Way before he ruled a million hearts as Raj and Rahul, Shah Rukh Khan had an entire nation fall in love with him as Lieutenant Abhimanyu Rai as he trained to become an Indian Army commando in the Doordarshan TV show Fauji. The year was 1989.
In the last 25 years, Shah Rukh has repeatedly cemented his position as the Badshah of Bollywood. Shah Rukh's popularity crosses borders and he is perhaps the most popular Bollywood star internationally.
Actor, producer, owner of a cricket team and philanthropist, Shah Rukh today wears many hats.
"Yeah, if I think about it, very few people have had such a gifted journey! Especially if you consider my background," he says when asked about his incredible journey to stardom.
It hasn't been a journey of all highs.
"There was a time when we were making Mohabbatein and the cover of India Today said my career was over. Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani had been released and, yes, it did not do as well as people had expected.
"I was the first actor who set up a production company. And this magazine cover killed me. It said I didn't know how to make films, and my days as a star were over. I was very, very disturbed. Our next (production) was Asoka and then 9/11 happened and it didn't work. But that didn't dishearten me. We kept making the films we wanted to. Next came Chalte Chalte and since then… we haven't made a bad film in terms of commerce," reflects the 48-year-old.
But the days of failed films seem to be far behind him. Shah Rukh's last, Chennai Express, trounced the records set by 3 Idiots at the box office. But soon after came Dhoom 3 that kicked Chennai Express off the numero uno spot.
Has the fun gone out of movie-making because of all the counting of crores?
"I don't count! I have never looked at numbers. Film-making and its success are 100 per cent inexplicable. Otherwise you would have made 250 superhit films every year. No one knows what makes a film work. Some films work but they don't make money... there is no explanation for that either.
"I really think this 100-crore club business is the brainchild of some corporate guy somewhere. He probably doesn't have a creative bone in his body. All he understands is his company's P&L! We film-makers are creative people. We know only how to make cinema. It's not our job to count the pennies. We don't understand business. And, because we don't understand it, we don't play for it. Because if we play for it, we will learn it. And if we learn it, then from then on we will be making films only for the reviews or the crores."
For all of Shah Rukh's denials about not being interested in box-office collections, there was a party to celebrate when Chennai Express broke the 3 Idiots record. Stories of his competitive streak are legendary in Bollywood.
"When I wake up in the morning, I believe there's nobody better than me. I compete only with myself. I don't know you. I don't know any other actor. I don't know any other director. The only person I know is me. And I am highly successful. Perhaps one of the most successful people in the last 20 years.
"I want to compete against and beat myself. Every morning. Let my today kill yesterday. Let my tomorrow kill my today. I am going to make it bigger, better."
It is this passion to be bigger and better that seems to have pushed Shah Rukh. So he started working on his next release, Farah Khan's Happy New Year.
"My goal is to make it the ultimate Bollywood film. I want to make every Indian proud of Bollywood with this film. I may fail completely on the Friday this film releases, but the intention is there. When they (Hollywood) make Ocean's 14, they should aim to make it bigger than Happy New Year. I just want to push the envelope with everything I do… and who knows, maybe someday I'll push enough to conquer the world," he smiles, showing off his famous dimples.
Interestingly, Happy New Year is Shah Rukh and Farah Khan's big reunion film after a huge falling out. Without getting into the gory details about what soured relations between the two, who in the past had collaborated on hits like Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om, he explains: "There was a point in our lives where we thought we should go our separate ways. That she should do a film with someone else. Which she did (Tees Maar Khan with Akshay Kumar). But sometimes when two people who are very close do films with other people, other parties begin to interfere to make the relationship weaker."
There was also that very public and ugly altercation with Farah's husband Shirish Kunder where Shah Rukh slapped the director at a nightclub. "That situation just got out of hand and I really regret it. I should have just kept quiet and not reacted but I did… sometimes, it gets difficult. It had nothing to do with Farah and I am really sorry about it. When she came over to apologise, I said sorry."
With all bitterness firmly in the past, the duo got together to make the script she had narrated to Shah Rukh almost six years ago. In the film, Shah Rukh plays Charlie who, along with his team of "losers", attempts the greatest diamond heist of all time. Of course, along the way, there is a dance competition, romance and a revenge saga.
And, even as one of the most famous men in the world, Shah Rukh believes he understands what it means to be a loser. "Today, for me, losing is when my film doesn't make more than 100 crores and, of course, KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) has re-taught me what it means to lose. The most important thing is that life gives even the biggest losers the opportunity to become a success. And, also, success is not everything. Happiness is bigger than success."
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