My Guiding Principles as Shaped by a Bollywood Superstar
“Shah Rukh, Shah Rukh” reverberates in a quaint street of Bandra, India, every year on November 2. Thousands gather outside a palatial bungalow, just wanting a glimpse of their star on his birthday.
That is the enigma of SRK (as he is often called) in India. Millions of fans in India and around the world swoon over his dimpled smile and the signature “open arms”!
When I was seven years old, I skipped playing outside with friends to watch movies obsessively. My favorite being classic Bollywood romances. I vicariously lived in different worlds. The movies shaped my understanding of the human world and emotions. But most importantly, it introduced me to the most influential person in my life- Shah Rukh Khan.
Yes, I love his movies and the hopeless romantic characters, but the real inspiration for me has come from the man behind the star.
SRK came from a family who could not afford to visit a movie theatre. He lost his father at the age of 15 to cancer and his mother when he was 25. He slept on the streets, struggled to support himself and his sister, who fell into depression after their parent’s demise. His foray into acting was a means to support his life. In his own words, “When I got the chance to act in films, it wasn’t out of any creative desire. It was purely out of the fear of failure and poverty.”
In the early 90s, the Hindi film industry was dominated by film dynasties.Most leading actors were from these families and were extremely good-looking. SRK had no support and was called by many as ‘unconventional looking.’ So he took up films no one wanted to do and even did anti-hero characters.
“Most of the films I signed were discards of better-known actors, and the producers could not find anyone else to do them. The timing was something right, I worked very hard, there were other people around it, and I became a big star, the films became big hits.”
He presented a different kind of actor to the Indian audiences. One who did vulnerable roles, was not afraid to be a villain and had lived the typical middle-class life. His life experiences helped him hone his craft, and he worked relentlessly. Within three years of his debut, more than 11 films of his were released. He mastered the art to hold his audience’s gaze in a way that made them feel he was looking right into their eyes. And he won the hearts of millions of Indians and even people around the world.
He rose meteorically, and people got more insight into how different he was. He publicly voiced his opinions, accepted himself to be a mediocre actor who works very hard, and openly shared his emotional vulnerabilities of losing both parents and a sister with depression.
“I somehow developed the sense of detachment, the sense of false bravado which I show in public, a sense of humor and a lot of things which people think is flamboyant and Bollywood-like, to cover up the sadness affecting my life and me becoming like my sister.”
A man who came from nothing and achieved fame and wealth very few even dream of, a man who lives different lives as an actor and a man who embraces his vulnerabilities. This is the person who has inspired me and shaped my life’s guiding principles. They act as a framework for how I weigh my actions and what truly matters to me.
Love needs to be our core
Wouldn’t it be a shame if the person who peddles love to millions of people did not give me my greatest lesson on love?
I’ve learned that whatever moves you, whatever urges you to create, to build, whatever keeps you from failing, whatever helps you survive, is perhaps the oldest and the simplest emotion known to mankind, and that is love.Ted Talk on Humanity, Fame, and Love by SRK
Job. Stable relationships. Wealth. Health. We are always on the road of needs and desires. None of it truly matters until love and compassion fuels it. Love gives us empathy. It connects us to other human beings and our ideas. It helps us enlighten humankind. It is the love of a mother that nurtures us. It is the love of life that keeps us away from wars.
The two and a half characters which form the word “प्रेम,” which means “love,” if you are able to understand that and practice it, that itself is enough to enlighten mankind. So I truly believe the future “you” has to be a you that loves. Otherwise, it will cease to flourish. It will perish in its own self-absorption.Ted Talk on Humanity, Fame, and Love by SRK
And the first step is to love yourself. It is a cliche saying, but one that the majority of the planet is unable to follow. We need to show compassion for ourselves.
When I lost my father, I hated myself for being so emotional and vulnerable. So I built walls around my emotions. It ultimately distanced me from my mother and turned me into a machine. It was when I accepted my feelings of grief and loss, let them come out that I felt free and joyous. I could pour love into every task that I do. I stand out in my work today because I openly speak about my ideas and execute them with passion.
So break your barriers and keep yourself open to new connections. It will lead to a flourish of ideas within you. With a core full of love, not much can deter you.
SRK’s movie ‘Dear Zindagi’ is an excellent start to understanding the path to self-love.
Embrace failure yet hate to fail
A dichotomous idea. But true nonetheless.
Success is not a great teacher. “We enjoy success, perhaps we even deserve it, but we don’t acquire wisdom from it.” What humbles us is a failure. It is our greatest teacher. We need to embrace it and understand there is no success without failure.
SRK calls his father the most successful failure, “My father had worked in so many fields. Unfortunately, he was not successful even in a single work. Though he failed, he always kept a smile on his face. He was the pillar of failure, but still, he thought that he was a successful person in all the failures that mean he was successful in getting failures.”
But just embracing failure will not help you succeed. You also need hate to fail. Take it as an incentive to greater exertion and hard work.
I don’t want to succeed as much as I don’t want to fail. So I believe the true path to success is through the fear of failure. If you aren’t scared enough of failing, you’re unlikely to succeed. It’s not pleasant to fail at stuff. All of us experienced it. You will too if you haven’t already. So use it to succeed.Yale University Chubb Fellow Speech by SRK
In 1999, SRK co-founded a film production and distribution company called Dreamz Unlimited. Even being at the top of his career, none of the films produced under it garnered success. But he kept at it and learned from the failures. In 2003, he took over the company entirely and named it Red Chillies. With small and steady steps, the company today stands as one of India’s major production and visual effects companies.
We all face failure in our lives, and the only way to succeed is our response to it. Look at it with pragmatism. If one method does not work, learn from it and know the other way will work.
Creativity is a process of the soul
As an actor, creativity is akin to water in SRK’s life. But being a superstar, his creativity is the target of every praise and criticism. “I’ve grown to understand that on the one hand, the world will always uphold creativity as the most honest feeling possible. On the other hand, the potency of fame, the glitz, the glamour, the wealth that arise from this very recognition of creativity will always be questioned.”
Bringing me to my most important guiding principle- creativity is foremost for yourself.
Creativity is a process of the soul. It does not need an outcome or a product for the world to accept. It needs only the truth of its own expression. It comes from within. And makes of your world, whatever you wish it to makeSRK in a speech to students for a school graduation ceremony.
Creativity is the expression of your deepest self. It does not need approval from anyone. While creativity propels our world, some of it is just for yourself. “It is to keep you company when you’re alone when you need a friend when the world doesn’t seem to understand you.”
If it finds an audience, great. If it does not, let it be your best friend. The one who knows you like no other. Apart from films, SRK’s creativity also spread into poetry and writing. Which he mostly keeps to himself and sometimes shares them on Twitter with his followers
Shah Rukh Khan is a volcano of wisdom, and these three ideas define me as a person and how I approach my life. Whenever I am at crossroads, I turn to them. My decision to take a course like Write of Passage was because I wanted to move forward from my failure of not communicating my thoughts out loud to all. I wanted to reignite my love for writing and create. I may get an audience, or I may not, but just starting to get my words on paper and out in the world has been a liberating experience.
If you ever doubt your creativity; or face failures and do not know how to cope or are involved in a task that invokes no love in you; take a step back and think about love, failure and creativity from the eyes of a superstar- “Whatever you do in life, do it like it’s your first and last time, and you’ll never get another chance.”
If the magic of wisdom of the man behind the actor can somehow provide so much knowledge for me, they can add some value for you.