Shah Rukh Khan: ‘the kids of today will feel enthralled by Dear Zindagi’
Talking over a crackling telephone line from Mumbai, Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt sound relaxed as they discuss their new film, Dear Zindagi (Dear Life).
The stars have been working tirelessly to promote the film, and spent a whole day last week talking to reporters, with time slots set up but, as is often the case with big Bollywood interviews, delayed.
“You have 10 minutes,” I was told as my call finally went through, six hours late.
Curiosity about Dear Zindagi – produced by celebrity filmmaker Karan Johar and Khan’s wife, Gauri Khan – has been skyrocketing since the poster was unveiled on social media. Fans were intrigued by the pairing of 50-year-old Khan and 23-year-old Bhatt, who portray characters that strike up an unlikely friendship and learn important lessons along the way.
“Dear Zindagi is about life,” says the chirpy Bhatt, who made her Bollywood debut in 2012 with Johar’s romantic drama, Student of the Year.
“On any given day we go through various emotions – we laugh, cry, feel sad or happy,” she says.
“And that’s what the film is about: life, and coping with it – as mothers, fathers, friends, daughters, sons.”
Khan chimes in: “I think the kids of today will feel enthralled by Dear Zindagi. It’s life with all its ups and downs.”
Dear Zindagi is only the second Hindi film from director Gauri Shinde. Her first, 2012’s English Vinglish, captured the hearts of millions of Indian housewives with its sensitively drawn tale – based on Shinde’s own mother – of a timid woman who cannot speak English.
Bhatt believes Shinde’s insight and honesty define her.
“What I love about Gauri is that she can weave a whole film around a single thought,” she says. “Also I just love her frankness. Whatever she feels, she tells you to your face. She knows what she wants from you. Woh jo hai, woh hai [she is what she is].”
Khan agrees – “Gauri is very strong” – and then explains why he likes working with female directors.
“Given a choice, I would only work with women,” he says.
“Seriously. Their approach towards expressing emotions and their sincerity – I really like that.
“Now I am not saying that male directors are not sensitive, but it’s more interesting to be guided by a woman. They are resilient, and I also feel they have more conviction of purpose. I like having women around me; 95 per cent of my staff on set are women. They are much nicer than men.”
Then, in true Khan style, he adds: “And they are softer to hug, too.”
One reason for the excitement about Dear Zindagi is the soundtrack put together by music director Amit Trivedi.
“Love You Zindagi is my favourite, definitely,” says Khan. “As for the audience, some of the songs are situational, so they will like the way they are shot – and Alia has sung some of the songs.”
Would he consider a singing career? Bhatt immediately pipes up: “He sang in Baadshah [King].”
That movie was a 1999 slapstick comedy in which Khan played a bumbling private detective, complete with sunglasses, gun and greatcoat. The songs were equally over the top. There is a short pause, then laughter.
“Ladies, don’t laugh,” he says. “No, I did not sing in Baadshah, listen to me. I sang – well, I rapped – in Josh  and Don 2 . As for singing more often, well, there are certain things that I want to do, but step by step as my career progresses.
“But I will not expose all my talents at once because I want the world to want more from me. I want [my fans] to shout: ‘Shah Rukh Khan! Shah Rukh Khan!’ And I will reveal my hidden skills slowly, over time.”
Next up for Bhatt is romantic comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (Badrinath’s Bride), due out in March.
Khan fans can look forward to crime drama Raees (Wealthy), co-starring Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, which is due out on January 26, India’s Republic Day.
It was affected by the recent ban by the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association on Pakistani actors, singers and technicians working in the country.
A few days ago, the Indian Express reported some scenes would be filmed in Abu Dhabi to get around the ban. Khan, however, refused to confirm this.
“Thanks for asking about this, but I cannot get into it right now, I am so very sorry,” he says. “It’s just something that I would not want to talk about.”
• Dear Zindagi is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday, November 24