Exclusive: ‘Zero is a film about equality,’ says Shah Rukh

By Mohnish Singh

After playing a diverse range of characters in his glorious career, superstar Shah Rukh Khan is now seen as a vertically challenged man Bauua Singh in his new film, Zero. The Aanand L Rai directorial, which also features Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif, tells the tale of a flawed man who realizes the important of true love only after losing it. It’s an important film for Khan, especially because his last few films have not performed as per expectations.

In conversation with Eastern Eye correspondent, Mohnish Singh, Shah Rukh Khan, in his typical candour and charm, talks about his character Bauua Singh, how Zero celebrates incompleteness and equality, and how his leading ladies Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif have grown as actresses over the years. The megastar also opens up about his daughter Suhana Khan’s career plans. Excerpts…

You are one of the biggest superstars in the world. How does it feel to play a vertically challenged man in Zero?

I feel that when you are playing a character, it should have some sort of uniqueness. We, including myself, have been selling a larger-than-life hero all these years, a hero who is the most handsome of all, who rides his motorcycle at crazy speed and who has six-pack abs. That kind of a hero does exist. I myself have played such roles – a hero who jumps off high-rise buildings and saves women irrespective of the fact whether his help is required or not, a hero who goes to nightclubs and surprises everyone with his killer dance moves. He can practically do everything under the sun. We don’t make smaller-than-life heroes. Actual heroes are always smaller-than-life. We use superheroes in our Hindi films, who are unreal. I really believe that the hero should be smaller-than-life. When you get an opportunity to play a character that is physically also smaller and if I can still become a hero to you that, I think, is interesting.

Shah Rukh Khan in Zero

Shah Rukh, differently-abled persons have always been shown in a certain way in cinema, but Bauua Singh, as shown in the trailer, is completely different than that image. What do you have to say about that?

Yeah, some girls saw the film and said he (Bauua Singh) is so mean till the end. He is not mean. He is what he is. He has not changed himself for anyone. When we were making the film, we knew it was a film about equality. Even when Bauua meets Anushka’s character for the first time in the film, he does not pity her just because she is wheelchair-bound. He behaves quite rudely with her and does some improper things. But the girl likes him because she feels he is treating her equal, not special.

In real life, I feel, we try to show some extra chivalry towards women. I don’t think women want you to treat them special. They want you to treat them equal. I think that is equality. In our film, every character has some shortcomings, but we have not projected them in a manner where it looks like that we want the audience to pity them just because Aafia has cerebral palsy, because Bauua is vertically challenged and because Babita is emotionally incomplete. Not even in a single scene throughout the film. I feel if we show equality towards those who we think are not equal, only then they will feel equal. If we show sympathy, they will feel you pity them. So, that is why the character of Bauua remains the same till the end.

Director Aanand L Rai says that Shah Rukh Khan attracts challenging characters. Your comment…

You know, I really feel that it is very difficult to keep yourself excited by just name, fame and money. When I was in Delhi, my mother would say that food does not taste any better if it’s served on a silver platter, no one can eat the money that they earn or, for that matter, take it along when they die. I feel if I do what used to make me happy 25-30 years ago when I wanted to be an actor, I have to go and do something which is more exciting than what I have already done. Doing that is not always easy. Like I said that if I just want to play the hero types, it is a little easy. I’ll wear some good clothes, dance here and there, which is all right if somebody wants to do that. But I feel that when my children and my wife ask me in the evening that how was my day, I don’t have to say that it was exactly the same as the last 1800 days. I went, I danced and came back. Of course, I still dance. But the excitement of dancing like Bauua makes me very happy. To keep that excitement alive as an actor, beyond the name, fame and money that I make, it is important that I have something which is new. Sometimes it becomes challenging. Sometimes the new is very easy to do also. That is the attraction that I have for trying to do little differently.

Shah Rukh with the team of Zero

Zero has a sequence featuring late actress Sridevi. It will be her last onscreen appearance. She is no more with us to see it. What would you like to say?

Like everyone else, we all were extremely shocked (to know about her death). The other day I was at a wedding and Karan (Johar) and all were there talking about it. You know, it was quite mutual that we did not even believe that she is no more there. First, I wish Boney (Kapoor) and his family the best. I hope they get over it soon. Wherever she is, she’ll be making people happy.

It’s wrong for me to say that it is a privilege to have her in our film. It would have been a happier moment if she was here as she was a part of the film. But yeah, per chance, there is a little sequence of hers in the film and I hope people enjoy it. We really enjoyed it when we were shooting. She has been my friends for years. I could not spend much time with her, but she used to love me a lot. We had a warm relationship of friendship. We used to meet not very often, but we were very close. We miss her, yaar. Whatever little we have in the film, I hope people enjoy it and remember her with happiness.

Legendary actress Sridevi made her last screen appearance in Zero

Your daughter, Suhana, accompanied you a couple of times during the shoot of this film. Has she started preparing herself to become an actress?

Yes, she is learning to be an actress. She is presently studying in London and then she wants to go to America and learn acting for 3-4 years. I think during her summer and winter holidays, she is required to intern at theatre or street theatre or anything to do with the arts and craft.

When she was here last time, she was supposed to go back to assist some filmmaker. So, I offered her to come and visit my set. Aanand sir did a very smart thing. Instead of giving her any other job, he made her my AD and her job was to bring me to the set. Every day she used to come on time with mics and everything and take me to the set. Also, I wanted her to see Anushka and Katrina act because they are two different actors and she is fond of them. She has known them from childhood. Anushka is quite close to her. I wanted her to come and observe them on the set as to how actresses act and the process they have.

So, when is she planning to enter filmdom?

I think she should first study acting for at least four years. To be very honest, if somebody from my family gets into films in whichever department and if they don’t return back to films what films have given to me, they should not get into films. Only way they can do it to educate themselves. So, I think she should learn professional acting, whether it is stage or theatre. Once she learns the art and the craft, then anybody would cast her. Then I’ll think if I have to launch her (laughs).

Shah Rukh with daughter Suhana

How was it to do a full-fledged song with Salman Khan after so many years?

It was great fun. We shot the song in a hurry because Salman had given us certain dates. But it was lots of fun. When we were shooting for the Ishaqbaazi song, his last film had released and it had not done quite well. So, he also felt he was with friends (while shooting the song). We used to finish shooting by twelve in the night and then chat till 4 o’clock in the morning. It was great fun and he really liked the song.

Will we get to see you both in a full-fledged film anytime soon?

As of now, there is nothing on the anvil. I think, first a director needs to write something for us and then he should also be accustomed to our habit of arriving late for the shoot (laughs). But I definitely wish somebody writes it (a film).

Anushka Sharma debuted alongside you in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), and with Zero she is completing a decade in the film industry. How do you see her journey? Share your experience of working with Katrina Kaif as well.

Zero is Anushka’s fourth film with Shah Rukh Khan

Anushka is a very conscientious and wonderful actress. She is very proper and that has helped us a lot while doing this film. She has worked really hard on this film. I think she will be the most standout thing in the whole movie. She trained herself for 6-7 months for playing her character with cerebral palsy. She used to correct us at many places during the shoot. We also changed many scenes according to her knowledge. For Katrina, I would say, she talks very beautifully. She always shares with me what kind of roles she wants to do. But some people get typecast very easily, just like me who is typecast as a romantic hero. She is so beautiful that people expect her to do the same thing – wear good clothes, dance well and all. But she always has this desire that she gets to do some different types of roles. In this film, she has a wonderful role, along with dance and song. She has grown a lot as an actress. For the first time she is talking so much about her character in any film. Both of them have performed really well.