The Timeless Charm of Shah Rukh Khan

Reader's Digest's 2005 conversation with Bollywood’s Top Gun, Shah Rukh Khan  

By Monisha Pratap Shah Published Jun 25, 2024 17:13:41 IST
The Timeless Charm of Shah Rukh Khan Photo: Alamy

It was late in the evening and Shah Rukh Khan had been nursing a bad cold all day.

“Fifteen minutes, right?” He said as he ushered me, swagging into his plush mahogany office. 

“That’s not enough!” I wailed.

Shah Rukh turned on his dimpled smile and I’d realized he’d been teasing me. And sure enough, he then kept talking—fast, animated, and often bursting into laughter between the sniffles—for the next 90 minutes long after his staff had left for the day.

Here I was with a man who’s arguably been, for well over a decade, Bollywood’s top star, heartthrob-in-chief, and winner of innumerable awards. But not once did Shah Rukh, do or say anything to suggest any of that. Instead, he reflected cheerfully on the things he holds most dear—among them, his marriage and family, his work, religious beliefs, favourite books, and his weakness for video games.

RD: Let’s begin with you and your wife. What brought you Gauri together?Shah Rukh Khan (SRK): I have known her since I was 18 and she was 14. She was the first girl I asked for a dance. I was shy with women.

RD: Did you face opposition at the time of your marriage? SRK: There were organizations that kept a lookout at the civil courts to see which Hindu is getting married to which Muslim. But we gave wrong addresses.

RD: What about Gauri’s parents? SRK: It was strange for them, for I am from a different religion. I don’t have parents, and I wanted to join Hindi films. I, too, would be a little wary of somebody like that. But once her parents met me, they were quite all right with it. Now her parents shout at her more than they shout at me.

RD: What were you like at school and college?SRK: I was naughty in school. In college, I spent most of my time on sports. My school was very strict. At that time, my discipline seemed harsh, but as time goes by I think this has helped me a lot. Discipline to me means: If you have to do something, you follow it to the end.

RD: If you weren’t a film star, what would you have been? SRK: Perhaps I would have gone into advertising, making ad films. Perhaps I would have been a teacher; I like teaching.

RD: For a Hindi actor, you are not a traditional good-looker. SRK: Yes, I’ve been completely unconventional [laughs].

RD: Besides the fame, what pleasure do you get out of acting?SRK: For two and a half hours I am able to control people’s emotions in the sense that I lend a smile to their faces, and take them away from everyday problems. That’s a great achievement. The rest is peripheral—the labels attached to me, King Khan, Badh Shah of Bollywood, XYZ ...

RD: Earlier, top Muslim stars like Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari changed their names to mask their identity. Today’s top stars are openly Muslim. Do you see films as a secula-rizing force? SRK: I don’t think they changed their names to conceal their religion. Non-Muslims like Jeetendra saheb and Ashok Kumar changed their names. I think there was a time when there used to be stage names for all actors. Our industry is so secular—so many Muslims in it are doing so well. Art is not unsecular.

RD: You are secular. You have ‘Om’ and ‘Allah’ inscribed in your house. Did your parents instil this attitude in you? SRK: Yes. My parents always told me that God is one. I go to temples with my friends. I celebrate both Eid and Diwali. I’m teaching my kids to read the Koran in English.

image-105_061124023414.jpgOne of Bollywood’s most beloved pairings, Kajol and SRK in a still from K3G. Photo: IMDB

RD: Would you promote secularism through your work? SRK: I’m here to entertain, not to promote secularism.

RD: Whom do you turn to in times of trouble? SRK: I talk to Allah—I pray to him.

RD: You stopped praying after you lost your mother—what made you reconnect to God? SRK: I was very angry with God for a little while, but then I realized if I remain angry with God there is no chance I will ever meet my mother again. If you are not friendly with God there is no heaven and no hell.

RD: You lost your parents when you were very young. Has this made you insecure in terms of spending time with your kids? SRK: I don’t think so. But it’s important that in their formative years, they do not feel that their father has not been around because he is busy making movies. I like to be home by 6:30, so I can spend a couple of hours with them before they sleep. I put them to bed, take them to school. I go for PTA meetings like any other parent. All the normal things everyone does.

RD: What memories do you have of your parents? SRK: Mom taught us that if you need something, you must work for it, not just sit and pray for it. Mother has been dead for 15 years, my father for 25. One memory I have is of them being both soft and stern at the same time. They were physically demonstrative, they used to hug us a lot, and so that’s something I do to my children.

RD: A children’s ward has been named after your mother at Mumbai’s Nanawati Hospital. How did you think of donating for the cause? Are you doing other charitable work as well? SRK: I went to that hospital one day to see the child of someone who was working with me. I felt conditions were not very good, and when I asked why, they said they needed funds. So I decided to donate money, and they were kind enough to name the ward after my mother. I’ve seen it once—when I went to open it—and I felt it was wonderful. I want to do more charity, Inshallah. We are trying to see that whichever film makes money, a part of it will go for charity. We have to do something with Main Hoon Na. Maybe a cancer ward ...

RD: Any desire to do something for the country? Have you thought of joining politics? SRK: I think I do my bit—I entertain the country! But no politics for me. I don’t think I’ll be good at it.

RD: Apart from spinal surgery, have you faced any other difficult times? Has surgery changed your perspective on life? SRK: I’m a believer in divine retribution. I believe I got the injury because I deserved it. I must have done something that made me deserve to be in so much pain. Now that I have gone through the pain, I have absolved myself of the wrong that I must have done.

RD: do you believe in astrologers? SRK: I don’t believe in astrology. I believe only in God. I don’t mean Allah, but the God I think is close to my heart—I don’t know what he or she looks like.

RD: Any fears now, especially while doing action scenes? SRK: I’m scared every time I exert myself or travel a long distance, because the pain comes back. But it’s something one has to live with.

image-107_061124023443.jpgA still from the massively successful Kuch Kuch Hota Hai—2023 marked the movie’s 25th anniversary Photo: IMDB

RD: It’s been said that you’re prone to insomnia.SRK: Not really. When I sleep, I sleep like a log—nobody can wake me up. I sleep for four to five hours. If I sleep longer, I have a problem.

RD: One keeps reading about your high energy levels. SRK: Strange, I too hear about it. I thought everyone was like that. Everybody has to get up in the morning and go about his life and that’s what I also do. I have a simple middle-class lifestyle, but because it is larger than life on screen it seems that way in real life, too.

RD: You’re a chain smoker—any plans to give up smoking? SRK: I’m not really a chain smoker—if I don’t have cigarettes, I don’t smoke. But I’m planning to quit and I have cut back.

RD: You are writing your autobiography. Is it cathartic? Does it help you to get over unpleasant issues?SRK: By nature, I leave the good and bad behind—it’s not because of writing the book that I’ve become like that. I understand very deeply that things only matter at one point in time. If you’re hurt, you must let the moment be and go on. But I don’t forget. I remember everything that is said or done to me, but I don’t hold it to heart.

RD: You are a gizmo freak—computers and video games are your passion. Does technology stimulate you? SRK: Technology to me is a great thing. New things turn me on. I get video games for my kids that are too I’ve advanced for them, and I play with them myself.

RD: You are a voracious reader. Which book are you reading currently? SRK: I read three or four books at a time. I’ve just finished a thriller called Digital Fortress, and now I’m reading a book on the Kabala, an ancient religion. I’m also reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven, [a novel about how every person on Earth matters]. Before that, I read a book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I go to bookstores when I’m in London or America. I get a coffee and I keep browsing for hours—something I can’t do in India. I come back home with a bag full of books. I’m always stopped at customs as they think I’m carrying some heavy electronic items!

RD: Your business venture, Dreamz Unlimited, did not do too well. Now, you have started a production company called Red Chillies. What kind of movies will you make?SRK: I’ve always made movies close to my heart. Any story is nice as long as it makes you feel good. I have no socially relevant or women emancipation subjects close to my heart. I’m an entertainer.

RD: Are you a good businessman?SRK: I don’t think so. I don’t know how to ask for money. I don’t know how to deal with money. But I’m not I’m not a fool either—I am very clear in my business dealings; they are very transparent and up front. Also, very few people tend to cheat me. They know I’m the means to an end—so why kill the golden goose? [Laughs]. Also, I do carry a bit of clout.

RD: Are you interested in directing films? SRK: Directing is a very lonely job. The responsibility and the stress are so great, and the end result is never your own. But if I become a director, I must have enough money to produce my own films. I’d be an expensive director, and I don’t want to utilize someone else’s money for my whims and fancies.

RD: You’ve tried your hand at almost everything—recently, you even lent your voice to a cartoon film. What if you reach a stage where you find that nothing stimulates you? SRK: I hope I never reach that stage. If things don’t happen to you, you have to make them happen. You never wait for life to happen to you—you rush towards life with open arms.


First published in Reader's Digest February 2005

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