As Indian cinema celebrates its 100th birthday, its biggest modern-day star Shah Rukh Khan has no doubt about Bollywood’s growing global popularity — nor of his own worldwide fame.
“With all humility, I would like to say I have been fortunate to be part of Indian cinema and films which have somehow opened up new territories,” the actor known in India as “King Khan”, told AFP in an interview.
“Humbly put, I am a global star. They like me all over the world.”
In a career spanning three decades, the 47-year-old has made himself the biggest box office draw in Bollywood as the hero of romantic dramas and high-octane action movies.
It is a career that has coincided with increasing popularity for Bollywood movies outside of the Indian sub-continent.
Khan’s latest movie, “Chennai Express”, which opens in India this weekend, will play to cinemas in countries such as Peru, Morocco, Israel and Germany as well as more established markets such as Britain and the Gulf states.
The big budget action-comedy, whose release has been timed to coincide with the festival of Eid, has been sub-titled into nine languages besides Hindi.
Khan says he is more than happy to travel around the world to promote Indian cinema, which made its first movie in the silent era in 1913 but now pumps out almost 1,500 films a year in various languages.
“If I go to Peru, I will talk about Indian cinema and maybe the way I talk — with hope and pride — appeals to people,” Khan told AFP at his home in Mumbai, the capital of Bollywood.
“Maybe the kind of films I do have more of an appeal to an international audience for Indian films than others,” he added.
Khan’s promotional tour for “Chennai Express” took him around India as well as to Britain and Dubai.
“As long as I can, I would like to help take Indian cinema global. You cannot sell something to someone who doesn’t want it. If they like this film, more films will go there and that helps increase business.”
In “Chennai Express”, Khan’s character falls in love with the daughter of a mob boss while on a train journey from Mumbai to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Khan, who has appeared in more than 70 Bollywood movies after starting out in television, says he chooses his roles based on his “state of mind”.
“Now that I have done a comedy, my state of mind is to play a bad guy,” he said.
“I believe that’s how an actor should decide what he wants to do: have fun with the people who are making the film and only then can you make the audience happy.”
His popularity is such that he now has almost 4.6 million followers on Twitter, although he says it is now a forum on which he is unwilling to open up about his personal life.
“Actually I have a love-hate relationship with the analysis of my status updates and tweets,” he said.
“Things are taken out of context, so I have decided not to share anything personal. I talk about my work and generic things.
“Some days I feel very social, on other days I feel unsociable and I like to keep it like that. I like most of the people on my Twitter. The ones I don’t love, I ignore.”
Khan says he is still upset at how he felt forced into announcing the premature birth of his son AbRam, who was born to a surrogate mother, after rumours circulated of an illegal pre-natal gender test.
“It broke my heart to write that note. As decent, educated and nice as it sounded, it was not how I was feeling at that time,” he said.
“I did not want to do it. Why should I have to explain what is going on in my home, with my child who is prematurely born? When you are passing through a difficult time it is not nice to have to explain.”
As a movie star, an owner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team the Kolkata Knight Riders and as a businessman (his company Red Chillies has co-produced “Chennai Express”), Khan’s life is constantly subject to scrutiny.
Fans often gather outside his Mumbai mansion hoping for a glimpse of the actor who built his brand as the romantic hero of films such as “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” and “Om Shanti Om”.
Despite having to live life under a spotlight, Khan says that he enjoys stardom.
“You work so hard to become a star that you have to work harder to enjoy it,” he said.
“I love the amount of people that love me, the crowds that collect, the controversies, the responsibilities I have, the success and even the failure.
“It’s an exciting life. Better than a 9-6. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so it’s a great life.