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    Unravelling the mystery that is Shah Rukh Khan

    Who better to talk about Shah Rukh Khan than his close friend Mushtaq Shiekh, who does not tire of writing about the superstar.
    After giving us a glimpse of the actor in Still Reading Khan, Mushtaq returns with Shah Rukh Can, which makes for a much lighter reading than the first book.

    We bring you excerpts from the book.

    The Others

    What happened was this. In this world of careful cliches and PR-dictates, it was easy to come across encomiums about a much successful star. But somewhere during the interviews conducted for the book, the respondents would tune away from the practiced, well turned-out phrases; a question here or there would initiate a train of thought, they would gain an insight into the star and their relationship with him.

    The title of the chapter comes from a movie, The Others, which has Nicole Kidman and... the others. It's a love story and a ghost story. It's about pain, loss, grief and, above all, love. The main character lives in an illusion until she realises that she is but a ghostly guest in the real world.

    The Others: this is a metaphor that could be stretched to apply to movie actors and their characters. And this was a title that I thought would fit in well for a chapter where an actor is being discussed by his colleagues, where they state their perception of his art, of his heart, of his life and their expectations.

    In the movie, Nicole Kidman (with apologies to those who haven't seen it as yet) and her two children live in a vague world, the unreal aspects emphasised by absence of light, the heavy fogs and utter solitude of the house. She is haunted, she believes, by the Others, the presence of whom she can faintly divine at times or at other times, it is thrust upon her.

    Till, of course, in a reality-obliterating climax, she realises that she is the Other, a ghostly remnant of her physical body that had been caught between the planes of the real and the unreal. The movie ends with the Real world moving out, leaving the ghosts in their imaginary world, in the cocoon of the house.

    Shah Rukh Can photographs courtesy: Mushtaq Shiekh | Publisher: Om Book International

    Excerpted from Shah Rukh Can by Mushtaq Shiekh, published by OM Book International with the publisher's permission, Rs 395.

    In the picture: Shah Rukh Khan and wife Gauri Khan

    'I didn't find him absolutely straight'

    In the movie, the unreal is identified when compared to the real world. Nicole Kidman is a ghost but only to the others. For her, reality is the one she lives in and chooses to live in when the movie ends.
    The dilemma for an actor is that he exists only when he is in character, one that is identified by the significant 'Others'. His identity is a ghostly presence on celluloid, a false existence in an unreal world. The dilemma is that this existence emanates from reality and has its origins in the actor's heart and mind. The emotions, especially the pain and anguish, are real in the mind of the man who is at times an actor.

    Some of the emotions are real, and drawn from life's experiences, while the others are imagined at the best. But once in character, there is no differentiation; everything is real for the character, and unreal for the actor. The genius is to know the difference and yet obliterate it from the minds of the viewer. That genius is what characterises the best actors of the day.

    So will the real Shah Rukh stand up? The answer is that he doesn't need to. It's us, the Others, who want to understand the difference; it's us, living in the real world, who want to know the ghost from the man. How much of a ghost is in the man, and how much of the man is in the ghost? A true paheli! It's us, the audience, who want to unravel the mystery.

    I could try, I thought. I could look at the notes made during interviews and try to piece together the riddle. So what began as an effort to work out where to fit in the rest of the material, turned out to be an investigation, an unraveling of the mind and the heart of the man, all that this book is about.

    Sanjay Leela Bhansali purses his lips and contemplates the question. And when he speaks, it's like a gust of torrential rain, which just results in a swirling mesh of paradoxes. "I found him strange," he begins. "I didn't find him absolutely straight. This man is manipulative, this man is sharp, this man is wicked, this man is witty, this man is entertaining and this man is charming. In short, he is very interesting -- the way he feels, the way he walks, talks. That's what I felt.

    "I found him a very ordinary person with great charm. He is not a Guru Dutt, who would be lost in smoke and alcohol, be destroyed for a woman. No. Shah Rukh is a practical man. But then, he is also a combination of spontaneity and magic. And his mind is a mathematician's, he uses these factors to get the right equation.

    He calculates, "Main itna karoonga, toh kam hoga. (If I do this much, then it would be less)." I don't know when he jumps from the magical to the calculative -- that is very unpredictable, that is very enigmatic, it's very mysterious.

    "He is one person who can just turn around and be a different person, so I don't know which one I am dealing with. He keeps you unprepared for that and I think that's a mark of any great person."

    In the picture: A rare family portrait

    'With Shah Rukh you cannot reach him beyond a point'

    The first time Bhansali remembers meeting Shah Rukh was on the sets of Khamoshi. He had just done Salman Khan's trial scene and was thrashing it out when Shah Rukh walked down the office steps. "It was very characteristic. He doesn't look into my eyes, and he looks down and shakes my hand," Bhansali remembers.
    It was in the spring of 1997, post Khamoshi, with Train To Pakistan in mind, Bhansali had called up Shah Rukh and was invited to the Venus office, where the Yes Boss shoot was going on. A shy Bhansali hung around with Shah Rukh's employee, Subhash, till the actor caught his eye and took him to an inside room.

    They discussed Khushwant Singh's book. "I showed him the book from afar. He said, give me the book. And I said, 'No, I hear you have a habit of keeping things to yourself.' He smiled at that and retorted that he would buy the book."

    After depositing Bhansali in the room, Shah Rukh disappeared for half an hour until Bhansali peeped out of the room to make his presence felt. "He looks at me and says, shit I had forgotten you were there. I tell him, look, you shoot, I will get back to you, and the book was kindly forgotten. (Bhansali, later, apparently signed Bobby Deol for the movie, but the project never took off because of Pamela Rooks, who had caught the Train instead).

    "I liked him a lot when I met him. I was very comfortable. It was not like meeting a person with whom you can't converse or you don't want to sit and talk with or you think, now how do I connect or talk to this man. There is a sense of anguish; there is something I cannot describe to you, for with Shah Rukh you cannot reach him beyond a point. I know I can unravel it completely if I sit with him for a month continuously or meet up with him but I know he will never allow me to do so for if he knows this person has come very close, he will withdraw.

    "I think we have a great bond, a great connection. Not one argument, we had not one misunderstanding, we had not one problem, never, never, never. I never had a problem with him."

    'He is a mean lover, which is why Darr worked'

    The second time Bhansali tried to sign Shah Rukh was for the character Ajay Devgan eventually played in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. A flurry of wasted phone calls and miscommunication led that effort to naught. So it came to be that it was with Devdas that the duo finally clicked.
    "I called up Shah Rukh and told him that I want to make Devdas, and I want you as Devdas. I remember he called me to his Khar office. He was charming as ever, and looked much better. Hmmm, let me define that. He had lost some of his naivety, and he looked happy as in a feeling when you know that you have arrived, that you have found what you wanted and because you have found a great rhythm in your mind, body and action, you are at peace." It took Bhansali six months to write the script and get back to Shah Rukh. And the script narration began at midnight (Bhansali had to wait for half an hour till Shah Rukh put Aryan to sleep).

    "I read the whole script. You know, he is a bad person to narrate to. At one point, I even asked him whether he was bored. No, he said, continue. Then he says, 'Mere koh kuch samaj mein nahi aa raha (I can't understand anything). But then, at the end of it, he says he loved it. That night, he dropped me home and I think that's when SRK and I clicked, completely.

    "He told me then that 'give me a month's time and I would like to make you believe that I am passionate about this, that I have understood your Devdas - the soul, the nuances'. A month later, we met up again at his office and he talked - at length. Why he liked this scene, why he didn't like that scene, what he thought should be done to another.

    For two hours, he spoke non-stop and it was wonderful to see your script being told back to you, but from an actor's point of view. I just knew how SRK would approach Devdas. No actor had done this to me. I don't know whether he does this for every film, but for Devdas it was very special because Saigal had done it, Bimal Roy had done it, Dilip Kumar had done it and now it was the third generation and he had to be the so-called caretaker of his time. So it was crucial that he got this right. It had to be different from his Rohit/Raj/Rahul. This was a real test. And he knew it."

    Bhansali knew that what was needed was to leave Shah Rukh alone. He would see him straight on the movie sets, for the man knew the entire graph, the entire nuances, he had clearly worked out his script. "I knew I didn't have to rehearse and I am not the kind of person who likes to rehearse. I feel that the moment has to be lived; I should feel that it has happened for the first time.

    So there is usually just one technical rehearsal. So I was very happy that this actor was prepared, six months ahead of schedule - since June, for I was to start shooting in December. It had been hard work for him. He kept working away and till the end he would be rehearsing, but never for me."

    "Shah Rukh knew Devdas well because of his genuine inheritance of sadness. I feel, I see in his eyes, this longing, this loneliness. Even when he is playing with his child, he is lonely. There is this look on his face where he is childlike, and wishing his mother had seen the kids, or wishing his father had seen this. He slips into these moods. That is what works for Devdas, the vulnerability and the inherent sadness, which no other hero has.

    "If I had to make a film on Guru Dutt, I would love to cast SRK. The day I read about his mother, I could connect to the anguish. I read a few pages of his autobiography and I didn't know what to do except start crying. I have found SRK a very sad person in the sense he is constantly on the lookout for something else, a pain that remains in spite of all his materialistic wealth. There is that uncomfortable look of Devdas, which he did so beautifully.

    "The uncomfortableness of life, that wanting to go on a long journey� all that is present in Shah Rukh. His pain was there, his supreme quality, hurting people, shouting at people -- it is this streak that is very Devdas. He is a cosmic child; he is a mean lover, which is why Darr worked, for when he dies, the women want to hold the evil man."

    In the picture: Gauri Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Mushtaq Shiekh, Suzanne Khan, Chunkey Pandey and Farah Khan.

    'Everybody wants SRK because he is the charming lover'

    The Darr reference struck a chord. Someone had said something about this before. When I reached home that evening, I rushed back to my notes. And there it was, in the transcripts of Viveck Vaswani's interview. Vaswani had been talking about Darr.
    "At the end of the movie, the script demanded that the hero beat up the negative character. Some prominent guys had dropped the role because of this. Shah Rukh didn't mind." Vaswani's line is then significant. "Shah Rukh didn't mind being pasted by Sunny. 'Let him,' Shah Rukh said, 'every time he pastes me, they (the audience) will hate him. And love me.' He played every blow of Sunny Deol to his advantage."

    Shah Rukh obviously knows what works. He had deliberately set out to make the audience empathise with a crazy, obsessive, terrifying character. He had turned the focus from the victim to himself. From a psychopath, the character had turned into a tortured, agonised soul who had been steadily working towards his own death, or rather his redemption. Bhansali's comparison of Devdas and Darr began to make sense. In Devdas, too, the path of redemption, of freedom from obsession, was death.

    I pick up Bhansali's interview tapes again. He is still on Devdas, but talking about Shah Rukh's treatment of the script. We are both spontaneous lukhas (wastrels), he says. "I tell him, Shah Rukh, you need to break the bottles. He says 'I like the idea, I will break the bottles but I will do it my way'.

    So we are both very, very spontaneous lukhas, you know. There is nothing methodical about us, that you know that the bottle should be at 33 degree angles and if it goes this way, it will break this way and the glass will fly there and the alcohol will go here and I will do this then. I know there are actors who do that."

    That's ironical, I tell him for Bhansali is supposed be the master of details. For example, in Devdas, for a particular scene, he'd wanted 642 lights behind the curtain, and he needed the reflection of candles in the mirrors of Chandramukhi's house just so. Bhansali shrugs impatiently. "That's because SRK is not the lights, he is not the candle, he is not the curtain, he is not a prop that I can get measured and written. Shah Rukh is a live human being who, in this picture, is expressing everything that he has suffered in life."

    "Tell me," he asks, "which director has given him his worth. I want to know how many have cast SRK by saying that I want to cast you in a role that will rejuvenate you as a person because it would be a sheer catharsis. Devdas touched him deep down. Everybody wants SRK because he is the charming lover, so we give him the Rahuls and Rajs and we will not think beyond him jumping out of a helicopter with his hair flying.

    Why do you need SRK for that? Except for Darr, which has touched him a bit, nothing has excited me. I mean, look at the roles that Dilip Kumar got in his times, look at the roles that AB has got in his times. What has our generation of directors given SRK? We are only banking on his charms willfully because, though technically, he is not the most handsome man, he is the most charming man.

    He is charged and he will bring the nation to him. Have you given him those moments where he could transcend the normal? There is this much brilliance or the genius but why isn�t it that he has not been given the roles. Where are they?"

    Where indeed? Maybe now would be the right time to pass on the baton to director Karan Johar, of the feel-good Rahul/Raj movies. The first time he worked professionally with Shah Rukh was when he was assistant director to Aditya Chopra for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, a time when Shah Rukh had voiced his lack of comfort with the script because it was a love story.

    "I was telling SRK that it was an amazing script and he looked at me and said, 'Yeah, it's good but I don't like to do love stories'," recalls Karan. "This is one of the classic comments I would hear in my life. Quite amazing. I asked him you don't like to do love stories? He said, 'Yeah, not my kind of scene, yaar; love stories don't work at all.' This was the God of romance talking."

    In the picture: Gauri and Shah Rukh Khan

    'Shah Rukh cannot be divorced from his films'

    Karan certainly does not visualise the pain and restlessness of life for Shah Rukh. He insists that the Rahuls or Rajs are not wisps of imagination or celluloid realty created out of thin air.
    "I give him a tone that I see him at home with. That I know he is capable of. I am so privy to him in personal life; it's that much easier for me to conceive him on celluloid.

    You know, I am at an advantage. I always believe that. I may not have given him different roles in the last three films, but people will always find him relaxed in my films. That's because he is relaxed with me, that's because I have an access to him off-screen which I can translate on paper and effectively on the silver screen. A lot of contribution comes from him, of course, but 20 per cent will be me because I know him so well personally. So I write the scene keeping in mind Shah Rukh Khan the human being also -- the person."

    For Karan, Shah Rukh cannot be divorced from his films; so much so that he would credit the entire film to Shah Rukh. "My credit is that I know him personally. When I write a scene, I know how Shah Rukh will act it. I know there will be an extra line, the aside that he will put in. I already know that line. You know what I am talking about, his constant improvisations� I know he would put that in and also what the line would be.

    What the other directors would not give him would be that line. I write him that improvised line. I know him so well. I know, yahan woh extra line bolna chahega, tho main woh likh ke de doonga. I know how his body language works. So my success with him as a combination of a director-actor is that I understand him and know him very well."

    Does he remember what his mother had said when he started his first film, I ask. "Do you know where to put the camera?" replies Karan wryly. "It was terrible. It was the first directed sequence of my career. It was so poorly done. It was a scene at a dentist's waiting room, and my mother was right. I didn't even know where to put the camera. The scene is that Shah Rukh is waiting and nervous. His daughter has been just taken into the dentist's room. It's a very sweet scene really, to show the father-daughter love, but it was so badly directed by me that there was nothing funny in that scene. It was supposed to be cute and funny. It was awful.

    At the end of the day, Shah Rukh called me and said, 'Well done, you did a very good job, and I am proud of you.' And I looked at him and said I don't think I shot the scene very well and he said nahi, nahi, it was good. The next day, we shot the song Koi mil gaya and I got comfortable because of Farah and Shah Rukh. I relaxed for I had understood the whole film through that song. After that, actually, I always make sure that I start with a song."

    What happened to the dentist's scene? It got cut out at the editing table, says Karan. But for him, Shah Rukh's support mattered. "That's the brilliance of him as a human being. He could have called and rattled me, that look, I don't think today went very well. But he didn't do that. He called and said I did a good job. He was lying, of course, which he admitted to by the end of the film. 'I was really scared,' he said, 'when you did that first shot that yeh gaya toh gaya, main bhi gaya iske saath.' But he didn't tell me. He called me at night and said it was amazing."

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