SINGAPORE - Last week, Wealth-X, a Singapore-headquartered research company, put out a list of the wealthiest actors in the world. No. 2 on that list was an actor that most of the world hadn't heard of - Bollywood's Shah Rukh Khan.
With an estimated personal fortune of US$600 million, the 48-year-old superstar out-earned Hollywood matinee idols like Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp. Shah Rukh is the only Bollywood star to feature in the top 10 of the international celebrity rich list for 2013 and was beaten to the No. 1 spot by funny man Jerry Seinfeld.
King Khan was uncharacteristically modest when tabla! spoke with the actor on the set of his next film Happy New Year. "I am happy to be on the list. But, honestly, I am not giving it too much thought. Titles like richest, handsomest or most desirable are just titles. They don't define me," says Shah Rukh.
He is just as uncomfortable when it's pointed out that he is richer than fellow actors like Cruise and Depp.
"How does that make a difference? I would be happier the day someone says Shah Rukh made a film sleeker and better than Tom Cruise. I just hope that I can make films that can be compared to what they do. With this list, I am just glad that more people in the world are becoming aware of Bollywood and the work that we do. Insha Allah, some day, people will compare our films and not just our net worths."
Earlier this month, Shah Rukh appeared on the cover of Forbes, Middle East, as one of the "Top Indian Leaders in the Arab World". He also topped Forbes India's Celebrity List for 2013 for the second time in a row.
"See, I don't understand these things. All I know is how to make movies. I have no clue how much money I or my businesses make. I don't even know if they (the businesses) break even! From KKR (he co-owns the IPL team Kolkata Knight Riders) to Red Chillies (production house or KidZania (family entertainment centres), I just do what I find interesting; what I am passionate about. Money is never the consideration."
An economics graduate from Hansraj College, Delhi University, Shah Rukh belongs to a business family but has always maintained that he never understood business.
"My family had many failed businesses. My father (Taj Mohammed Khan) designed the first Diplomat whiskey bottle. He also designed furniture before starting a transport business. His partners cheated him and he was left high and dry. He was a freedom fighter who then started a tea stall in Delhi. He also sold tea at the National School of Drama mess.
"After he passed away, my mother applied for an oil wholesaling agency. Eventually that business also went downhill because the transporters corrupted our consignment. I gave up that business after my mother died in 1990."
Having witnessed his parents' entrepreneurial struggles, Shah Rukh learnt one of the biggest lessons of his life - "education is important". "Whatever little they earned was all spent on our education. By education, I don't mean getting a degree but actually knowing your subject. Also, you need a lot of patience and integrity to do business. You have to be honest about your dealings and work. I don't know how to work any other way.
"I only get into businesses that I know will last. I am not interested in getting into something because it's a fad nor will I give up on a business if it is not performing. While most animation companies were shutting down, I kept our vfx company afloat because it is something I believe in."
Shah Rukh's strategy for every aspect of his work life is driven by one word - passion. "I don't do businesses that turn me on. I produce movies because I love them. KidZania was driven by my interest in education and entertainment. Sports turns me on so there is KKR."
As the head of multiple companies, Shah Rukh says "we make decisions as a team". "I think it's very important to hire the right people. I am glad a lot of our decisions have been right but, honestly, I get more credit than I should."
The actor has always been open about being an "emotional" entrepreneur. "Sticking by KKR in the initial seasons of the IPL when the team wasn't doing well or keeping the vfx business afloat are all emotional decisions. I don't know any other way of being. You must have heard the line 'nothing personal, it's only business'. For me, it's always been personal."
More than being on Wealth-X's list, Shah Rukh is excited about his little girl Suhana turning 14 last week. "Masha Allah, she's growing up into a lovely little lady. Her exams are going on so we just studied together. She is my sweet angel. My children are my best friends and biggest weakness. When people talk about wealth, I think of my children. For me, wealth is happiness and they make me happy."
So, is he building his empire for his children - Aryan, Suhana and AbRam? "I don't think so. I won't want to pressure them into following what I do. I don't think that they will have to inherit these companies. It's not fair on them. My goal is to educate them to the best of my abilities and give them all that they need to become well-adjusted and informed individuals of this world. What they do after that is up to them. Haven't you heard of what happens to the best-laid plans?" he asks with a laugh.
In early 2000, actress Neha Dhupia had famously said "only sex and Shah Rukh Khan sell". Remind him of the quote and the Badshah of Bollywood squirms. "I am never going to be able to get rid of this line, am I? I am not for sale. You can lure me with an idea or a story but never with money. I think one of the reasons why I am where I am today is because I am not a commodity. Money-making is a very small part of my life or who I am."
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