What made Shah Rukh Khan a superstar? New book has the answer

Samar Khan, author of SRK – 25 Years of a Life, spoke to about cataloguing the actor’s journey to the top.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Sonal Pandya

Shah Rukh Khan is celebrating 25 years in the Hindi film industry this year. His journey began when he signed Hema Malini’s directorial debut, Dil Aashna Hai, in 1991. The film was released a year later. Khan became a known face after the success of Deewana (1992) and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992). More hit films like Baazigar (1993), Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994) and Karan Arjun (1995) followed and, as the saying goes, there's no looking back.

Journalist-turned-author Samar Khan began his career in 1994 and was witness to many of Khan’s career high points. In 2010, Samar Khan made a ten-part mini-series for Discovery Travel  & Living called Living With A Superstar – Shah Rukh Khan.

Now, to commemorate the quarter-century career milestone of SRK, as the superstar is popularly known, Samar Khan, along with co-author Sonali Kokra, has put together an interesting reflection of his films by speaking with filmmakers who helped to shape his career. The book features several striking hand-painted illustrations of SRK by Uday Mohile. Excerpts from an interview with Samar Khan:

Shah Rukh Khan shows off the book’s artwork at a launch earlier this month.
(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Your book celebrates Shah Rukh Khan’s career. When did you begin work on the book? What went into the research?

While I was doing the documentary, Living With A Superstar, that is when the idea for the book came to me because I was covering how he lives, how he is and all of that as a human being. I realized at that time that if you have to know Shah Rukh completely, you also have to know him as an actor. And what better way to know the actor than to speak to the filmmakers he has worked with? That’s how the idea was born.

The thought came [to me] that why not talk to all the filmmakers he has worked with, because the Shah Rukh Khan that we know is a combination of all the characters he has ever played on screen. We know Shah Rukh Khan as Raj and Rahul, Kabir and Sunil and all of that, we don’t know Shah Rukh as a person. We love him as the characters. So he is a sum total of all of that.

When I mentioned it to SRK, he was intrigued by the idea because no one had approached him to do something like this. That’s how I started work on the book.

How many years ago was this?

This was about five-and-a-half years ago. It took me five-and-a-half years to complete the book and finish everything and get all the filmmakers and their interviews.

How much input did Shah Rukh have in the book?

[Shah Rukh] didn’t have much input in the book because it was talking to his directors and he did not interfere or tell me whom to [speak to] and how to speak to them. The only time I had to reach out to him for help was when I wanted to get Aditya Chopra. That was one of the difficult parts, getting Aditya Chopra. That was the only time SRK had to make a phone call and request him to be part of the book.

Shah Rukh Khan has also written the foreword for the book.

Yes, he has. Once all the directors were done, he read all of them and didn’t ask to make any changes to them. Once he read all of them is when he decided to write the foreword.

You have worked with him professionally and also made a documentary on him. Do you feel that gave you a better understanding when putting together the book?

Absolutely! [When] I started my career as a journalist in 1994 was also when he was on the way up. I have followed him through his career because I got a chance as a journalist to interact a lot with him while he was an actor. Then I got a chance to direct him in my feature film, Shaurya (2008), [where] he [narrated] a poem. Then I worked with him running the [Red Chillies TV] division. So I got a lot of chance to interact with him very closely and I think that really helped the book.

That is something that gave me a better understanding of the person that he is and the way he approaches characters and stuff. I also interacted a lot with the filmmakers. The directors knew me and had interacted with me. So it made it easier for me to talk to them and get to know them. I had also seen Shah Rukh during the making of those films, so that was helpful in formulating the questions and getting more [information].

So you were able to provide a perspective.

Correct. I was able to remember things from the time he was acting in those films, for me to even jog the memories of the filmmakers. Because some of the filmmakers had worked with him many years ago. I had seen him on those sets so I knew quite a bit about it.

Shah Rukh Khan with Samar Khan (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

You have spoken to 30 filmmakers who have worked with Shah Rukh Khan. What insights about Shah Rukh the actor did they provide?

A lot actually. They were able to analyse the way he is, the way he approaches a character, the way he works in films – the good and the bad.

Did they feel they were instrumental in shaping each other's careers?

I think most of the filmmakers were gracious enough to admit that he had the talent to succeed, which is why he is where he is. The filmmakers have been part of the journey. I don’t think anybody has said, ‘Oh, we are the ones who made Shah Rukh Khan.’ I think Shah Rukh has always been gracious enough to say that these are the people who have made me and I would have been nothing without them. That is the greatness of the people involved. They saw Shah Rukh as the characters they were writing and Shah Rukh gave new dimensions to the characters. But, you know, in retrospect, we can always look at it and say they saw the talent in him to be able to do the characters they were writing and he was lucky enough to work with all the great filmmakers who have worked with him. So I’m guessing that it’s destiny.

The coffee table book, SRK – 25 Years Of A Life, published by Niyogi Books, is now available online and in bookstores.