Arguably the biggest global star of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, was in London last week to promote his latest release, Chennai Express. Accompanying him was the film’s leading lady, Deepika Padukone and UTV producer, Siddharth Roy Kapur.
The trio opened up to the media about what makes the film special. Read on…
Q: Is Chennai Express the latest in a string of films that remakes or have a heavy South Indian cinema angle?
Shah Rukh: There’s a whole culture of South Indian films which is fantastic. It covers Telugu and Malayam films which is brilliant. Some of the finest films in the country come from there. I think you mix up sometimes some of the remakes made in Hindi. This is not a remake. As far as RaOne was concerned, it was a character which happened to be from the South of India because a lot of software development is done in the South and so it wasn’t deliberate. That film was actually set in London. The Dirty Picture was a biopic of a South Indian movie star so was set there. In the three years since 2010 you mentioned three films, we’ve made over 2700 films so it’s not by a long shot something we’re catering to to make Hindi films with South India background. Why Chennai Express? Because of the language which was important. Sometimes people in the North of India don’t understand the language of the South. India is a vast country. The whole situational comedy and the concept of the film, whether you understand the language and the culture or not, love conquers all and that is how the country and people are united. It is not something which has been decidedly made to attract an audience from down South, it just happened to be the subject.
Q: Besides the both of you starring in Chennai Express, what would you say is its unique selling point?
Shah Rukh: It’s a film that is coming in the holiday period where the idea is to attract the whole family to come together and I think this film falls in that genre. Rather than calling the film a comedy or an action film, I think Rohit Shetty is one director who has a genre which should be called the Rohit Shetty genre. It’s really a mass appeal, family appeal kind of film. It is very clean, honest, earnest, without any frills or trappings except for the fact that you’ll have a good laugh. Great songs, Deepika’s character or the other characters – I think that would be the main appeal of this film. It’s a family entertainer. Whether it was to come at Eid or Diwali or even Christmas, it is the kind of film that people would like to see for family outings.
Q: Chennai Express is quite different from what Shah Rukh has done in his career so far. Was it a conscious decision for him then to try something new?
Shah Rukh: I try to choose films depending on the state of mind I’m in. I do a couple of films a year. Sometimes I’m in the state of mind to do a kind of film but it’s not offered to me or that kind of story doesn’t come along, and then I settle for the second best or go back to the belief of the director. It’s very difficult, as you say, after 22 years to wake up in the morning and go to work with the same gusto that I did on the first day. It can only happen if I’m really wanting to be doing that, it’s got nothing to do with money, fame, name or even the ‘hitness’ of the film. After having finished Jab Tak Hai Jaan which was, if not completely intense, but a true spirited love story, RaOne which was physically very challenging and Don which was kind of intense and My Name Is Khan which was mentally a bit more intense, I was really kind of wanting to do a comedic kind of film. At the same time, Siddharth and Ronnie met me and they had Rohit working on a film for them. I was really wanting to do a funny film and this fell into my lap. Having said that, I really haven’t done such a comedic love story for a long time or maybe not at all so it’s really new and different for me.
Q: What kind of stunts have you performed in, around or on top of a train for Chennai Express?
Shah Rukh: This time I’m singing in the train which is as big a stunt anyone with my singing capability can pull off. I fly on a motorcycle in the film, I go through a wall in a car. But actually the biggest stunt of all is picking up Deepika Padukone and walking up 100 steps. That’s really super-heroic. I don’t want to sound rude but it did take a couple of days to record too.
Q: When and where was the last train journey you took?
Shah Rukh: I do that here actually when I go to meet my son here in Kent. Very recently – last month.
Q: How was it doing the Lungi Dance and the tribute to Rajnikaanth?
Shah Rukh: It feels very airy. *turns to Deepika*: We will not talk about that. About the way you guys were behaving when I was wearing the Lungi? No. There are too many girls here and this is a family film. It is a family entertainer.
Deepika: It was a lot of fun. I love Honey Singh because he gave me one of my best songs in Cocktail. I am glad he has done this song for us. We shot it in two days and we had a blast. To dance like that in a sari felt very liberating.
Shah Rukh: We’ve made a film called Chennai Express and it’s about the culture in the South. There is a scene in the film which had a kind of tribute to Rajni sir but as the film went along, it didn’t make it to the film finally – we couldn’t shoot it actually. When we finished the film, it just so happened that Honey Singh had this song and it wasn’t part of the album, which has been done by Vishal and Shehkar separately. He asked if me and Deepika would like to be a part of the song. We shot for just two days but more than 14 hours a day for the video which is 3 and a half minutes. It is just that when you make a film called Chennai Express or Chennai anything, it is incomplete without the mention of Rajni Sir. So we thought of this tribute, I spoke to his daughter and she in fact she gave us the word Thalaiva which is what he is called down South which means ‘the big boss’ or ‘the big man’. And everything fell into place.
Q: There has been criticism that the accents used in the film sound more ‘Malayali’ than ‘Tamil’?
Shah Rukh: I hear comments and sometimes people have a way of looking at things – whether it’s a film, whether it’s a song, whether it’s a dance or the way you dress up. If you want to question everything you can. Sometimes it happens that if you happen to be someone who is a public figure or in the public eye, you then mention the name and perhaps it adds a little bit of weightage to your point of view, whether correct or not. When you make a film like Chennai Express, I’m sure the purists will have an issue in terms of the accent. But you have to realise that it is a film which is garnered towards a more popular kind of cinema. I understand both kinds of cinema, I’ve participated in both, whether you make a serious film or a commercial one, which is also serious work. The level of filmmaking that you have, whether you’re going to go a bit over the top or keep it realistic, whether you are going to internalise it – so you have to accept all these things. People have a lot of viewpoints. Lately it seems because of the social networks, it seems like everyone has a viewpoint and a space to come and talk about it. And a few people then pick on it. As an entertainer for the last 22 years, I am very clear in my head that except for a few instances where I may have been wrong, which have been personal instances, I have never been a part of a film knowingly depicting something that is wrong. I would never ever do so because that’s the kind of person I am as an actor, as a producer. I have kids, I have a family, I have friends and all of us are educated, and wouldn’t resort to any controversial aspects to make a film popular. It’s unfortunate when it was brought to my notice but having said that, each one has an opinion and a viewpoint and you respect that. You may not adhere to it, you may not try to explain it, you may not even listen to it but it’s there. You don’t become a legend without controversy.
Deepika: I am a South Indian myself and we do have a lot of Tamilian people in the film as well. If there was anything that was anti any of that then I’m sure I would have been the first one to not accept it. As far as the accent is concerned, I’ve had a tutor, a trainer, a diction coach and they are all from Tamilnadu. So…
Shah Rukh: And I am not trying to explain anything but I think her accent is fantastic. Nobody says bokwas as well as she does. And if they don’t’ say it like this in the South of India then they will start saying it after this. It sounds so sensual. Kahan se khareedi tum ne yeh bokwas dictionary? It’s a big turn on. And we were on a show yesterday where there was a young child who was saying it exactly like that.
Q: Did you actually film in Rameshwaram? How was it like?
Shah Rukh: It’s a very long journey. It takes 24 hours to reach there. You take a train and you take a drive. It’s a long journey especially when you’re travelling with 100 people. We did because we wanted to have the iconic shot of the Rameshwaram bridge. The film actually starts with the premise that Rahul has to take his grandfather’s ashes – part of it has to go to Haridwar and the second part has to go to Rameshwaram, which is nearly at the tip of Southern India. We did go and shoot there for a day, day and a half – a shot of me and Deepika. We also have a lot of wide shots and it was beautiful.
Q: Do you think an actor has to do a light-hearted film like Chennai Express after doing intense films like Jab Tak Hain Jaan? Do you think that is a necessity?
Shah Rukh: No. I mean I think some actors just like to continue with the intensity. Like I said, I am in a state of mind sometimes. Right now, I want to do a bad guy’s role. I want to be really mean but there is no film that that has been offered to me right now. Not a stylised bad guy like Don. A lot of people tell me not to do that as there are family audiences, kids look up to you so don’t be mean. But this is the way I am thinking right now. But no, you don’t necessarily have to do that if you take long breaks and but I try to think that if I want to do a character or a film which I’m wanting to do as an actor, I think I’ll be able to convince a lot more people about the entertainment, the intensity or just the storytelling value of the film. If I just do it so that I have a job or I have work from January to August, I think it will fall short. You are spending a 120 days with wonderful people, most of them friends, it does make you want to be really wanting to do that film. Already commercial cinema has so many parameters, so many confines and mostly I do films in the popular cinema format so having confines and then not being wanting to do something can be a bit of an issue. So I try to find a film which I’m feeling like doing. To me it’s very important but I don’t think I can speak generically like that.
Q: Was it a conscious decision for Deepika to do so many films in one year?
Deepika: Not at all. I can’t control these things, the only thing I can do is go ahead and do a film that I think I will enjoy doing. The rest is always in the producers’ hands – when they want to release the film, when they think it is the best time. Sometimes films get delayed, sometimes films get preponed so no, it wasn’t a conscious decision at all. Even the kind of films and roles I am doing, that is also not a conscious decision.
Q: Was the London audience a deciding factor in Chennai Express having the widest release in the UK?
Siddharth: Of course, it’s a really big film. It’s a Rohit Shetty film with Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. It’s an all-out commercial entertainer and it does deserve the widest release of all-time. We’re looking at around 125 cinemas. There’ll be around 170 screens. I’m giving you approximates but that’s the scale of the release and that really is the widest release that any other Indian film has had here in the UK. In terms of marketing, we really have gone all out in terms of what we’ve done from newspapers to radio to the social media. We’ve just really really given it all we could. The songs are playing non-stop and that’s feedback that could come from you. I mean, if you’re seeing it all around you then that’s credit to the team here that’s really put in a lot of work into making that happen. We just want to ensure that it’s a movie that everyone has as their first choice in a really interesting festival season when people want to go out and watch a movie. This is the one that should be able to watch in as many screens as possible so that they have as many options as possible to be able to watch it when they want to watch it. That’s what we’re doing in the UK and it’s pretty similar across the world. It really is the widest Indian release that any film has had worldwide. And we are pretty sure that’s going to reflect in the box office numbers as well.
Shah Rukh: London audience is not a pressure at all. It’s really fantastic especially for films I’ve participated in. I have never liked to believe that actors have a regional-wise appeal, everyone has a universal appeal. But I have to accept the fact that a huge amount of star value that is given to my films is because of the audience in England. Thank you all for that. In all humility and kindness, please keep doing that and don’t stop.
Q: How many takes did the ‘kick’ scene take?
Deepika: I could have done it in one but I chose to keep doing it wrong.
Shah Rukh: It felt good. I’m that kind of guy. I’m a little kinky like that.
Thank you very much for having us here and to UTV. I hope you all like the film.