people react to the film too.

There will be a negative reaction and a positive reaction. There are two ways to critique a film. First is the pre-conceived one, where people say I don’t like this kind of film and I have my reservations about it. The other is the reaction of the trade, that the business should have been this much but it has made so much more.

If there are so many channels, newspapers and websites talking about my film, I think even I should be on those platforms because it is my film. Maine kabhi aisa nahi kaha ki critic galat hai. I have never said that this is not the business. Main dono baatein nahi karta hoon. Main kehta hoon yeh meri picture hai sway mat ho jaana, picture dekh lo pehle phir baat karo. If you have to listen to someone else, then listen to me too.

How happy are you with numbers the film is throwing up?

Very happy. I know that another film might break all these records and why not? Hum phir aayenge aur usko todenge, it’s a process. But it is a relief. It’s like getting a monkey off your back. People keep comparing the numbers. My logic is that I make all my films with my heart, soul and hard work. I am also no stupid to believe that every film will do the same business. Don has a cool niche but aunties are not going to watch it.

If you make a film for family, the family will watch it but the youngsters may not watch it. They will be, like, ‘C’mon man’ and will opt for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani instead. So I believe that if there is a number to be given, it can be given for a certain kind of cinema. Chennai Express is popular, festive, cinema… this was a number film. I might not make a number film next or even Rohit might not make a number film with his next but Chennai Express is a number film.

Like when Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! broke all the records, people knew it was possible to make that kind of business. In the last two three years, we’ve seen many films achieve those numbers. Chennai Express teaches you how quickly you can again achieve those numbers.

Are you aware that Rohit Shetty’s last three films (Golmaal 3, Singham and Bol Bachchan) earned more than Rs 100 crore each?

Everyone knows that.

Your last three films (RA.One, Don 2 and Jab Tak Hai Jaan) too collected more than Rs 100 crore each.

(Pause) But log aisa bolte nahi hain.

Why is that?

I don’t know. RA.One, Don 2 and JTHJ each earned over Rs 100 crore in the domestic market. But log nahi bolte hain, maybe because the excellence they are demanding from me, Rohit and Deepika is quite high. That Rs 100 crore toh theek hai but teen din mein kar ke dikhao. And we did that too.

Maybe now if there is a level of excellence that people expect from big filmmakers, I think it’s nice they expect this from me. Maybe they want my films to earn Rs 500 crore. Inshallah, that will happen soon! They’re like Rs 100 toh sab karte hain aap Rs 1,000 karke dikhao. When you have a love affair, your expectations rise. The expectations of my loved ones is more, so I will deliver. So, if you dislike my film, Okay… if you like my film, Thank You!

But does that sometimes hurt you?

No. I am a big boy and I will deliver. I take it like 20 saal se sabne rakha hai toh expectations hogi na. I can’t let the critics down or business down. There are expectations and I have to fulfill them. If they are analysing me, I have to deliver.

With the kind of business Chennai Express is doing, do you think you’ve made everyone associated with the film happy?

I think so. Because Red Chillies and UTV have partnered after a very long time. I did Chalte Chalte last. So the responsibility was greater. I am happy that, as far as the trade and business is concerned, we have rewritten the account books and it augers well for us. It also reflects well on the business side of Red Chilies, with a new CEO (Venky Mysore), Karuna and Karim. Almost 80 per cent of a film’s office is behind the scenes, accounts, marketing and sales, which never get any recognition. I am sure they must be very happy.

Lastly, it is said that when a film that does well it not only benefits the people associated with it but it also helps the industry grow. Still, why do you think there is so much negativity among everyone in the business?

There are two reasons for this. When people cannot understand the reason behind a film’s success, not mine or Rohit’s, anybody’s… people try to assign their own reasons. I don’t think success should be understood; it has to be felt.

Second, I think there will always be people who believe in a good way. The creative and business worlds will always have issues. So if there is a trade person, he gives me an analysis but he gives it on the basis of the storyline. A trade analyst will look at the story, so I tell him to tell me about trade. But it is very difficult to take yourself away. Creative people wonder how a song would benefit a film.

Every trade person is not uncreative and every creative person is not unnecessarily business-like. So I think this double thought creates a discussion. Like a few people told me there was too much Tamil in the film but chal gayi. Then someone told me that Tamil thi iss liye chal gayi, there was something new. Scenic beauty alag ho gayi, daddy, bhai sab alag, warna sab wohi ek jaise lagte hain. Everybody has their own take.

Like some trade people said that Tamil hai toh Hindi belt mein nahi chalegi. Rohit and I thought that the fact that the hero and the audience don’t understand the language could be the best thing although the South audience will understand the dialogue. I feel no one can be one-sided. The business people can have a creative part in them, which makes them start questioning the creativity.

Please continue.

By that logic, they could have doubts that the language could be a barrier but it’s not. The audience is very simple. The fact that they give you ` 200 to watch your film is already proof of your excellence. Once, Mahesh Bhatt sir had told me that when the audience has purchased a ticket to watch your film, he has already saluted you.

During an interview, this lady told me that during the interval in one of the multiplex in Mumbai town she was in the washroom and she heard a young woman remark, ‘The film is so funny that while laughing I spilt my cold drink.’ I am more interested in what that girl said. That is the love I am looking for. That is where the film belongs. It is not meant to be over-analysed. I just want to have fun. I think the biggest compliment a film can receive is when someone spills their cold drink because they’re laughing hysterically.

 


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