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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Shah Rukh Khan's Om Shanti Om - "I’m very, very secular and noncommittal." Shah Rukh Khan

"I’m very, very secular and noncommittal." Shah Rukh Khan
SRK mulls over contemporary interpretations of patriotism

“Stories of our freedom struggle will always be there and every new generation will hear them... But those days are over when we were ruled by someone. Now the only thing ruling us is the economy. It’s good, but there are problems to be overcome. Like how we view women in society, goodness to mankind, peace not war…”

You can be a nationalist in different ways. If you look at Chak De India, I think that sports itself inculcates a feeling of team spirit. It could be eleven players or two cyclists cycling together, but it’s the whole country that they’re representing. The word may be patriotism, but it’s actually the team spirit of the country. Why do we get so excited when England lost to us recently? Why are we so excited that Zaheer Khan has overcome the jellybean problem? It’s like all of us are going, ‘Those b******s!’ Actually, we don’t know, it could be that the jellybeans just fell down there. But we’re like, ‘Good, he screwed them!’ See, we’re a team now. One billion people are a team because of a jellybean.

“So it’s sometimes more than patriotism, it’s team spirit. It gets inculcated when you play sports. For example, Iraq is playing the Asia Cup — there has been no insurgency and fighting within Iraq in the last ten days. Since it reached the quarterfinals, semifinals and won the finals. Because a country infested with fights, suddenly stops and says, ‘God, Iraq is winning the Asia Cup final!’ Team spirit can be looked at as patriotic and it’s not like Chak De India’s giving patriotism another face for youngsters. We’re giving team spirit that’s existed for years. And of course, our team is India and we have the colours of the tiranga.

“I would like the film to tell youngsters to play like a team, play for India. That means you’re patriotic. Don’t fight for the country. Play and win for India. That should be brought to youngsters’ notice. A nice line of the movie is ‘Sometimes, winning is everything.’ That’s the mantra for youngsters. You can’t tell them, ‘Go to the Himalayas and get moksh. Let the world go by, it’s a material world.’ No! You have to exist in this world. There’s nothing wrong in winning.

“Stories of our freedom struggle will always be there and every new generation will hear them. Like you would tell your kids the Ramayana. I tell my kids the story of Prophet Mohammed. Those stories will be there. But I guess movies like Lagaan, Swades, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Rang De Basanti, Chak De India tell us to be nationalistic in this way. Those days are over when we were ruled by someone. Now the only thing ruling us is the economy. It’s good, but there are problems to be overcome. Like how we view women in society, goodness to mankind, peace not war and if you want to fight, fight on the play field. For all our problems with Pakistan, just have a cricket match!

“Chak De India is a younger, subtler take at patriotism. It may seem documentary-like — the youth may say, ‘Hey this is a nice way to make a film.’ It’s offbeat. It may be saying the same thing as other films, but Chak De India isn’t shoving it down my throat. They are not trying to just say ‘Mera Bharat mahaan!’ Chak De India is like what youngsters are — wearing white t-shirts and jeans. It’s modern.

“It also has a take on the educated Indian Muslim. I’m playing a Muslim guy who isn’t a terrorist. I’ve never played a Muslim guy. The whole beauty is…see, these are the nuances… 16 women from different parts of the country. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Gujarati, Jharkandi, Uttar Pradeshi, Bihari, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and one Muslim man. Muslim men and women aren’t considered in such stories because purdah hota hai. But here is a Muslim man between 16 women wearing shorts and skirts and playing for only one goal and that is the country.

“I’m in the dressing room and they’re changing; I treat them like equals. I read a report recently that said, ‘16 women and Shah Rukh Khan’. My reason for doing Chak De India is if you could just forget that notion, that they’re women and I’m a guy. And see, I’m usually a romantic hero! But there’s no sexuality here. I wanted that to come across. The idea is that he’s more obsessed with the honour of his country.

“I’m an actor. I’m very, very secular and noncommittal. I don’t know finally the religion of the character I’ve played. My characters don’t have religion. I believe that. I’ve played a Vir, Rahul, Raj, Kabir Khan. The fact that it’s not important to me, I think, makes the point that I want to make. It’s Shah Rukh Khan and he’s playing a Muslim — it shouldn’t matter. Even the beard isn’t because he’s Muslim, but because he’s older and it’s 8-9 years later.

“Secularity is important. You don’t turn around and see what religion when you’re playing. When I’m going to win, I say my favourite Muslim prayer. Everyone else says it and it feels good — you may not understand it, but you know it’s like the Gayatri mantra. Bhagwan ka naam aur Allah ko yaad kiya. What binds us together is godliness, not the religion. I want people to understand that.

“I don’t know if I can make that point through my work every time. Personally, I may believe whatever I do. Like I’ve always said, films are for entertainment, not for messages. I hope Chak De India is an entertainer and some of this message comes across.”

Shah Rukh Khan is the reigning box office star and his home production Om Shanti Om is “a movie about the movies”

As told to Shradha Sukumaran-MidDay

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