Shah Rukh Khan with CNN correspondent Richard Quest at a session in the World Government Summits 2024 in Dubai
Shah Rukh Khan with CNN correspondent Richard Quest at a session in the World Government Summits 2024 in Dubai Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/GulfNews

Trust Bollywood superstar and entrepreneur Shah Rukh Khan to bring a generous dose of sparkling wit and candor to the third day of the ongoing World Governments Summit in Dubai, joking that he would love to play the iconic spy James Bond, but is even willing to settle for playing the “Bond baddie”.

“I am not a legend … I am Bond, James Bond. I would love to play James Bond, but I am too short to play Bond … But I am brown enough to play the Bond baddie,” said Khan in an interactive session with CNN journalist Richard Quest.

The in-conversation session, which saw the notoriously tardy actor turn up to an event on time, saw him look back on his eventful journey in Bollywood over 33 years.

Shah Rukh Khan in conversation with CNN anchor Richard Quest at the on-going World Governments Summit 2024 in Dubai
Shah Rukh Khan in conversation with CNN anchor Richard Quest at the on-going World Governments Summit 2024 in Dubai Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/GulfNews

Asked why he didn’t cross over to Hollywood, the ‘Jawan’ star claimed he was never offered a compelling role.

“I know many people from the American and the English film industries. But nobody has offered me good work and I wondered if I was spreading myself too thin. I was offered ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, but I felt that the role of the game show host was too mean,” said Khan. At the time when he was offered the role in this film, which scooped several Oscars, he was already hosting the Hindi version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ and he wasn’t fully convinced about the role.

“I felt I was cheating and being dishonest … And Anil Kapoor, who finally played the role, was fantastic,” said Khan. The succinct in-conversation session, which was strictly vanilla, also touched upon his self-imposed sabbatical in 2018. Khan, who has acted in over 105 films in a career spanning over three decades, took a four-year break when his films like ‘Zero’ and ‘Fan’ were box-office misfires five years ago. The career slump saw him retreat into a shell.

“I had massive flops, and I was licking my wounds. I have never said this to anyone, but in those four years I learned how to make the best pizza in the world. I stopped listening to stories or wanting to tell stories. I made myself a small kitchen and learned how to make pizza. I learned perseverance,” said Khan. He added how millions of square pizzas paved the way for the perfectly rounded base, teaching him life lessons along the way. He countinues to use his culinary learnings in his career and the frailty of fame. 

The 58-year-old Khan, one of the biggest cultural exports from India and who has doggedly stayed away from working in Hollywood, claims perseverance is his biggest strength.

“I lost my parents early in my life and realized that there’s no coming back from death. You need to make most of your life … I try to analyze what I do on a regular basis asking myself: ‘why do I do what I do’.”

Apparently, he has an interesting ritual for bouncing back on his feet if his movies don’t perform at the box-office as expected.

“On Thursday evenings at my home in Mumbai, a day before my movie releases, I give myself a two-and-a-half-hour bath and rinse myself of all my work,” said Khan, adding the bath-salt dips was deeply cathartic for the actor.

Khan, who is known as the King Of Romance, has also come to the realization that love stories with life-affirming endings work best for him and his fans. But he’s a reluctant portrait of the perfect lover.

“But I never wanted to be an actor peddling love. I wanted to be an action guy wearing that white vest, girl on my side, and speaking in baritones. But I never got the opportunity. Promising hope, giving hope, and spreading love through my movies is what works for me.”

He also believes that there’s enough sadness in the world that we don’t need more dark and hopeless films.

“I don’t like hopeless cinemas. In this world, life, and businesses there’s enough sadness.”

On the career front, Khan after his four-year-break has returned with a bang. His last three releases in 2023 starting with spy film ‘Pathaan, followed by ‘Jawan’ and ‘Dunki’ did tremendous box-office business. And, he has grand plans up his fashionable sleeve.

“When I started off, I just wanted to survive and get a week’s work or a year’s work in. But as the years went by, I am motivated to bring technology and innovation to Indian cinema. I have 35 more years to go and I want to make a film that’s loved by the whole world and nobody should then ask me why I haven’t done a cross-over film, but they have crossed over to my film.”

Apart from spreading joy through his romantic films, he believes Dubai is a city that cheers him instantly.

“I spend a lot of time here. I have a beautiful house … Nobody troubles you and Dubai is just 2.5 hours away. We come with our kids,” said Khan.

His last words: “Don’t forget to pray and you have to just get back to work’. Interestingly, his family was his biggest support when he decided to scale back and retreat to the kitchen to make pizzas. The actor was secretly relieved that his family didn't tell him that he was better at making pizzas than movies. His wife, producer, and interior designer Gauri Khan and his three kids were his proverbial wind beneath his wings when he broke ties with cinema temporarily.

“I had become indulgent before I took my sabbatical. I was keen on innovating and being unique, forgetting what my thousands and millions of fans needed or felt about it. From playing a vertically-challenged person in a film to playing manic, sociopathic fan – I tried all. But then I had to go back and introspect. It made me realize that you have to do what the consumers and audiences want.”

He seems to have followed his own learning to the last letter. Two back-to-back blockbusters in the last year ‘Jawan’ and ‘Pathaan’ stand testament to his new-found learnings.