Shah Rukh Khan: “I’m really glad Mahira did ‘Raees'”

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Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Raees’ is finally up for release in just a few days. The film, which is directed by Rahul Dholakia, follows the story of bootleggers. The film has remained under the spotlight for various reasons, not least due to it being Pakistani actress Mahira Khan’s debut in the midst the current ban Bollywood has imposed on Pakistani actors. Having said that, Khan has been appreciated in the film’s promos and songs and it is a film that his fan base around the world are waiting eagerly for.

Khan plays the character of a gangster named Raees, and the plot surrounds his rise to becoming the most powerful man in his state whilst exploring his relationships and how he gains such a status.

BizAsiaLive.com caught up with the superstar ahead of the film’s release on 25th January.

Audiences have been waiting for the release of ‘Raees’ for so long, how to do you feel about the film now that it’s at the brink of its release?
We’ve been waiting too. Actually it’s really strange. I think it’s the first time in the history of Indian Cinema where we’ve had the teaser in 2015, a trailer in 2016 and the film finally releasing in 2017… but it’s unfortunate. We had around 10 or 12 days work left. We had put up a huge set for Gujarat, the whole mohala… and it’s very difficult to shoot on live location. But I kind of hurt my patellas again so I went in for the surgery and then I thought I’d still be able to pull it off. But then the rain set in and I had another film coming up so we had to take a nine-month break. We’ve just finished it now actually. At the end of December, we were shooting for another 14 days touch wood. Yes, it’s been a long time and finally it’s releasing. But there are two parts to it; one is when you have something in line which is more or less complete, you keep seeing it and you find issues with it. We checked them all, re-shot them all as we had the luxury to do that. The second part is that I’ve never really re-shot for the film, so that was new for me. But we’re happy and I think from seeing the response to what we’ve done so far, maybe having the time on hand is a good thing. Maybe I’ll do it for the rest of my films also (laughs). It’s good we are happy now with the last few days before release, we’re actually finishing it. Tonight (13th January)is the first day we have to send the print to England for censors, so tonight is the deadline for overseas. We’re all working until around 6am.

Your look in the film has gained a lot of appreciation. How was the look of ‘Raees’ decided on?
I didn’t have much say in that actually, I think Rahul (Dholakia) and Sheetal who designed the film had a clear cut picture. The film is set in the mid 80s to mid 90s so a lot of the clothing had to be white bottom pants and big collars, and the hairstyle.  It was very clear that the characterisation on one part is that he does wear glasses, as he’s short-sighted, which is a part of the story-telling. The character in the film spans from the age of eight or nine to 45, so that part was there. And then somewhere I think they decided that I should have kohl in my eyes, which I found strange (laughs), and they found it very menacing and mean. So really I had nothing to do with it, I just had to wear the pathanis and walk like Raees.

You are sharing the screen with Nawazuddin (Siddiqui) for the first time. What was it like working with him?
Oh it was really nice. I think it’s an understatement to say that he’s such a fine actor. I’d heard about him a lot and I’d seen parts of his work. His eyes are very beautiful. I mean he has lovely eyes, that is one part. And second is he plays it so easy and I like that. We have a characterisation which somehow we both agreed upon. I have a lot of respect for him and I think so does he. I come from a different school of acting and he comes from the opposite one, and both of us are from theatre. I think without having to say it, we understood each other when we talked about it. Rahul agreed to it that there is this amazing love-hate relationship that bad and good share, neither can exist without the other. So as much as you may want to finish the other, somehow you’ll miss the other when he or she is not there. We wanted to capture that because the chase is not over in 10 days or 15 days but over 15 years… when he’s trying to get me as a cop. How it ends is what the final climax is, but I think we tried to bring in a bit of tongue-and-cheek. When we see each other, there’s a strange love relationship that we share, and we both hate each other too. So just working out the scenes with him was nice. He was being really funny and sweet. We’d hug each other after doing a scene because most of the time we were just sitting and rather than beating each other, we were trying to have this sort of man-ship, which was fun.

The song Udi Udi Jaye is your first garba song in your 25-year career. How does that feel?
You know there are some absolutely marvellous garbas in Bhansali films, whether it’s Ranveer (Singh) doing it or Salman (Khan) doing it. They’ve done it outstandingly and other actors have do. I’m no good at dancing, I’ve always maintained that, but I had Sameer and Arsh Tanna who were very sweet. I think they’ve done those songs for Bhansali too and I think they very quickly realised that I’m not so good and I had this broken knee, so they were very kind to me. I’m shy doing dancing because I’m not so good at it, and doing a garba. The film is Gujarat based and so I couldn’t get it wrong, so they were very helpful. I think Mahira (Khan) is really marvellous. She had rehearsed and worked it out very well, so that was double the pressure. But I’m glad that I got the feedback that everyone thinks I can do a garba, so next time I won’t feel shy going to Gujarat. The film is Gujarat based so we really needed to get it right, and I’m so glad people are liking it. It was a nice time to release it during Makar Sakranti, and Sukhwinder (Singh) has done a song with me after so long, so all of it falls into place. I’m happy that I’ve pulled it off.

Talking about Mahira, in the trailer we saw your chemistry and again in Zaalima and Udi Udi Jaye. Your chemistry together is something quite endearing. What would you say to such sizzling  on screen chemistry between the two of you?
You see the film is not an extremely typical pot-boiler, so when we cast Mahira it was because her character isn’t typical either. It’s kind of in a time-frame like I said, and there’s a huge amount of equality between the husband and wife that becomes a harmony. Without being physically strong, she’s a very petite, pretty-looking lady. She had to be a strong character, a strong-willed woman facing up to this mean kind of bad guy. I think that part of the film when it comes up is what we hope people like because it’s different for a Bollywood film. It’s not so typical. It’s a bonus that people are liking us together and what she’s done. She’s a very fine actress; extremely fine, extremely humble and sweet. I guess for her, to do a first film like this, to stand her own and dance and sing and all of it. I think it’s exemplary. Also she comes from a more reality-based school of acting so it helped me a lot in some of the scenes that we had… with the husband-wife scene or a love scene, or first meeting scene or some other really interesting scenes as the film unfolds. There’s a lot of genuineness to it, and I think that’s what works… when you give chemistry to everything that happens. I think what works is the simplicity of the two of them in a larger than life situation. So I’m really glad that she did the film.

Would you be able to confirm whether she will be able to be a part of promotions?
See, with all the songs that are coming out, that’s already promotion. That’s not a big issue actually. The songs are out, the trailers are out, the posters out and this is it. To be really honest, the content of this film is a little different from a regular Hindi film. A few songs seem to have struck a chord with everyone, and even the trailer. So when we did want to promote it, I don’t know if people have noticed, we wanted it to be rather controlled. It’s not over the top, it’s just leveling out. So this is promotion, and you won’t see me also running around from one place to the other (laughs). It’s not that kind of film.  It’s not ‘Happy New Year’ (2014) or ‘Dilwale’ (2015) where you can be on different shows. Hopefully, I think, the way it will plan out will be enough for the audience to see the content and come along and see the film. I mean there’s not more to be said to that.

Will we hear you speaking Gujarati in the film?
Yes, in the film I do try to (laughs). I’m really bad with languages, but the film is Gujarat-based so most of the characters, at one time or the other, do fall into speaking Gujarati and so do I. That dialogue where I say ‘Aah Raha Hoon’ will be ‘Aau Chu’ (laughs). So, yes, I do speak in Gujarati in places as well. But I do sound slightly different from many people but yes. Everyone… most of the characters snap into Gujarati throughout the film.

The dialogues of the film have hit it off very well with the audiences, to the point where apparently there’s been a government campaign which has your voice added to it. When ‘Raees’ was first packaged, did you want a film where the dialogues were strong?
You know, there were journalists actually who had done research for about eight years about bootlegging across the country and elsewhere also. We’ve taken bits and pieces from that information, because it’s quite intriguing how these people bypass the law and cheat the system. Because they’re journalists, a lot of it is based on how it is spoken in the actual places where bootlegging is done, and how these people speak. I think the dialogue becomes famous when it touches a chord with people and we’ve kept to the reality as much as we could, so it’s not made or written to attempt to sound cool. It’s how these people actually speak. To be honest, when Baniye ka dimaag… Miyanbhai ki daring was told to me, I didn’t understand it at all, I’m a kind of urban city slicker kind of guy. So Ritesh (Sidhwani) started telling me “look Shah Rukh, this is going to be such a cool dialogue”, I was like “oh no yaar, this doesn’t mean anything.” Rahul was very clear that in the film the dialogues are spoken, not said like that (delivered). Maybe in the trailer, because of the voiceover, it still sounds a little more dramatic. In the movie it comes across as spoken. It’s not high speed or the shot is not cut like that to prove it’s a dialogue. Because it belongs to a real world, I think it connects more. I’m really shocked. Me and Ritesh had a bet, he said this Baniye ka dimaag dialogue is going to be the coolest dialogue, and I was like “No, it’s nothing. I’m not going to say it like a hero. It doesn’t sound like a hero dialogue”, and then when the trailer came out and the first call came, he was like “Shah Rukh I told you people will love this dialogue.” And there are lots of them, these are just a few that we’ve picked on because the hero character says them. But even Nawazbhai and everybody; the way they speak is natural, very earthy and very real. Maybe that’s why they connect, with lots of small bits and pieces that I’ve now noticed. It’s very well-written actually. So it’ll be nice, some of them have been picked up already. I’m being treated like a very macho hero.

Would you describe ‘Raees’ as a full package?
The story is very gritty and reality-based, like I said, because it deals with the problem of bootlegging. It spans Raees’ journey from an age of a seven or eight-year-old kid to 45. Unlike regular films, we’re not justifying a bad guy being good He does everything bad without any justification. Don’ was sexy and stylised so you know it’s not a real world, whereas this one is trying to marry a real world with kind of a commercial popular cinema. It’s an experiment to be honest. So, out and out, is it a package as a commercial film? I think . I don’t know… it has all the songs. Rahul was very clear. He’s normally made very hard-hitting films which he’s won National Awards for, and he said “I want this film to marry popular cinema,” and that’s where me, Farhan (Akhtar) and Ritesh come in. So we said “OK”. without taking away from either element. we’ll marry the two. So, it might turn out to be an interesting combination. So far the dialogue, the action; these are things we can get into, where we can make the action more over the top, more intense and real. There is a mix and I think it’s an interesting mix. I don’t know if I can just claim it to be a full package, happy-go-lucky, over the top cinema, because I think it has something very essential to say also, because it has a genuine issue at hand; bootlegging. We don’t question the good and bad of it in the film. We just essay the film as it happens. So there are no sides being taken, there’s no good guy or bad guy, there’s no justification being given. There is a bad guy with a golden heart. Love him? You can make that decision at the end of the film. The freedom is to the audience. In normal, dramatic films, the audience isn’t allowed to have that decision. We just say “He’s the good guy, so please love him.” In ‘Raees’, everybody can decide what they take back from the film. My producers will get angry because I’m saying this (laughs) but I think it’s a very, very good mix of commercial and real Hindi cinema.

BizAsiaLive.com would like to thank Shah Rukh Khan for taking the time to talk to us.

‘Raees’ is produced by Red Chillies Entertainment and Excel Entertainment.

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