"The film is mainly entertainment," Shah Rukh said in a lengthy interview with IANS over the phone from New York on a trip last week to promote his new film, "My Name Is Khan" (MNIK), releasing in the US Feb 12. "If some issue is taken back home, I always tell people if they can take back a little more than an empty pack of popcorn, that's interesting...that's an added advantage to an entertaining film."
Shah Rukh, who plays a Muslim Indian with Asperger's syndrome living in the US, finding his marriage to a Hindu single mother (played by Kajol) crumbling post-9/11, wouldn't agree that it's the Islam angle that is grabbing the most attention in the US. "A film normally deals with lots of issues, comedy, or it's a tragedy or a serious film or a dramatic love story like '...Khan' is meant to be," he said. "If one starts talking or deciding on issues before a whole film is seen, it's kinda not right to do, specially as a filmmaker. Normally, a film is more than the sum of its parts. It's not like it's a love story, it's got a Karan Johar touch to social cinema, it has an angle of religion, it also has a part of politics, it has a world-shaking incident as a backdrop, it also has a lot of sweet songs. It combines all that. To me as a filmmaker, or part of a film, any aspect of the film can only be decided once one has seen the whole film. But there's no denying that there is an aspect of religion in the film."
Nor would Shah Rukh look at this and other recent Bollywood films about the fate of Indian Muslims in the US post-9/11 as an effort to redress any negative images people may have formed about Islam over the last nine years. "Films normally are for entertainment. One doesn't really make a conscious decision to make a statement with it. Within entertainment, if a statement gets made, it's really nice for a filmmaker. You know, maybe '3 Idiots' talks about education, but it's an entertaining film. Similarly 'Chak De! India' talks about patriotism, but it's a sports film. You can have issues related in a film, but when filmmakers of commercial proportions like Karan, myself and Kajol and all get together, it's not to highlight an issue because it's too expensive as a commercial venture to make a film about an issue and not entertain."
To Shah Rukh, "the most interesting part of the fact as an actor is that I'm playing a character who's got Asperger's. It's also not in any which way to show it in a light which is not nice...but for an actor that's a great thing to do, you know, to play a (person with a) disorder like this which very few people know about. Hopefully, I'll be able to convince people about it when they see (the film). I don't think at least commercial filmmakers from India really make a big-time film which is localised or even localised by an international issue," he said.
"Commercial we will only know once the film releases," said Shah Rukh when asked if MNIK isn't one of Karan Johar's least commercial offerings so far. "...Yes, the only thing it has amiss is big set dance pieces, but we just felt with the disorder we were dealing with, it would look very unrealistic for the character Rizwan Khan to indulge in dancing of the order of we normally see in a Hindi film of Karan's, or you might have seen earlier. Except for that, I think the venture is extremely commercial," he said. "In the last five years, there's a whole paradigm shift as to what people accept as a commercial film," Shah Rukh said describing it as "Karan's evolution from making and keeping up with the trends of new commercial cinema in India and elsewhere".
On professional challenges he faced during its filming, Shah Rukh said it was a "very difficult" character to play. "If I was to just put it simply, it's very seldom that I've really gone ahead and played a character which exists in real life. And whenever you're dealing with a disorder or a near...atypical situation, the first thought is that the sort of parameters you have to set that in no which way you are derogatory or deriding the disorder. You have to make the protagonist very proud of what it is. The second part is you have to come as close to reality in depicting that characterization and so one had to study a lot and one does get worried..."
But a couple of people affected with the same disorder who were shown the film had told them "...it's a great portrayal, it's very close to someone with this kind of disorder". "Of course, having said that, I have taken a few cinematic liberties with it, because I've used three or four traits which may not exist simultaneously in one person and tried to create one character who has Asperger's, called Rizwan Khan."