I know I’m like a billion years late on SRK’s Thinkfest talk but I FINALLY caught it the other day and was blown away. Instead of deconstructing the whole talk, which many people have already done, all I wanted to do was transcribe his final speech on “the solitude of stardom” so it was preserved somewhere in print. Here it is below (after the pic) – because it deserves to be savored rather than listened to in a rush on a YT video.
I was unclear whether this is part of the autobiography he’s writing, or if he wrote this speech especially for the talk, but whatever it is – it’s stunning.
“I’ve got everything. Much more than a boy sitting on the roundabout at Kamani auditorium, watching cars go by because his father can’t afford to buy a film ticket, can have. You can’t take that away from me. You can take away the awards, the money. You can’t take away the fact that I became Shahrukh Khan. I became somebody else.”
Many Happy Returns
by W.H. Auden
So I wish you first a
Sense of theatre; only
Those who love illusion
And know it will go far:
Otherwise we spend our
Lives in a confusion
Of what we say and do with
Who we really are.
Adulation has the distinct quality of isolation. You cannot admire that which you cannot distinguish as extraordinary. To be adored in the manner of stardom is to be brutally separated from the right to be ordinary. Paradoxically this severance results in making nothing more stark to a man than his ordinariness. I am aware of it. He may layer it, hide it or pretend it away. But he feels it in the most naked of ways.
Stardom presents a unique opportunity to accept or reject the ordinary because the isolation it imposes has two aspects. One is to enable detached clarity. The other to cloud reality entirely.
It is easy when faced with the truth about one’s ordinariness, to turn away from it. The way of the mist is to diffuse form. It is easy to unravel also, hard to hold the imperfection of yourself and sift unbridled adulation into a genuine love for your craft and person. It is hard but it is possible. It is possible when you begin to create for the sheer joy of creation, or creating. Because somehow you are not in the business of destruction.
Acting is an art form. It is often mistaken as the ability to pretend but in fact it is the ability to mirror different selves onto the canvas of your own being. It is the art of becoming a new self with complete honesty. An actor true to his craft cannot reject his imperfections. He embraces them and turns them into creative force. Isolation enables a detached observation of himself and his world through which an actor can enhance this creative force.
Detachment of a certain kind allows complex emotions to be worn like costumes. In my case, because I do commercial films, the costumes are very simple. Ralph Lauren – anger. Dolce & Gabbana – love. Pacciotti – romance. Just about describes my complete emotional wardrobe.
As the world changes this interpretation is rendered more and more through various media. I become a cad. A philanderer. A womanizer. An abusive drunk. A callous arrogant star who flouts rules and smokes indiscriminately in public. An anti-national enemy-supporting upstart who ought to be taught a lesson, and so on. Or a perfect family man. An astute businessman. A doting father. Sex on toast. Or even just a guy who smells beautiful.
None of this has to do with who I really am. Yet it becomes the way I’m perceived by many. Here is where my public journey deviates from my personal experience and sometimes pushes me into a more isolated space than I wish to be in. Detached or attached the one thing I cannot avoid is what my persona is interpreted as, seen from the outside. As honest and similar as I believe my public and personal appearances and beliefs are, I do get overtaken by what people want to perceive of me because of being completely objectified over the last 20 years.
My emotions and actions are all objects open for sale and analysis. I’m a billion-dollar soul-selling machine who romanticizes sleeping on Mumbai’s sidewalks before becoming such a beautiful object. But I do not gain satisfaction from the money I earn, from how many crores my movies collect, from whether I’m rated number 1, 2 or 203. I never wake up in the morning wondering about who has become more popular than me. It is of no concern to me.
I gain satisfaction from the aspect of my art that allows me to give. I feel satisfied at the thought that somewhere in a home I do not know, a mother and her little son watch my movie on an otherwise dull day and laugh at me. I gain satisfaction at the fact that people leave the cinema with lightness in their heart, feeling love, feeling the possibilities of romance in the everyday ordinariness of their daily lives.
However unreal it seems to critics or lovers of reality, I serve reality with chocolate flavored popcorn, available only in large size and fizzy soda to go with it. And yet, I live reality in its crudest form, where every human defect and perfection is magnified, where every desire, every aspiration is stark like mine, where every power drives an enormous system towards its own growth and churning and even destruction.
But it tastes bloody good. And through all this I’m surrounded by a hundred managers and PRs and producers and financers and audiences. And the only way I keep it sane is by clinging to the only person I know the best – myself. All alone. But to be alone amidst millions of admirers is no tragedy at all. It is beautiful. Especially if you can use it to view the world, as I began this speech, with a sense of theater.
So welcome to my theater, ladies and gentlemen.
- Shahrukh Khan