He’s known as “the King of Bollywood” or “King Khan” – with good reason.
Shahrukh Khan is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars with five million twitter followers and a fan base estimated at over one billion. Named “the world’s most powerful movie star” by the Los Angeles Times in 2011, he has made 75 Hindi films including this year’s Chennai Express.
Said to be worth over $US 540 million, he co-owns two production companies as well as the Indian Premier League cricket team the Kolkata Knight Riders, which won the IPL in 2012.
On Monday, Kahn performs in Sydney in Temptation Reloaded, a hugely successful Bollywood stage spectacular, which arrives here as part of Parramatta’s four-day Parramasala Festival, after playing to sell-out crowds in 12 countries.
The show is a colourful explosion of Indian music, dance and comedy in which Khan stars with Bollywood actresses Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukerji and Jacqueline Ferandez. There are 40 dancers and several singers, including controversial Punjabi rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh.
Khan’s “people” insisted on vetting questions before the interview with instructions that he wouldn’t discuss his family or personal matters. However, he was very charming when he took time out from a film shoot to field questions about bringing Temptation Reloaded to Sydney.
How did Temptation Reloaded come about?
You know actually we had done this show before about seven or eight years ago and I took it around the world then, when it was known simply as Temptations. This time round we have added some fresh components to the show, reloading it with more and therefore changing its title to Temptation Reloaded to inject some new energy into the show also. I actually came to Australia many years ago with the original show but it was much smaller than this production so it didn’t reach as many people on a national scale. But it got the name out there and the interest, and here we are returning bigger than ever.
How would you describe it? Is it a concert or a variety show?
It’s a mixture of everything to be honest. A bit of dancing, singing, groups and solo singing and a few little comedic skits thrown in for good measure too. I don’t sing live but will in the group numbers as we have actual solo male and female singers who take that lead. We like to incorporate the singing and dancing and skits into a storyline really so that there is meaning and purpose to what the audience is watching. It is more of a variety show than a concert and there will be a section in the show where I interact with the audience and teach them a lot about the art of Bollywood, which is lots of fun. I just hope everybody that comes to see it walks away a little brighter after being immersed in the color and passion of the show.
So it is very spectacular?
Yes, it is extremely colourful, an energetic and fun show that I believe will appeal to everyone. I am very proud to be in this amazing show and sharing it with our Australian fans.
How many people perform in it?
The production tour will consist of about 110 people who will include close to 60 dancers and production, make up, hair and stylists’ people that accompany us on the road. At any given time there will be about 40 dancers performing on stage, three actresses, a few actors and all the people behind the scenes who make the production run as effectively as it does.
How many numbers are you featured in?
(laughs) I’m in quite a few of the featured songs, including a duet with one of the leading actresses and the experience was amazing.
Does it have a similar vibe to a Bollywood movie?
Yes, there is a certain feel to this show that lends itself to a Bollywood movie but with more of a variety show element than the storyline of a movie.
Why do you think Bollywood films are so successful?
There’s a couple of reasons really. The uniqueness of Bollywood is what I believe intrigues people to it most, the color, the passion and the need for people to want to be a part of an industry that helps to create laughter and happiness and highlight the lighter side of life. The world is a crazy place indeed and Bollywood stares at the world and continues pushing and inspiring many to follow their dreams whatever they may be.
Did you grow up watching Bollywood films?
(chuckles) Yes, I did watch them when I was little. I remember curling up at my mother’s feet and watching them with her on a few occasions. My mum was really into movies and theatre and just loved the ceremony of how a Bollywood movie can make a person feel happy just by watching. Emotions are the universal language and Bollywood movies depict a realist approach to showcasing what people, especially Indians, want in life.
I believe you studied economics. What inspired you to become an actor?
(laughs) That’s correct; I am what you call an accidental actor. I wanted to be a film director at one stage as well as a hockey player too when I was younger. The acting thing was not the initial route I wanted to take but when I was approached for some acting roles in Mumbai I decided to take the plunge and haven’t looked back since.
Once you started acting did you want to become a Bollywood star?
I simply enjoyed the aspect of being an actor and getting regular work to be honest. I also knew that embracing our culture and sharing every facet of acting to the Indian community was a positive way to highlight our nation’s diversity and strength.
What does it take to be a successful Bollywood star?
A mixture of things actually. The ability to relay everyday life scenarios through comedy, drama, dance and song whilst capturing the heart and minds of true Bollywood. Looking good is also an important appeal to the viewers as well as having a strong work ethic.
How do you cope with the adulation? And do you sometimes wish you led a more ‘normal’ life?
You know I don’t get too attached or waylaid by social media networks and statistics to be honest but I gauge my popularity and reach by the work I do and the fans I reach through Twitter etc. Of course I am most honoured to receive the recognition and awards etc but I am just grateful for my blessings and thankful for my loved ones who have supported me from day one.
I believe you need six bodyguards in India. Will you be bringing bodyguards with you to Australia?
(laughs) Yes I do just in case it gets a little crazy during my set. I will be bringing them to Sydney. Oh! how embarrassing! (laughs) Sometimes things can get a little out of control with some of my fans and it’s just easier to have security on hand.
You have been to Australia before?
Yes, I have visited Australia many times and performed there on several occasions so it will be great to return again. I actually shot a film out there called Chak De India in Melbourne and Sydney. It was a wonderful experience and I have a huge love and appreciation for Australia, so I am looking forward to returning. I really hope I get some time to do some sightseeing, especially in Sydney this time.
Did you expect Chennai Express to be such a massive hit?
You know as with everything I do in life I always put my best foot forward and that movie highlighted the sheer work ethic of a very successful team. I enjoyed the movie then and am also shocked when I see the amount of people that remembered this movie. I will continue to enjoy the movie as the years go by.
You obviously love cricket given your involvement with the Kolkata Knight Riders?
Yes, I do enjoy cricket and have many outstanding Australian team member on my team for a good game. My team actually consists of a few Australian players like Ricky Ponting and they are wonderful people. I am really enjoying this team and all the hidden talents amongst us all.
Do you agree with people who say T20 is ruining Test Match cricket?
I don’t really have a radical outlook on sports to be honest. Times are changing, people’s attitudes are changing and schedules are changing so I think anyone wanting to embrace this movement should base it on individual merit and just to continue to enjoy the game for what it is.
Temptation Reloaded plays at Allphones Arena, Sydney on October 7. Bookings: ticketek.com.au or 132 849
An edited version of this interview appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on September 29