The King Speaks | In Conversation with Shah Rukh Khan | Uncut - Part II

Taking off from where we left in the previous part, here's Part II of our candid conversation with superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Excerpts from our chat:

As an artist, how did you deal with the shift in psyche, especially while being in and out of a character that has physical limitations, and a completely different personality?
Like I mentioned, my portions were shot while I standing inside a one and a half feet deep pit. There were also boxes, which would move wherever I went. So personally, I never felt short, except while standing next to Anushka or Katrina (laughs). On a serious note, Anushka's character even has a line - 'Relationship barabari ka hoga', which is even a part of the trailer. Because technically, we are the same height in the film, as she is seated on her digitally controlled chair. I never felt any difference, except for a small fact that it was like walking two steps below. 

What about the sets, costumes and props? How did you work around those, considering you could actually see the final look post structural changes?
I'll tell you what was difficult. A lot of times, we would shoot a scene, and after 3-4 months while watching the structure change, we think it looks really good. Sometimes, it would look worse, because when he becomes small, everything feels different. In fact, some scenes even had to be re-shot. If I did something with my own style, it looked wrong on a shorter person. It's a little difficult to describe, but if you notice the romantic track (Mere Naam Tu), his movements are a little child like. Like chest thumps and jumps. He can't do tight moves, so even the choreography had to be a little loose. It was during the look test that I did around 2 and a half years back, that I noticed, something just wasn't right. Even the props were bigger for me. For instance, if it's an iPhone 8 for everyone, then that's X for me. If you read a normal book, mine is a bit bigger. Shirt - trouser fittings had to be kept in mind. We also wanted him to have a slight paunch, which isn't too prominent, but at the same time, he should look attractive. So, those elements had to be kept in mind.

We had to buy a machine called Techno Dolly, and have it sent from overseas. It's actually used for shots in Games of Thrones as well

Tell us a little about the inclusion of aeronautics in the film. Were portions of the film shot in NASA?
Well, there is no mention of NASA as such. We have built our own space research centre. Personalisation was necessary, as NASA only allows one film to use their name per year, and they already had 'First Man'. So, we become the second one. However, we did shoot some scenes there, and we had requested if another name can be used. Especially because we have taken certain cinematic liberties in the film. So, the permissions were necessary.  

We are making the biggest and largest number of films in a year. We assume that we are the best film makers in the world

What are your thoughts of the use of VFX in Hindi films. Do you think it needs a better push in the Indian film industry, with the kind of genres we are experimenting with today?
VFX has to be much more prominent in Hindi films, for cinema to have better story telling. We are making the biggest and largest number of films in a year. We assume that we are the best film makers in the world. But, I think the new influx of audience that will come in the future, that is kids who are now 7-8 years old, they will not be very forgiving about the cinematic sound and visual experience. They are used to watching the latest films and songs in full HD on phones or computers. Some beautiful films with a great overall visual experience have released recently, and have been accepted by the audience. It is only a matter of time that the numbers will increase. These children will grow up watching such films, even in small towns, thanks to the growing connectivity we have today. In the future, they won't accept excuses like, "Arey, Hindi film main kuch bhi chalta hai." That excuse is fine for us, and mine would be the last generation, who would see a tacky film and say - But still, this is the first for India (laughs). 

Go on....
In fact, you are still younger. I was telling someone, how it was 15 years ago that I first went to a multiplex. But, now I am used to that recliner chair, big screens, and flavoured popcorns. But when I was growing up, cinema halls were very rundown, at least most of them. Now, since I am used to the multiplex experience, if you take me back to the old hall, I might not be comfortable. Even if it's another country, I would be like - Arey, yeh kahan aa gaye. Mujhe picture nahi dekhni. So, kids are already used to that world. And when I speak of VFX, it's not just films like Baahubali. There is so much more to VFX than that. It can be used even for the smallest of films, like Zodiac in Hollywood, which is made over a period of 15-20 days. A lot of VFX is used for simple details - like speed, cars, camera movements, and it can't be pinpointed specifically. So, I feel film makers should come forward and make use of this technology to enhance the overall movie experience.

Film makers should come forward and make use of technology to enhance the overall movie experience

When it comes to the use of technology, you and team Red Chillies VFX have always taken things a notch above. But, technology often comes with its own set of challenges. What were some of the hurdles that you came across during the making of this film, and how did you over come it?
While shooting for the track with Salman (Khan), and there are a few scenes as well, where we could not get the moving shots right. The film became very static, as you had to shoot five times - background, actors, crowd among others. So, the layering became difficult. Eventually, we had to buy a machine called Techno Dolly, and have it sent from USA. It's actually used for shots in Games of Thrones as well. But, buying a machine wasn't enough, and so, we had to get a person who could perfectly manage the equipment. So now, they have their own technique of working and understanding, and we haven't worked on that machine before. Hence, the director had to learn how to work on that machine, which by the way, it quite big. Just the other day, we were shooting for some additional scenes for the last bit of the film, and there was a fire. While the fire could be controlled well in time, as it wasn't that big, but the water used to douse the fire went into the machine. So, the whole thing stopped working. Of course, we could shoot in static, but everyone was obviously worried. Also, it was sad, because we bought this expensive machine, perhaps a first in the country. Luckily for us, after keeping it in a silica tank or something, the machine was up and working within two days. So yes, technology does bring along some hitches. Sometimes, you do make mistakes. Of course, there were some good parts too. 

And what about the song with Salman Khan?
So, while shooting with Salman, I had to jump in his arms. We thought he will have to be hooked on something. He was standing at quite a height, and I had to take a jump. Obviously, when I jump, that will have a lot of force. So, we wanted him to be put on to a wire. But, he is so strong, that he didn't move. That solved a lot of problems (smiles). Because if had fallen or moved in a stranger manner, we couldn't have pulled off that shot. Certain shots may start looking a bit weird if not executed properly. Then, in some shots I have to jump into a rickshaw, or even Zeeshan's lap. So, somebody discovered that if a string is put up, I can jump across and reach (laughs). These little things were experimented with. Some look real, some unreal. Certain romantic scenes had to look a certain way. Now, when Katrina bends down to kiss me, she can't touch me too much. That's because my face gets covered and it cannot structured later. So, angles had to be set. Beyond that, we couldn't judge or look at what we have shot. Usually, we are used to seeing our shots on the monitor. It was a lot of hit and trial. That's why, we took a lot of time to shoot this film with complete perfection.

You know, when films bomb at the box office, then it's the best way to call them 'ahead of its time'. That's the best excuse (laughs)

Most of your films have often been ahead of it's times, be it Ra.One or Fan. They often become a cult much later. How do you look back at the way they were received during the release? 
You know, when films bomb at the box office, then it's the best way to call them 'ahead of its time'. That's the best excuse (laughs). You know, somebody told me this around 3-4 months back - "What does ahead of its time really mean? Time toh yahi hain. Iske aage kaunsa time hota hain, yeh humko kaise maloom?' (smiles) But, it's good for certain films. Like, Swades was one of them. It didn't work back then, but now, everyone refers to it as a lovely film, in retrospect. So, is it ahead of it's time? Or is it that maybe, elements of that film have become a little more relevant now. Perhaps, we appreciate it a lot more. Also, that time, considering the film had Shah Rukh Khan and marked Ashutosh Gowariker's return after Lagaan, people went with the expectation to watch an exciting, thrilling film like that. But, we gave them something else. Hence, it's possible that they were expecting a commercial film. And then, there are films that were rank bad. If they didn't do well, they didn't. Now, Zero isn't based completely on technology like Ra.One. This has all the elements of Aanand L Rai's storytelling. But, because of the characters involved, it was essential that we do this. Even like shooting for the film in places like New York, Meerut; but we couldn't shoot at actual places. A lot of it had to be created, which can be done. So, it may not be ahead of its time, by the virtue of being a technology film. Hopefully, the story shall resonate with the audience.

We hope you enjoyed our candid conversation with Shah Rukh Khan!
Read Part I of the Conversation here
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Priya Adivarekar

Priya Adivarekar - Founder and Creative Director at Diary of a Dancebee. She is also a renowned Voice Actress and award winning artiste, with serious passion for dance. When not working round the clock, she can be seen reading, enjoying a movie-binge or listening to music.
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