You won't see him cry, you won't see him clean shaved, you won't see him romancing his co-stars and you won't see him bash up bad guys. King Khan, as he is fondly called, is back in his third offbeat role after Swades and Paheli where he plays the coach of a women's hockey team in what's considered to be one of the most challenging characters he has ever portrayed on screen. Excerpts from an interview with Shah Rukh Khan on his next big release Chak De India.
Chak De India appears like a very non-SRK film with you having no romantic liaisons or tear-jerking concerns.
I have known the director (Shimit Amin) for years. He is a very simple, hardworking and talented guy. He has worked with me in the film Asoka. He's a very sweet, unassuming kind of a guy and to choose a film that is on sports and which is normally neglected is daring. Apart from Lagaan, Hip Hip Hurray and Iqbal we haven't really made sports film now.
It's something that I wanted to do when I was younger but I didn't get a chance. So when I am old and grey and over the hill, I am glad someone like Shimit thought that I could sort of fill in to a sports film. Field hockey has been a personal favourite sport of mine and I have wanted my kids to learn it. I do feel I am no one to really comment from the outside that the state of Indian Hockey is not good. But I have always felt that if there is anything I can do via the medium I love, that is acting, I will go to any extent to do it. Plus the fact that Yash Raj was producing it made it even special because they are all friends and family to me.
Also this time your character doesn't have a lover-boy image.
Yes. I play Kabir Khan. He is a coach and an ex-Indian hockey player. He is having some problems in his life and wants to overcome them without being cynical and disturbed. He decides in his mind and heart that he is going to do something positive about it. It's a film about achievement in the face of failure and it's a film that looks at failure in a positive way.
The idea is to take on some kind of a challenge and try to overcome that obstacle which had stopped you earlier so I would say the character is quite aggressive when he wants to be. It's a mix of Jaideep's writing, Shimit's outlook, Adi's belief and my mannerisms and style — all rolled into one.
You don't look the regular Shah Rukh in Chak De India
I have reached a stage where directors do not want me to look the same old Shah Rukh Khan. Shimit wanted Kabir Khan and that's how I look. A tough coach and a determined coach. I think the producer, director and the writer all thought that may be with a beard and shorter hair, I would look different and I was fine with it. Only it's very scratchy when you wake up in the morning. Even after a bath, you don't feel clean. I hope I don't have to grow a beard for another role for the next couple of years.
The entire hockey team in the film comprises of new actors.
Earlier I thought that working with newcomers would be a bit of a hassle because they would not know their lines. You know you become a little patronising and a little kind at times, a little agitated and irritated, too, because things are not going the way you think they should go. But I think the whole production team had worked very hard with them and I do not want to take any credit away from these girls.
I think they are very hardworking and wonderful. They have put their heart and soul into the film. They have practiced and learnt hockey, they have learnt the lines, they know the scenes they knew everything and at the end of it all after having worked for 18 years as an actor I thought I got a lot to learn.
Among the girls in the team, many of them must have been your fans.
We had a lot of readings before we started the film and couple of meetings so that we got easy with each other apart from some of them liking me. It's a little embarrassing because some of them were five to six years old when they saw my films. Then you suddenly realize, god! you are old and you've been in this industry for long.
It was also important for me to be comfortable with them and not treat them like kids because the whole purpose of the character of Kabir is that he doesn't treat them like kids or girls he treats them like grown up, tough people. I think that little bit of being fans and a stalwart compared to the others got over very fast in the reading and meeting stage. Then we were all co-actors and co-actresses, just working together and having a great time.
You are known to be a sporty person. Did you play hockey in school?
Yes. I used to play a lot of field hockey in my school days. I was good at it but when I went and played for the film, I was horrible. I was really awful. I had no stamina left. I think the technique of hockey has changed. Astroturf itself is very tiring. As shameful as it is to say but I thought I would be able to beat the girls but they kicked my butt as they were really good.
I am no good at playing field hockey I realised. I realised while playing with them that it would be better if I use my status as a super star and not practice at all and tell them that I can pull it off by acting. So I did that because I knew that no matter how much I practice, I would never be good at it. But I have given it my best shot and hopefully it looks good enough.
What was your experience of working with Shimit Amin?
I think Shimit is a very sweet director. He's very quiet and very unassuming. He is an amazing technician because he himself is very skilled at editing, which I think is half the battle won for a director, and knowing fully what he wants, where he wants and how he will edit it. A sports film has to be shot in a very special way and normally it required somewhere between two to six cameras at times to shoot the film. So, so it's very difficult to keep track of all that unless you happen to be a good technician.
I think he has had a lot of education in world cinema and not just Indian cinema. He loves Indian cinema. Thus his exposure to both kind of cinema gives him an edge over a lot of other directors. He's young and he's made a wonderful film in the past, 'Ab Tak Chhappan', and he's a friend. I have known him for years and he is very comfortable to work with. A really sweet guy, he doesn't get angry, is great by nature and knows his job. He's an ideal director to work with.
Hockey as a sports option is not very common in schools today. Do you think it's a good game for the children of today?
I just hope the film can educate people enough to understand that even though Hockey is played with a stick and white ball. It's not pool, it's not billiards. It's a different sport. It's a national sport. I would tell kids to give it a shot if they like it and go ahead. Otherwise there is always soccer, cricket or a Taekwondo.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the words Chak De India?
Chak De strangely to me is a line from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. I remember we used to say Chak De Phate in DDLJ. I hope Chak De India becomes like a sporting line whenever Sachin is playing. Or perhaps when Dhanraj Pillai is going with the ball, somebody screams Chak De India, which means score a goal or hit a sixer or get Sania Mirza to win.