Netflix India released a special episode of David Letterman’s My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, featuring Shah Rukh Khan, just ahead of the Diwali weekend.
And, of course, none us needs an intro to SRK, which for Letterman something went like this —
Predictably, Khan is as we have always known him to be — witty, affable and self-deprecating. He exhibits that self-awareness that’s rare in Indian film stars, which is perhaps why his popularity endures beyond just his performance at the box office.
While Letterman got access to the actor in a way that few Indian entertainment journalists would have, there are some areas the conversation just doesn’t touch — what Khan’s career is like today, the state of India’s democracy and his identity as a Muslim man in a country that has seen a lot of violence directed against minorities.
Still the episode holds insights into the life of Shah Rukh Khan, the star and the man, and even diehard fans may find they’ve learned something new about him.
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Here are highlights from the episode:
1. Would Shah Rukh Khan have been okay with a lesser level of stardom?
Khan doesn’t answer this directly but says, ″See what happened is, halfway through — I’ve been working in films for 27 years now — I realised that I’m not half as talented as I think I am. And that realisation made me realise that, listen, if I can’t do it with skill and talent, then better get into the hearts of people. And, if they are loving me, let me be nice and good about it. So, 3.5 billion people have to love me. Because if it was just talent or skill, no, they wouldn’t have loved me.”
2. When he was given away for “adoption”
His grandmother wanted to raise a boy and his mother said, “Go ahead and keep him.”
So he lived in Bangalore for the first five years of his life with his maternal grandparents.
“Now when I think back on it, then I realised maybe my mother didn’t like me too much,” Khan joked.
3. On the awkwardness of stardom
“I’m an employee of the myth of Shah Rukh Khan. So I work for that myth. It’s a myth. For me also, it’s mythological. ‘Why are these people standing here while I’m waving?’
It’s awkward for me to blow flying kisses. I’m a very shy person. It’s awkward. Actually, so is Gauri. We are very shy, quite kind of people. So to do this, and have over the top actions and all. It’s like Freddie Mercury did it. It’s difficult for me to do it. But I have to do it as the employee of this myth.”
4. The work he’ll never do
SRK related a hilarious story of how he had to ride a horse for a scene in Asoka (2001), where the horse took off on a gallop and never quite stopped.
“I don’t ride horses or animals because I don’t know how to, and I’m scared,” he said.
5. How long he wants to remain a star
“I calculated about a 106 years.” A missed opportunity to ask exactly how he came up with that number.
6. What he holds against his parents
“Maybe it sounds wrong to say it, but the only thing I hold against my parents, if there is anything I can hold against them, is the fact that they didn’t spend enough time with me. So that’s one thing I decided. That I’m going to make sure I live very long and make sure I keep on living with my kids and never let them feel they don’t have a parent. So any given moment, I spend time with them, I study with them, I sleep with them, I chat with them. I sort out all their problems.
7. The advice he gives his kids about relationships
“I hate it when they have boyfriend/girlfriend problems. I just want to say ‘Just kick the person out.’ But I say, ‘You know, in life, it happens. You have to give and take in relationships, darling.’ I hate explaining it to her. I want to tell her, ‘This guy’s no good.’ But I have to. And choose presents for him sometimes, which is the worst thing possible. ‘Papa, what do you think he’ll like?’ He’ll like this on him. (shakes fist)”
8. On Aryan’s acting skills
“My son doesn’t want to act. And I don’t think he can,” Khan said. (ouch!)
But he elaborated. “In India, it’s like — okay, if you’re a movie star’s son then you might become a movie star. He looks nice and he’s tall. But I don’t think he has what it takes perhaps, and he realises it himself, but he’s a good writer.
Wanting to become an actor has to really come from within, it’s something you really feel like doing. And then find a set of skills or learn it.
I realised it from him when he said, ‘You know, I don’t think I want to act.’ And his issue was, which I think is very, very practical and honest. ’Well every time I’ll be compared to you. And if I do well, it will not be because I got skilled at it. It’ll be, ‘Oh obviously, he’s his son, so he will do well. It’s in the genes.’ And he said, ‘If I don’t do well, it’ll always be ‘My God, look at him. What his father did and what is he doing?’ So he said, ‘I don’t want to be in a position.’”
9. On fatherhood
“It made me gentler, made me kinder. Genuinely kinder, and more compassionate for sure. And very, very anxious. You won’t believe, I had more hair than this.”
On AbRam, he said, “He’s six and he’s so beautiful. And he’s so honest. To me, as an actor, the greatest moment is to just sit with children and take the unabashed innocence… they’re candid, they’re frank… unfiltered. That’s made me a better person.”
10. Why he’s learning to cook
“I’m learning how to cook now because I think they’ve reached an age where they (his children) want to be with their friends, And I’m not obtrusive, I have huge respect for people’s private places and spaces and privacy. So I thought this was a good excuse. Because they keep awake with their friends when they come back on holidays. So they always want food at 2 or 3 in the morning and I sleep only at 5 am. So I’m always ready.
The dishes he can make? “Aglio e olio, pesto, pepper chicken and risotto.”
11. What he said to his mother on her deathbed
Khan said he thought death was alluring and beautiful. In his teens, he believed that people who died were ones who were satisfied with life, not ones who still had things to take care of in life. So this is what he did when his mother was very ill.
“So I sat next to her bedside and I would say things like, ‘I’m going to be really mean to my elder sister’, ‘I’ll never work’, ‘I’ll start drinking’. And I started telling her bad things, hoping that she’d be just on her way to this Niravana place, godly abode, about to be happy and she’d say ‘Oh my god, I still have to worry about this’.”
Khan said he showed his mother an episode of his TV show a day before she passed away.
“So no amount of criticism of my work actually makes me feel bad anymore,” he quipped
12. Meeting fans who throng outside his house
“I wouldn’t have this life if I didn’t have the love of these people, and in spite of my movies being good or bad. I think the only way I can be good to them is, you know, by being kind and just hoping to meet everyone by the end of my life.”
13. Gauri Khan
The special, which released on SRK and Gauri Khan’s wedding anniversary, had some rare moments with the star’s wife.
Gauri said she still couldn’t quite believe how Shah Rukh managed to track her down in Mumbai all those years ago when she had left Delhi to take a break. It was famously Khan’s first time in the city.
As Khan became famous, he said Gauri quickly realised that his life would not belong just to his family. She never intervened because she saw that he enjoyed the popularity, he said.
On the crowds that are always outside their home Mannat, Gauri says, “I’m comfortable as long as I don’t have to go out there to stand by his side.”
Gauri also shared that their children hated being followed around and having photos taken of them every time they were out in the city.
14. On being reclusive
“I normally don’t indulge in this (the show). I’ve become very quiet with age…. On my own, I’m very reticent, quiet. An artist is very insecure and I’m very insecure,” Khan said.
15. On getting arrested
Early in his career, Khan said he got into a fight with an editor for publishing a salacious rumour about him and his co-star.
“I got very angry and called up the editor and said, “You wrote this”. He said, “But listen, can you take it? It’s just a joke.” I said, “But I don’t find it funny.” So I went down to their office and misbehaved a lot. I went there and I shouted and I screamed and threatened to hit people. I said,” I’m gonna take off your clothes and make you stand naked with me. Would you find that funny?”
Now, when I think about it, it was the wrong thing to say, but when you’re angry, you don’t know what you’re saying and you just add a lot of stuff. I think that I was put in jail for a day.”
16. What happened when the cops came to get him
“I was shooting a film and the cops came. They sat down very sweetly and they said, ‘We have a few questions to ask you.’”
I said, “Do you want me to pack and we can chat in my car?” Because I always assume anyone who meets me is a fan. (laughs)
They said, “No, we want you to come in our car.”
When he saw the small prison cell with “human faeces” in it, Khan said he pleaded with the cops to let him go.
The one phone call he got to make, Khan called the same editor and said, “Now I’m in jail, and I’m not scared. Now you be very scared.”
When he got bail in the evening, he went to the editor’s house at night.
“There were a lot of cops outside who didn’t know why they were there. They didn’t know it was against me. I said, “Hi, how are you?” And I walked up to him (the cop) and I asked for a matchbox for a cigarette and (lit up) right outside his window. So he knows that I could have been there and I just lit my cigarette, looked at him and went off. I’m very mature like that.”
17. On anger
Khan said he had become calmer in recent years and wouldn’t behave the same way now.
On the altercation he got into at a cricket stadium in 2016, he said, “I would have denied it but it’s on video.”
18. On Trump
Khan’s most politically correct answer was, “Now we’re okay with you (United States).”
Khan said the world had looked up to the US. ” Now we’re like, you have him as your president. So, yeah, maybe you guys deserve it.
Nobody mentioned Modi and Khan’s recent selfie with him. *cough, cough*
19. His signature open arm move
SRK said it came up because he couldn’t dance. No one who’s seen a Shah Rukh Khan film would believe that.
Khan quoted a critic of his first film, saying, “Whatchamacallit’s-his hair has worked his way into the hearts of Indian audiences by sliding on an ice slab, down the stairs, somersaulting, cartwheeling, eyes trembling, lips trembling. A visceral maniacal energy but still cloyishly boyish.”
If you’re wondering how he still remembers the lines, he memorised it for the show!