Bollywood or business: Shah Rukh Khan’s unique philosophy of success
As we are ushered into the 24th floor suite at a posh Bandra hotel, the Badshah of Bollywood greets us warmly, the ever-present cigarette smouldering in one hand. As his aides buzz around to get him a sandwich, Shah Rukh ‘King’ Khan strolls to the sea-facing window and muses aloud, “Too bad Sea Rock hotel is gone. I’d always dreamt of buying it during my struggler days.”
Staring far into the sea, watching the waves splash around, it looks as if he is trying to relive those frustrating days of sitting on Bandra’s bandstand with nothing more than just a dream. But with success, SRK’s dreams have only gotten bigger.
Circa 2012, he is not only the biggest star in Bollywood, but also owner of the IPL-winning Kolkata Knightrider team, and promoter of Red Chillies Entertainment and Red Chillies VFX. SRK, who has been retained by TAG Heuer as brand ambassador for the 9th year, discusses his unique philosophy of success. Edited excerpts:
So what drives you — a higher goal, insecurity or success itself?
You know, I delivered a speech on success for Young President’s Organisation a few years ago. Success is an extremely strange thing. It has two elements. First, it cannot be passed on, however much you try, whether you are a CEO of a company, or a parent. And the second thing about it is that the successful person actually actually does not know why he or she is successful. Of course, you can always say things like: the more I practice, the easier it becomes, etc. People get cagey trying to explain the reason for success and they hide behind big words. Someone asked Warren Buffet, how he was so successful in his investments. Buffet said: ‘I take the right decisions’. The person asked: ‘And how do you take right decisions?’ He replies: ‘Experience’. He was further asked: ‘How do you get experience?’
Buffet said: ‘By making the wrong decisions’. So even Warren Buffet cannot explain the reason for success — no one can. So when you ask me what drives me, it’s really none of the five top things: profit, fame, the quest for excellence and perfection, wanting to do better than I did last time, or just because this is what I do. I think it is something as basic as, feeling good about what you do. And then everything stems from it. Whenever I’ve felt good doing something, it has always been successful. I felt good about getting into cricket. Fine, it wasn’t successfully immediately.
People criticise you because their analysis of your success from exterior forces is based on the five peripherals. And I explain that yes, I lost money on RaOne but it feels good, and I will make it again. I could not have done RaOne 20 years back, but now I can afford to do it, and lose a bit of money if I need to, as long as it felt right. Of course I am in a lot of businesses now. Some of those things I do not feel good about, so I don’t like to do them, but once I feel good about my core business, I go for it.
You have created an ecosystem of success around you, right producers, right directors, right co-star’s etc. Do you owe your success to this ecosystem, or was it because of your success that you were able to make those choices?
Actually, most of the work I have done is with first or second-time directors — Farah Khan, Shimit Amin, Rajiv Mehra, Aziz Mirza, Kundan Shah — and it felt good to work with them. The new actors I work with, like Anushka, Katrina, Priyanka, Deepika, etc. get very surprised, because I don’t interfere in the script or change this song and that scene. My philosophy is, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Any amount of fixing won’t work if it was going to go bad anyway. So there is a huge amount of instinct.
I believe your first instinct will never go wrong. Like my new film with Rohit Shetty. He came to narrate a film to me two years ago through some mutual business friends. The film is called Chennai Express and I said yes, I will do this film. Even with Munnabhai, which I didn’t do eventually because of my surgery…I’d said yes to it. When Raju (Hirani) came to me, I was shooting the climax scene in Devdas. As we were chatting, he said, ‘I have got a film, it is called Munnabhai MBBS’. And after hearing the title, I said I am doing it. Raju asked me if I was joking. I said no, I am doing this, finished. I do not want to hear anything. Sometimes instinct works and sometimes it goes wholesomely wrong.
Did being an outsider in the industry help you break rules more often?
Actually it doesn’t and it does. I do not get the feedback that industry people get, because I am still an outsider. But I am very proud of it. I did not know how to be a hero and have not been groomed by my senior colleagues. I find it a little wrong when people assume my son will become an actor. Why? He will get a good education and then decide what he wants. I would love it if he became one, because I would be able to at least have a conversation. If they become economists, I may not.
But my logic is that because I was not groomed by people as to how a hero should be, I did atypical films. People turn around after 20 years and say, oh he is a romantic hero, he only works in these kind of films. But if I look back at my 72 films, there’s a lot of different commercially viable films I’ve done. I can do a hockey film with 13-15 girls (Chak De India). If I was an insider, I would think, there is no hero-heroine or song — now, all those considerations do not come in my head.