Working on Chennai Express was like being on Yashji’s set: Shahrukh Khan

Shah Rukh Khan talks to TOI about how he and Rohit Shetty got onto the bandwagon of Chennai Express.

Why did you choose Chennai Express as a film?
My kids and I watch films together at night. One of the films that we really liked was Golmaal 3. Kareena was working with me in Ra.One and I told her that I liked the film a lot and met Rohit Shetty. Rohit was committed to making Angoor with UTV. Me and my mom had a strange history, where we used to watch films together. After my father died (Shah Rukh was 15 then), I, my sister and my mother would watch films together as we were all film buffs. I would press my mother’s feet while watching films. And Angoor was clearly one of our favourites. Rohit asked me if I would be interested in hearing the narration of Angoor. I told him I didn’t need to, as I knew it inside out. He asked me for five days to come back with the adapted script since it was originally not written for me and he did not think I would do it.

He then called me and said, ‘Sir, I have been writing another story for some years which has gone to different actors and has never happened before. Could I come and narrate that to you?’ I normally spend a lot of time with the director before I sign on a film. So I said why don’t you come and narrate the film to me, as I had in any case kept seven days aside for him. He came with three writers and started narrating. I have worked in the industry for 19 years and have heard scripts from some of the most dramatic narrators, be it Raj Kumar Santoshi, Aditya Chopra or Karan Johar, but I have not heard a narration like Rohit’s. He narrated with music. The film has some Tamil dialogue, followed by Hindi dialogue. Even though the writers were not Tamil, they narrated the script in Tamil, which they learnt for the narration. I was in splits. I had planned to hear it for half an hour, but landed up listening for three hours. He asked me if I would like to do the film. I actually did not commit and nor did he take it as a commitment. I got many of my friends to listen to it to find out if they also found it funny just like I had. I don’t find things funny easily as I also have a sense of humour, so it takes me a while to like other funny things. To my surprise, everyone liked it and collectively at the same places. I remember we were returning from Dubai after promoting Don 2 and Ronnie Screwvala was returning from LA and we crossed each other at the airport and Ronnie asked, ‘Are you doing Angoor?’ I said, ‘No, I am doing a film, but it is not Angoor, it is Chennai Express.

What did you like about Rohit as a director?
I am a big fan of his father Shetty sahab. He was one of the greatest villains India has ever produced. Some of the best fights of Mr Bachchan are with him. He made being bald fashionable. He was also a famous fight master and my favourite. He was a tough guy and was among the few villains who, when he fought with Mr Bachchan, you felt Mr Bachchan could lose to him. I expected Rohit as his son to be an action guy, but I don’t know how comedy came to him. When I met him, I found him completely contrary to what I expected from an action director. He is 6′ 2″ tall, tough, funny and endearing. I was impressed by him on meeting him. I thought he would be more action, but he was more comic. A person who has a sense of humour is a sharper person than someone who does not have a sense of humour. I had not done a full comedy since Baadshah as no one had offered me one.

I had not done comedy for years and so I wanted to work with a director where I had to just act. Rohit is extremely clear and sorted on how he wants to shoot scenes. He knows his world extremely well and his level of preparedness is so high that he gets his assistant directors to act out the prime scenes and show you. Coming from doing films like Chak De India, My Name Is Khan, Don 2 and Ra.One, where I was involved in co-creating the film and which were more intense personalised experiences, working on Chennai Express was easier and fun, even though it is an extremely difficult film to make as a director. For me, it was like being on Yashji’s set (Yash Chopra) where you didn’t have to do anything, but play actor as he knew exactly what he wanted you to do.

Do you like co-creating or just playing actor more?
I like both. But you need a break from either.

Rohit on working with SRK
While writing Chennai Express in 2008, I never ever imagined that Shah Rukh Khan would be in it. But once he said yes, we wrote it keeping him in mind. He is the finest actor in our country and is extremely dedicated and fun on the set to work with. As a director, I truly hope that I have done justice to his calibre.

Chennai Express, produced by Red Chillies and UTV Motion Pictures, releases August 8.


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