Shah Rukh Khan voted India's undisputed No. 1 'marketing savvy star' in the Screen Annual Survey 2014

Written by PriyankaSinha | Mumbai | Updated: Oct 5 2014, 08:58am hrs
Shah Rukh Khan wealthShah Rukh Khan's wealth is pegged at $600 mn, making him world's second richest actor ahead of Tom Cruise's $480 mn. (PTI)
Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment office is about as state-of-the-art as it can get, sleek, modern, with up to speed gizmos' operated by young employees featuring prominently. And then, there is the spectacular view from its higher levels and a bustling Starbucks on the ground floor. Nothing that spells filmi per se. More Google, one of those new-age offices that strive to create a fun-at-work environ. After 22 years in the business, his workplace credo points to two thingshis transition from an actor to a film-maker and entertainer at large. Khan's films are coveted commodities for studios and distributors, what with his growing fan base in unexpected markets like UAE, US, UK, Germany, Malaysia and France (he was recently decorated with Legion d' honneur the country's highest civilian honour) among others. Given the superstar's burgeoning business clout courtesy his films, sports investments, VFX facilities, stakes in an amusement park, live performances, television shows and endorsements, it was hardly a surprise that Wealth X, a Singapore based wealth research firm, pegged his personal fortune at $600 million, making him the world's second richest actor. Tom Cruise ($ 480 million), Johnny Depp ($ 450 million) and Clint Eastwood ($ 370 million) trailed after Khan. He also features in their list of richest Indians with a wealth ofRs 3,660 crore.

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All of the above, coupled with the findings of Screen Annual Survey 2014 that Shah Rukh Khan (48) tops with 41 per cent of respondents, (all marketing professionals across the country) voting him to be the most marketing savvy star and the impressive blitzkrieg preceding 'Happy New Year', make him the undisputed choice for Screen's cover story in this special edition.

Unfortunately, though when it comes to perception, his market savvy often outweighs his consummate acting skills, leading Khan to cheekily observe that all these years he has been working only for meaningless cinema! In fact most Bollywood actors that Screen spoke with were of the opinion that when it came to marketing and promoting his films, Khan aced it. Sam Balsara , Chairman and MD of Madison World who was on the team responsible for BJP's brilliant marketing strategy says of Khan, Shah Rukh Khan is a good actor, but an even better marketing person, going by the way he markets himself and his films. Whilst film marketing is an important subject today and accounts for substantial cost element in a film's production budget, I think Shah Rukh and his production house were one of the first to recognise the importance of marketing in the film world. (sic) Khan who once famously described himself as an employee of the celebrity superstar Shah Rukh Khan, has been promoted, many times over by his audience for an outstanding performance on screen and off it.

On the occasion of our 63rd anniversary, the marquee idol in yet another insightful conversation, speaks on how the sum total of all his endeavours adds up to entertainment.

Happy New Year is a heist film and we have not had too many in Hindi cinema, so what is the audience going to be treated to

It's an irregular and new genre. We keep talking about Dhoom and Kick, although I haven't watched them, as heist films. Dhoom, I know is a robbery film. Heist films to me are like Ocean's Eleven. Unlike robbery films, heist films are those where a plan is made by a set of people to outsmart some people and get away. Usually it's an ensemble film not about a particular person or two people, but about six to seven people. Their lives are entwined and they all come to a crux because of this heist. In Happy New Year of course, there is the world dance championship they have to participate in. Heist films have a formula; you have four- five different people, each good at a job and then you collect them to pull off the heist. And then there is some speciality of your film; for instance, how cool is it Or how interestingly did they outsmart the authorities Did they, did they not In Ocean's Eleven you thought that they had committed the robbery, but they had just played the video (in the first one) so you are like, oh they did not steal only'. And when you think they are not stealing, they actually are, and walking out.

I have really enjoyed the experience, because I have never been a part of a film that is based on heist. You get to wear jackets, go through ventilators, open safes; stuff like that.

The novelty is the obstacle that comes. For instance, the obstacle may be that the main guy who is known to the casino, (in Ocean's Eleven, George Clooney) is banned from the casino. In Happy New Year, the obstacle is that the only way to have some kind of access to this robbery is to participate in this dance championship and the people who have to participate, are the world's worst dancers. The story is about how six people who are not considered successful, find their own grain. The in-depth part is that, but it's also extremely funny. There is a crux to it, which a lot of people won't see because it is mounted so commercially. But the crux is that to be winners, you don't have to be stealing, you don't have to be competing. You can do something for others, perhaps for your country and be a winner too. But it's so much fun and games, that I don't know if people will understand that philosophy. It's all right even if they don't.

Is a message integral to films that are mass entertainers

It's important to have an underlying thought, however commercial. It can't just be fun and games because then there is no binding force in the film. There's nothing that glues it together. You can find faults with films, you might complain that there is a certain looseness to it or lightness, but if there is an underlying crux, I think people recognise that apart from the entertainment. For instance, in Chak De! India, it's very clearly patriotism, but say even in a romantic film like Jab Tak Hai Jaan, a magic realism love story where a guy is willing to die to prove his girlfriend wrong that there is no God. The love story is almost between God, the man and the girl and completely fairy-tale like. What holds you is the fact that there is a man who loves you so much. Even though it may not be realistic, everybody would like a man or woman to love each other as much.

How does Happy New Year compare with Don

Don is very stylised, extremely stylised and has more linear a thought process it is led by one guy and you just enjoy his sensuality, his naughtiness or his meanness. I think Don became less mean in the second onehe should have been meaner but you start enjoying that he's strangely warped in an attractive way. In HNY, I think six people are strangely sweet in a very attractive way. It is not as stylised or as dependent on what one character is. So it's very different from Don. It doesn't get into that serious a zone that Interpol is after Don and the world wants to kill him, because he's shot people, is doing drugs and freaking out with women. In HNY, it's a more innocent world. Their world is innocent, because the six people in it are innocent. Maybe except for me (Charlie) who is leading them all, but who's also got a purpose.

And I think there is also the simplicity to the characters that people can think that arrey, yeh to apne jaise hi log hain.' It's not as dark and sensual as Don. HNY is a Farah (Khan) film, so it's extremely colourful and happy.

Have you added a high-wattage star cameo like Julia Roberts appearance as Tess Ocean, Danny Ocean's (Clooney's) wife trying to pass off as Julia Roberts

There are so many stars in our film so who else could we get (laughs) I wanted Madhuri (Dixit Nene) and Hrithik (Roshan) to do a cameo, but because the film has got so many layers, sometimes you can waste stardom. The schedule was in Dubai and we were rushed for time so, no, there's nothing gimmicky like that, but yeah, we have Anurag Kashyap in the film and Vishal (Bhardwaj) too. And Farah cast the whole crew in the film. It's a thing with her that everyone (the crew) plays a role in the film, so in that way it's quirky. You will have a few people from the unit, whom you don't expect to see on screen.

Dubai where the film was shot obviously holds a special place, so are there any special plans in place

We are planning to do a premiere therethey are having some issues with logistics, but I'd like to have a premiere there on the 22nd October because by 23rd we need to be back for the release. We started there so we should end there and the film is based heavily in Dubai, specifically in Atlantis (the robbery happens there) and they have been very kind. This would be a celebration of the film with the people in Dubai.

Everyone's expecting a HNY blitzkriegwe have already seen the music launchesso is there a special showcase plan in place

We have the World Tour (SLAM) which is not about Happy New Year, but because the cast was together to promote the film for a couple of weeks, we decided that instead of going to America and do interviews, let's do something fun. The shows might have surrogately promoted Happy New Year, but we had songs from Abhishek, Deepika, Farah's films and we follow it up with Madhuri (Dixit Nene) who joins us in London on October 5. And then there is Malaika (Arora Khan) too. We have a cast of six actors, so we were like hum apna hi ek show bana lete hain. We thought of Sushmita (Sen) and Jacqueline (Fernandez) too, but I think they were both busy at that time. SLAM is not a marketing strategy. I wanted to do a world tour, we had done Temptations earlier, but we wanted this one to be technologically superior to what we had done before. To just keep it to the film would be too narrow for the audience. It would be unfair to other actors because why would they be a part of Happy New Year promotion tour They will feel, Arrey wohi che gaane If Deepika's Fanny Fernandes was coming now, we would talk about the film too; if Boman's film was coming it would be there too. Yeah, because the music will be out, we will do a song from Happy New Year promotional tour But whether it is Angrezi weed de or Dhoom, we will do all the songs, and then I am assuming and hoping that we will extend this template into city tours which won't be the regular city tours, visits to the malls. During Chennai Express promotions, I went to Bhopal, Patna and lakhs, not just thousands of people came. I had to reach the venue at 5 pm which invariably became 6 pm, but the crowd had been standing there since noon! Everyone is telling me that, Sir bahut bheed ho gayi hain. And I am like, Par hum to paanch baje aane wale the. So, you realise that people are being so gracious about it. They know you are coming at five, but they are already there, waiting for you. I remember in Kolkata, at nine in the morning there were lakhs of people coming in, so one of the things I would like to do is not just say, I love you and please watch Happy New Year, but create a space and make it like a show and give them something to remember the actors by.

We have done a world tour, so we are going to mix and match something to give the audience good entertainment. If you have waited since two o'clock, it's not just to receive a wave from Boman or Shah Rukh or Farah. It's for entertainment, and because we are the same cast and are coming to the city for interviews etc., we also do a show for the press and for the audience to come and see and meet us. We just tweak it a little, change it so that it becomes special. So, if we go to Gujarat, we will add a Gujarati flavour to the event. It's a celebratory film, so if we go to Punjab, we can add bhangra and try and turn it around and involve people. We will do as many city tours as are possible logistically, and in a way, tell you the spirit of the film which is ki it's singing, it's dancing, it's being happy and having a good time and that's what we should do on Diwali.

Is there a method to the film marketing madness

You have to inform people about the film. So, what information do I want people to get It's an entertainer with song and dance; it's happy and mounted in a nice big way. If I come into a small room then I am taking away from the spirit of my film. If I am doing a press conference or a trailer launch in Wadala like I do, I create a whole space which is like a mela that you can come and see, and you are like, wow! Then genuinely, without showing off, you feel ki trailer aisa hai to picture kaisi hogi The information put out is, they are doing a show like this instead of just coming and waving out to us. And I think we can afford to because we have a film which is affordable. I think a lot of people can afford to, but they don't do it. At Red Chillies Entertainment, we are very clear that we are going to offer you entertainment up to the level of the film. You should have a good evening so that the spirit of the film gets expanded. Of course, if it was not a film like this, it would not be possible. The film has to lend itself to it.

This once, you have a distribution arrangement with YashRaj Films instead of a studio...

Nobody bought it! (laughs)

How's that even possible after a blockbuster like Chennai Express

I asked UTV, if they wanted to take it after Chennai Express, but they were not ready as they had some transfers or whatever happening. We decided to finish the film and halfway through its making, we felt that if we have the money to complete the film, then we should. I met Adi one day and I told him I haven't sold the film so he said, Don't! Give it to me. So it just happened like that. I normally don't sell my films. It's always been that if someone (studio/production house) has got the script, as UTV Disney did, besides introducing me to Rohit. I feel morally obliged and usually end up co-producing it. So the partnership has never been monetary because I think I can make a film. It weighs heavy on us because we also have the Kolkata Knight Riders and Masha Allah, Chennai Express had done well, we had some money and had finished 75 per cent of HNY, so we decided to make it. And YashRaj distributing the film means that all our stress is gone.

Any particular reason for the long gap between Om Shanti Om, your last film with Farah and HNY

She had told me about this film before OSO, but first there was an issue of casting for the role. At that point Amitji was to be cast in the film and he took ill after Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham, I think. At that time it wasn't an ensemble film. Earlier, it was more Lagaanish, realistic with this one central character. Now it's become more starry. And then we were not fine with the ending of the film. But of course, if you have decided to do a film, you sit on it and try to work it out. We sat and spoke about it for 10-15 days and nobody liked the way it was shaping up. And then because it was going nowhere, what with an unsatisfying ending and the cast that we wanted from the wish list, things didn't move forward. Also, I was supposed to play a boy who goes away to America and I felt I was too old to play that role. Farah at that time had narrated three films to me OSO was a punarjanam story and it did not need a bigger cast, so I said let's go with that. We decided to go with a newcomer (as the heroine) because for Shah Rukh Khan to think of an established actress as a superstar would have been odd. It had to be someone completely new and endearing and magical. So it worked better that you bring in someone and say woh kissi zamane ki star thi. There wasn't much casting as it wasn't a spread out cast, so we made OSO instead. And later, I met Farah one day and asked her, What happened to that one And she said, I have changed it to suit your age. As a matter of fact, the whole set-up has changed and the ending is very nice'. So I said ok. It hasn't taken that long as such.

Earlier Hindi films had a very compelling emotional motive for a crime like someone's mother dying due to poverty or some such, so what's the motive behind the heist in HNY

We have a line that Boman says, If there is no motive, there is no crime'. So everybody in this film has a motive which is based on that grey area that all of them want to achieve something. Everyone feels that life has passed one by. So maybe the motive for someone is the desire to get rich. And then somewhere down the line, the motive changes and becomes one single motivation. HNY is not a story of six professional thieves who keep doing this regularly. They can live their lives as they are, losers, not using their talent. Or, they pull off the heist using it. It's not just ki chal aaj chori kar lete hain. Tere ko aata hai taala todna Tere ko goliyan chalaani aati hai to chori kar lete hain. They have those talents, but they needed a motivation. They are not bad people, just people who have lost out in life due to certain circumstances. None of them want to steal, actually. One man brings them together and motivates them. There's one scene where Boman says, So you are saying that we should become thieves now So Charlie says, that there's a reason for it. It's a wrong move, but it is in the space of Robin Hood, rather than being just bad professional thieves. Although, maybe if this film does well, they might become professional thieves.

Would you agree that we don't respect failure enough and stars certainly don't have the failure option open to them

I have always said, Failure is not an option. When you wake up in the morning and decide to do something, it's not ki kar leta hoon, hua to hua, nahin hua toh nahin hua.

You always get up with the purpose ki I will get it done. I will finish washing my clothes today. I will clean my cupboard properly. You won't say, ki I will start with the cupboard, dekhta hoon kya hota hai, because then you have already given yourself a choice ki let's not complete this job the way we had thought of it. If I have a room I have been wanting to clean, I may procrastinate and say that I will do it today or I will do it tonight. But if I start with ki shuru kar deta hoon yaar, dekhta hoon kya hota hai, it will never happen. So even for that small thing, I would rather approach it ki failure is not an option. Start with the thought, ki look I am going to do this. And maybe that is where businessmen, particularly creative businessmen are different. A lot of people think they are earning wellI think they are only earning well. It is money without imagination. I put my money where my dreams are. I am into wealth creation and wealth does not mean Rs.5 lakh in a bank or Rs.50 lakh. So as a businessman, I am not there to collect money. I am there to create wealth and wealth will come when you use your imagination. A pure businessman creates value as well as wealth in his own way, but for him it is about evaluation, about dollar pricesfor me, it is money utilised to make something creative. Whether it is a KKR kind of set-up or it's a film that I have made, has more wealthiness in it, more value in it. We may come last or lose money, but failure is still not an option. Because I don't want to get into a venture of making creative films and then say, damn, it's not turning out as I had imagined it to be. If my money does not turn out to give me what my imagination believed, then I am a failure.

For IPL, in the initial years, everyone told me, teri team paisa toh kama rahi hai'. But it was not doing what I had imagined. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't the team's fault, it just wasn't doing it. Till they did, and we won these two cups and now, having made that profit is also nice. But profit-making wasn't the only reason for me to be in it, because I was making profits and losing too. For a businessman, it's like, so what if we've come eighth We have made money. In Economic Times, there was an article that said I am making money but I was like, I don't want to make money'. It maybe good for a businessman, but as a creative businessman, your imagination needs to be fulfilled, and I have a big imagination. I want to be perceived like that. I want people to like what I am doing. I have the actor's yearning for applause. For people to fall in love with my work because I have worked hard on it and I believe in it. I think it's right. If I was just an actor, I would be happy to go and do my job, say I love you, Kkirran, and be very happy with it. Now, I am a film-maker and Red Chillies is making and promoting films, so for me it's doubly important that nothing that goes out of this office is sub-standard. As a creative person, there is no pressure. I work best under pressure. So, did I do well And I have to do better than last time is very interesting. Do I have to do better than XYZ That doesn't turn me on.

Who among various creators of wealth do you admire

Among creative entrepreneurs, I admire Steve Jobs, Ratan Tatahe had the vision to create something like Nano, Starbucks, Jaguar; perhaps Mukesh Ambani and James Cameron. Especially James Cameron for the way he's used technology to create the kind of cinema he believes in. Or even Walt Disney. I think what they've done requires immense courage of conviction.

Can technology dictate cinematic narrative Or is it the other way round

Technology is a tool that can help film-makers support them in telling the kind of stories they want to tell. For instance, in Happy New Year, we were able to amp up several scenes action etc because of technology and make it glitzier, even though Farah was not well-versed with the technology per se. So if the tools are available, one can choose from them the ones most appropriate for realising one's vision.

Can a star and good business practice co-exist Is a personality dependent business limited by it

In the movies business, a company has to be driven by a personality. Steve Jobs or Walt Disney are crucial to their businesses. In Bollywood, all leading production houses are driven by stars or personalities whether it is YashRaj or Dharma, so I don't think you can ever separate the two.

Will the star system ever cease to exist

No. Movie business cannot exist without a star system as has been evident in countries like Britain.