Shahrukh Khan Talks Career, Kids, and Returning to His Negative Roots in Don 2

Shahrukh Khan in "Don 2" (Photo: Excel Entertainment)

Shahrukh Khan in "Don 2" (Photo: Excel Entertainment)

It’s been nearly two decades since Shahrukh Khan made his feature film debut playing an obsessed lover in “Deewana”–a role that would catapult him to fame, but also result in numerous characters that could best be defined as dark, twisted and full of angst. Yet if you asked the average Hindi cine-goer to describe the first genre that comes to mind upon hearing Khan’s name today, most would utter the word ‘romance’. In an illustrious career consisting of over 70 movies, the actor’s clear mainstay lies in the classic love story. But one might say that at 46, Khan’s best roles are yet to come. He’s had his fair share of experimentation in an industry ruled by commercialism, however it’s only in recent years that the New Delhi native has seemingly shed his romantic shell.

But one role he peculiarly steered clear of for almost 12 years is the outright negative. That is, until close friend and director Farhan Akhtar handed Khan the opportunity to reprise the title role of “Don”, a character made famous by Indian stalwart Amitabh Bachchan. Now–five years since Akhtar’s reinterpretation of the 1970s cult phenomenon–Khan is set to bring the irredeemable bad guy back to the big screen on Dec. 23. In an exclusive chat with Divanee.com, he opens up on why he never planned out his career, how his kids impact his present choices, and why Don is the first dark role to attract his artistic fancy since the early 1990s.

It’s not common practice to make sequels in India. Given “Don 2006” was already an adaptation, what was the thought process behind “Don 2” and how did you try to manage expectations?
We never made “Don” in 2006 with the thought that we’d make a sequel, even if it’s the kind of film that ends on a note that lends it toward a sequel. We just wanted to do the previous version because Farhan and myself loved the original “Don”–we grew up watching that film. After the film finished and released, it seemed that people liked the idea that it’s the bad guy who wins in a Hindi film. Someone wrote a story for Farhan and said, “I’m a big Don fan and really believe Don can go places”.

And you have the freedom now to move away from the original film and take forward the character as far as Farhan is concerned. In some ways, we all get to fulfill a desire to be evil at some time in our lives. This is a guy who has no justification or redeeming quality. The first film was kind of interactive–people were taken in by that role and collectively fooled. So in terms of expectations, we continue with this whole idea of making it an even more interactive film, being a step ahead of the audience and seeing if we can fool them again or not. And remember that the novelty is that the bad guy is the protagonist. I find it quite cool to bring in the love story between a negative protagonist and Priyanka Chopra’s character. How can a girl love a man who killed her brother? All of these aspects should intrigue the audience.

Incidentally you began your career playing negative roles. How has your approach changed as an actor after all these years as a romantic lead to now revisiting a villainous role?
Well, I’m from theater, and I never thought I had the looks of a romantic hero. People gave me intense roles, such as “Deewana”, or quirky characters, which was interesting for me as an actor. Then one fine morning someone gave me “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”, and I thought, I can’t do this–I’m not good-looking enough. But it started a trend, and it’s ironic because friends like Juhi [Chawla, Khan’s co-star and co-producer in a number of films] say: “Mothers love you, kids love you and women really like you. You can’t play a bad guy.” But as an actor, it is interesting to just try sometimes. I really personally enjoy being this mean guy in film.

Earlier I did more psychopathic, sociopath roles. With Don, you’re not supposed to like him, but you do. As an actor, it’s so enticing, and I think it’s that enticement which I wanted to play into. There’s an ideology with Don that he’s always in full control of his actions, and therefore there’s a lot of distance in the way I play Don vs. the way I played ‘I Love You K-K-K-Kiran’ (referring to his trademark negative turn in Yash Chopra’s “Darr”) or “Baazigar”. They had reasons for their angst or for being disturbed. But Don–this guy is just bad. He’s evil. There’s a great line I like in the first Don: The police inspector tells Don his mother would have shot him with her own hands if she were alive today, and Don responds, ‘Mr. Malik, aap meri Maa ko nahin jaante the’ (‘Mr. Malik, you didn’t know my mother’).

He’s evil to that extent and so happy to that same extent. I have this vision that Don goes back home to have dinner with his mom on maybe Thanksgiving Day, and they have a casual conversation about the crimes he commits. His mom will say, “I heard 120 cops are looking for you. How many people did you shoot tonight?”, as if it’s no big deal. In fact, my daughter saw “Don 2” and told me, “But Papa, you’re so naughty in this film!”

Shahrukh Khan reprises his role as Don in "Don 2" (Photo: Excel Entertainment)

This is your second time working with director Farhan Akhtar, but he’s someone you’ve known for a very long time. Can you describe the experience and what sort of rapport you share?
We’re neighbors and very old friends. He’s also turned into a director, writer, actor, producer, singer–even a dancer! [Laughs] Farhan’s got en edgy quality in his approach to cinema. He’s very well-versed in cinema was brought up in a full blast of Hindi films. He’s doing films closer to regularity, so we both have something to give each other. We have a great time shooting films. We’ll feel very empty inside when it’s over. When we work together, I know we both look forward to playing games–we’re huge FIFA fans–and having a beer. We joke it’s like a vacation sometimes. He’s a fantastic director and very fun to work with.

You’ve been in the industry for over two decades and played a wide variety of roles to date. Is there anything you have not been able to experiment with but would like to? What excites you at this stage in your career?
I’ve never really thought of playing a character–it depends on the space I’m in. Recently, I wanted to do something for kids, so I made “Ra.One”. I’m fortunate to be at a point where I have the choice to make films like that. I can only manage a couple of films a year. There are people who over the last 20 years have been able to give me a regular commercial film, but at the same time have given me scope to be more than just a “hero” type–like a “Chak De India” or “Swades”.

I’d like to do another biopic maybe, like “Ashoka”. It’s also been a while since I made a love story, so I am making one with Mr. Yash Chopra right now. Otherwise, I haven’t done a true comedy film since “Duplicate”. But specifically–no, I don’t have a character in mind. I leave it to filmmakers to say, “I’d like Shahrukh to do this kind of film”. They all seem to have something in their heads, and sometimes they ask me what I have in mind. But I like when they give me something, and I’ll try doing it within the parameters of commercial cinema but with a twist in characterization. I typically read a lot and try to develop a character around that.

You mention your kids a lot and wanting to make films for children, such as “Ra.One”. As your kids continue to grow up, how does that impact the films you choose and the kind of feedback they give you?
Well, we watch a lot of  movies together. My son has a strange taste, and my daughter…maybe I won’t be able to make the kinds of films she likes watching–”Princess Bride” and sweet, girly films. I watch them because of her, but I don’t know if I can act in them. Maybe I can produce them! They both saw “Don 2”. My son said, “I like it. It’s very cool. I like the beard and long hair and beating people up.”, because he’s at that age where it’s all about the word ‘cool’. He and his friends were screaming and listening intently and having a good time during Don, so that’s the best feedback for this kind of film.

A love story is a little mature for them right now. Boys don’t like mushy films, and my daughter is not old enough. Maybe when they grow up a little–if their interests start moving forward, maybe I’ll get ideas for what to produce or make. They are modern, young kids and exposed to a lot more cinema than I was. They have a taste that’s developing, and I just hope it’ll help me remain modern.

Sabrina Siddiqui is the editor-in-chief of Divanee.com.

@sabrinasiddiqui