The Essential Shah Rukh- Vir Sanghvi When you talk to Shahrukh Khan, there’s a sense that he’s operating at several levels: the polite and charming matinee idol, the clever businessman, the vulnerable boy who lost his parents before he made it in the movies... will the real Shahrukh Khan ever take a bow? Shahrukh Khan’s house. A stone’s throw from the Taj Land’s End, in Bombay’s Bandra Bandstand area, the old heritage property has been extensively renovated – but not remodelled, that would be against the law – so that it combines the grace of old Bombay bungalows, from the pre-skyscraper era, with a cool modern elegance. The living room could be late period Philippe Starck, with the quirky little touches like the glass legs on the tables and sudden curve where you expect a sharp angle. Except of course that the Khans decided not to use a decorator. The vision is pretty much Gauri Khan’s own – she has an arts background – and even Shahrukh, who has a keen aesthetic sense, has done his bit. The house is famous, of course. It lay unoccupied for years. Legends built up around it. And then, when Shahrukh bought it, there were all kinds of legal hassles. Eventually, he had to agree to buy the land behind the bungalow as well, otherwise the entire property would have been attached. The total cost of the property – given that he bought it twice over, making payments to different owners and many authorities – is estimated like Rs 30 crore (and that’s before you count the interiors). “It put me in debt for two years,” Shahrukh smiles. “But you know, I’ve never had a house of my own. So, I suppose, it was worth it.” The interview itself is conducted in the den upstairs. Actually, it is not quite a den. The idea was to create a cinema-like ambience so that Shahrukh could watch movies on the big plasma screen. There’s a Pepsi machine of the sort that one sees in the foyer of movie halls. There’s even a juke box. But there’s not that much evidence of movies, only many many tapes of Friends. “They’re Gauri’s,” Shahrukh explains, “I’ve never really had the time to sit and watch movies here.” But now perhaps all that will change. Shahrukh is wrapping up a film with Yash Chopra. And when that’s done, he’s going to take five months off at a stretch. “I just need to have some time with my family. And with myself,” he says. He can afford the break. This has been a very good time for Shahrukh Khan. He starred in Kal Ho Naa Ho, produced and written by his friend Karan Johar and directed by Nikhil Advani and ended up with second biggest hit of last year (after Koi Mil Gaya). Then, a few months ago, came Main Hoon Na, his own production, directed by another close friend, Farah Khan. As of this moment, Main Hoon Na is still running to packed houses so it is difficult to estimate what the final gross will be but the indications are that it will be one of Shahrukh’s biggest ever movies, behind only such all-time blockbusters as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. There’s no doubt that he’s Bombay’s number one star, ahead of the other Khans by miles and guaranteed to deliver a hit, no matter how different the genre: the urban, ‘A’ class centre ambience of Kal Ho Naa Ho, the Gujarati-Bengali opulence of Devdas or the old-fashioned formula film as updated by Farah in Main Hoon Na. More to the point, there are no challengers on the horizon. The sceptics had said that once the cute, college boy-like charm wore off, the roles would dry up. He was, they said, a teen hero who had managed the difficult feat of extending his youth. This was no mean achievement, they conceded, but it was also time-bound. At some stage, the wrinkles would show through, the cutesy mannerisms would begin to get irritating and newer, younger stars would turn up. But it sure as hell hasn’t worked out that way. Even before the youthful charm faded, Shahrukh had climbed the next steps of the ladder. In Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein, he mentored a new generation of kids and restricted his love interest to flashback and ghosts. In Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G), he was married with children, playing big brother to Hrithik Roshan. In Devdas, he dared take on a role that everybody associated with Dilip Kumar. Teen hero? Yeah may be, once upon a time. But not now. Not for a while. A psychiatrist asked to analyse Shahrukh Khan would probably tear up the couch, burn his medical certificates and look for another profession. The problem – to put it bluntly – is that Shahrukh is too goddamn smart for anybody to get a fix on what he’s thinking. Of all the stars I’ve interviewed over the last 25 years, he is possibly the brightest and certainly the most complex. If you use the traditional definition of intelligence as the ability to hold two completely contradictory thoughts in your head at the same time and still function normally, then he is in the genius league. When you talk to him, there’s a sense in which he’s operating at several – why stop at two? – levels simultaneously. There’s the Obvious Shahrukh. That’s the polite and charming fellow who talks nicely to you. The Obvious Shahrukh is the man we all see. He strikes us as bright, articulate, intelligent and persuasive. In some ways, he is like Tony Blair of whom it has famously been said that he’s never met anybody he couldn’t charm at a one-to-one level. The problem with the Obvious Shahrukh is that it takes him exactly five minutes to suss you out. He knows where you are coming from, he knows what you like hearing and sure enough, he gives it to you. Nothing wrong with that. Except that no matter how nice the Obvious Shahrukh is, you sense that you’ve only just scratched the surface. But who knows, how many other Shahrukhs lurk beneath that surface? His mind, as he himself says, is always racing. He rushes from thought to thought, from concept to concept, and no matter how hard you try and keep up, he’s always four steps ahead of you. There’s a Clever Shahrukh somewhere in there; the fellow who knows how the game is played and will play it better than anybody else. There’s also, I think, A Genuinely Nice Shahrukh, the man who will promote his friends, will go out of his way to help strangers, and will give lakhs and lakhs to charity, only on the condition that it is never publicised. There’s a Financially Savvy Shahrukh, who will make crores doing endorsements, live shows and even dancing at weddings, knowing that he now has the freedom to turn down any film role that doesn’t excite him on the grounds that he could make the same amount of money (or more) from a single ad. And then, of course, hidden deep within all the other Shahrukhs, is the guy he never really lets you see. The Vulnerable Shahrukh. Or, the Essentially Insecure Shahrukh. The boy who lost his parents before he made it in the movies, who has used Gauri, Juhi Chawla, Farah, Karan, Aditya, Aziz Mirza and a few others to create an alternative family environment where he is loved and secure. Who is so terrified by failure that his solution has been to act as though the possibility does not exist; to convince himself that he’s the best at anything he wants to do and that there will never ever be bad days in his life. You glimpse this Shahrukh, every now and then, when he talks. But he’s just a flash in the crowd. Just one more Shahrukh hidden deep within the cluster of other Shahrukhs. And yet, you always feel that if there wasn’t this Shahrukh, then none of the others would have to exist.