“Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed an honour for me to receive this doctorate today. “Humbled” is a word often used by people in my profession. I dislike the hypocritically obsequious connotation of it in these contexts so I’m not going to use it, but I will say that such occasions have a way of putting me right in my place!
I get invited to conferences and inaugurations now and then to speak. When I receive the invitations, I also receive my brief. It’s usually about “success” and my “tips” on it (not my toes- those are covered by the “I will never show my toes” clause in my acting contracts. It’s my attempt at gender equality. My co-stars have no nipple clauses; I have a no toes one).
Most people believe Bollywood stars aren’t insightful about anything other than the fateful occurrences that made them stars in the first place!
I’ve had the odd divergence from being taken for stupid though; recently I got an email from the International Association of Advertising It read, “Dear Mr. Khan, The advertising community would like you to address them on Globalization and disruptive marketing”. I spent the next 4 hours on Google trying to assimilate the “disruptiveness” of innovating a product to match its market? But it was one of those rare days when even Google can’t help you. A day when you need to leave Google and ask God for deliverance. But I have a film releasing soon, so I didn’t want to waste my quota of favours from God…believe you me, I need a big hit right about now. So I did the next best thing. I made a grand entry on my io hawk and told everybody, that there is nothing I can tell you that you already don’t know. You are such an august group of gathering…blah blah. Instead let me entertain you because you all deserve a break, and before the organizers could interject I started thrusting my pelvic into their faces and broke out into the one and only intellectual thing I know to do… The Lungi Dance. I got away with it without being “humbled” (it helps to be a better dancer than most advertisers ) and what’s more, they seemed to have a good time.
But that was a conference and this is a Doctorate from the prestigious University of Edinburgh. So I’m going to try to sound intelligent and insightful especially for you today. One of the subjects on the list of five I was sent for my speech today was: “Life Lessons” so for what its worth: here goes. Let me start at the very beginning.
Whatever I have learnt of life has been at the movies. Actually the first few films that I did in my career and their titles very nearly have formulated all that I believe one should pass on as Life lessons to students of a prestigious institutions like yours.
One of the first movies of my career was a movie called Deewana.
I fall in love with a widow, who I meet literally by accident in which I very nearly kill her mother in law. I marry her. Not the mother in law but the widow. The widow is not keen on the marriage because she still loves her late husband but she marries me anyway. My rich, mean father disapproves of this union and does what a mean rich father does…tries to kill the widow. I am naturally disgusted by his behavior and after a long two page stand off with him, I leave the house for good. Then for some reason apart from the fact that I ride my motorcycle without holding the handlebar I have an accident. Seeing me so forlorn and sad in the hospital bed my ex widow wife falls in love with me. There is something about sick men that always attracts women to them. The sicker the better. Then again by a chance of fate I rescue a stranger at night from a bunch of goons, and guess what?? He turns out to be the original husband of my ex widow wife, who hadn’t died inspite of his inheritance hungry uncle’s best efforts. Evil uncle then kidnaps me and my ex widow now not so ex present day wife to get hold of his nephew. I escape his clutches and come back with my wife’s undead husband to rescue her. By now she is strapped to a bomb and after a liberal round of fist fighting kicking and screaming the evil uncle is blown to smithereens by the very same bomb that he had strapped on status confused lady of the film. But not before the sacrificial ex-husband has done a kamikaze, unstrapping his ex-wife and set the bomb off killing himself in the bargain. All obstacles removed, our hero lives happily ever after with his beloved wife.
I’m not sure why the movie was called Deewana (which in Hindi means madness of a particularly nice/romantic kind) but I have a feeling it had something to do with the guy who came up with the plot!! So, here’s my first life lesson, inspired by the movie title Deewana: Madness (of the particularly nice/romantic kind) is an absolute prerequisite to a happy and successful life. Don’t ever treat your little insanities as if they are aberrations that ought to be hidden from the rest of the world. Acknowledge them and use them to define your own way of living the only life you have. All the most beautiful people in the world, the most creative, the ones who led revolutions, who discovered and invented things, did so because they embraced their own idiosyncrasies. There’s no such thing as ‘normal’. That’s just another word for lifeless.
Soon after I acted in Deewana, I became the hapless hero of a movie called Chamatkar. This movie had a more believable plot line. I get cheated off all my money by my best friend slash, conman and find myself asleep in a cemetery only to be awakened by the ghost of a murdered mobster. A ghost that only I can see and nobody else. I am very perceptive that way. Anyway the mobster ghost helps me get a job as a teacher through his ghostly good offices. I fall in love with his daughter from a wife that has passed on after being duped by his flunky. Together, the ghost and I organize a cricket match, yes I was doing that even before I owned a cricket team, and avenge the various misdeeds done to us by bashing up the flunky and the conman, forgive them and let each other descend into the respective abodes where we belong. He goes back to the grave and I go away with the babe. Now ‘Chamatkar’, means miracle: right and straightforward without any nuances. So, my next lesson is the following: If you ever find yourself cheated of all your money and sleeping on a grave, do not fear, a miracle is near, either that or a ghost.
All you have to do is fall asleep! In other words, no matter how bad it gets, life IS the miracle you are searching for. There is no other one around the corner. Develop the faith in it to let it take its own course, make all the effort you can to abide by its beauty and it will not let you down. Use every resource you have been given, your mental faculties, the ability of your heart to love and feel for those around you, your health and good fortune: all of the thousands of gifts life has given you to their maximum potential. Honour your life. Honour each gift and each moment by not laying it to waste. There is no real measure of success in this world except the ability to make good of life’s endowments to you.
Sometimes life’s gifts arrive wrapped in all the wrong damned wrapping too, at which point we have to learn to do two things with them: recognize them for what they are and gamble on our fear that they might be disasters. This brings me to my third life lesson inspired by two movies in which I played the anti-hero: Darr and Baazigar.
Twenty years ago, in the Indian movie industry, roles were very clearly defined. They provided the security of your stardom in a sense. If you’d been successful playing an “angry young man”, you’d pretty much be angry and young for the rest of your career. If you’d been a police inspector in three movies, odds were, you’d be one in the next 33 too. This applied to female stars as well: wives were wives, seductresses-seductresses, mother in laws- mother in laws, and so on. Few actors would have willingly switched from romantic heroes to obsessively violent lovers. I took the leap…not because I was particularly brave, but because (a very dear director friend of mine sat me down and told me I was ugly. And being ugly necessarily meant I do bad guy roles. I wasn’t the romantic hero types, he said, actually he used the words, that my face was not chocolaty enough, whatever that meant). So, I started to eat a lot of chocolate and while waiting for it to take effect, I jumped into bad guy roles. Darr means fear in Hindi and everyone always tells you that you ought to be brave so I’m not going to bore you with that idea. Instead let me tell you this: Being brave means being shit scared all the way to the party but getting there and doing the Funky Chicken in front of all your teenage kid’s friends anyway. Let me just add on behalf of all the fathers of the world who have embarrassed their children by doing this…it takes a lot of bravery resolve and grit to do this.
So do it. Don’t let your fears become boxes that enclose you. Open them out, feel them and turn them into the greatest courage you are capable of. I promise you, nothing will go wrong. But if you live by your fears, everything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong and you wont even have done the Funky Chicken.
While we’re on what everyone tells you to be, let me also say that all the planning in the world, won’t take you where you want to get to. It’s fine not to know what you want to be twenty years from now. Most of those who had it all figured out became bankers anyway. Oh this will appear on YouTube right? There goes my next big loan for the film from my friendly neighbourhood bank.
I did a movie once called Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, in which I was the victim of a lover’s confusions and my next lesson is precisely that. It’s ok to be confused. Confusion is the route to all the clarity in the world. Don’t worry about it too much and don’t ever take yourself seriously enough to be so clear about your own ideas that you stop respecting other people’s. Our values are our values, they don’t make us any better than anyone else, at best they make us different. Always try to see the other person’s truth because like every movie has a story, every human being has one too and you have no right to imagine that yours is better than anyone else’s. You can leave that silliness to my esteemed colleagues and me!!
And if you thought the last two stories I told you were crazy, here’s another one in the reckoning for the Oscars for weirdest screenplay: Guddu. Guddu was my name in a movie about loving and giving in which basically, I have an accident (yes another one) but this time instead of almost wiping out my future mother-in-law, I wipe out my girlfriend’s eyes. Many convoluted sub-plots including a life threatening brain tumour, a legal battle for the right to donate organs and a fast unto death, my lawyer father, my religious mother and I are battling over which one of us will donate our eyes to my blind girlfriend. In the end, I recover miraculously and my mother dies donating her eyes to my girlfriend and we all live happily ever after. Life lesson number four rears its head: Give of yourself to others. And while you’re at it, make sure you realise that you aren’t doing anyone any favours by being kind. It’s all just to make you feel that sneaky little twinge that comes from being utterly pleased with yourself. After all, the one that gets the most benefit out of any act of kindness or charity that you do will always be you. I don’t say this, as many see it, in a trans active or karmic way. Its not an “I do good, I get benefit” equation with some white bearded figure taking notes from the heavens above. It’s a simple truth. An act of goodness becomes worthless when you assign a brownie point to yourself for it, no matter how subtly you allow yourself to do so. As benevolent as your gesture might be; someone else could have made it too. Regardless of how rich, successful and famous you become, don’t ever underestimate the grace that other people bestow upon you just by being the recipients of your kindnesses. You might be able to buy your friend a Rolls for his/her birthday but its no substitute for a patient hearing of your sulky rants on a bad hair day.
Sometimes things just happen, as encapsulated in another movie title of mine: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and you know what? They don’t always add up (that would be ‘One Two Ka four’ as the list of titles continues). So my fifth lesson is this: when life hits you with all the force of its resplendent rage, the Rolls isn’t going to give you comfort. A friend’s grace will, and if you can’t find resolution as easily as you would like to, don’t panic. Everything evolves as you go along, Chalte Chalte as we say in Hindi (and yes, that was another movie I did but no more mad plots for God’s sake!!)
Even disasters eventually resolve themselves. Give life the space to move at its own pace, pushing it ahead only by way of being kind to yourself when you are hurting or in despair. You don’t always have to figure things out or find an explanation for the circumstances you are in. It’s more prudent to accept that sometimes there just isn’t one. “Ram Jaane” (God knows), as we say in Hindi and as a priest responded to my orphan-child character when i asked him, what my name was, in a movie of the same appellation. The boy plodded through three entire hours of film referring to himself by that fatalistic phrase and why not? Who says that what we call ourselves is any definition of who we really are? And that’s lesson number six for you: All the names you give yourself, or those that others call you, are just labels. You are not defined by them no matter how flattering or uncomplimentary they are. What defines you is your heart.
Ask The Artist Formerly Known As Prince!! And learn a thing or two from him, if you don’t believe this insanely sexy Indian Superstar standing in front of you. And I say this out of experience because if I was to go by what all I am called on Social Media I would be an old desperate manipulative has been star who swings both ways while making crap movies, and these are just the good mentions.
If you aren’t charged up about doing something, if you don’t have what in Hindi we call the “Josh”, the fire in your belly for it, then don’t do it. It’s a waste of your time and more importantly, of those who pin their hopes on your endeavours too. Redefine yourself if you have to but do it on your own terms and just get on with it. In fact, like my character in the movie My Name is Khan, don’t forget where you came from and who you really are. It ought to be the compass by which you navigate through life’s vicissitudes. The North that keeps you oriented despite a series of misfortunes or a shower of privilege.
One of the biggest hits I made was an unexpected one and for once the plot was neither meandering nor barking mad. I was the coach of a beleaguered women’s hockey team that went on to overcome its struggles and win a world championship. Its title was Chak De, an inspirational martial cry that Sikh soldiers used while lifting logs in order to make bridges across rivers on their campaigns against their enemies. It implies the will to get up and get on with it, which brings me to life lesson number seven: whatever it is that is pulling you back, its not going away unless you stand up and start forging your own path with all your might in the opposite direction. Stop whining and start moving, so to speak. Sadness and happiness have the same quality of transience. Life is a balanced exchange of one with the other. And this is lesson number eight: Don’t attach yourself to either, they’re both going to change with the same certitude. Take them with the ephemeral spirit of their impermanence and manage them with a healthy dose of good humour. Laugh at yourself when you are despairing, shed a tear or two when one of my movie plots makes you hysterical with laughter (we did actually consider Guddu donating a single eye to his blind girlfriend and both of them waltzing into the sunset eye patch to eye patch). Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was the title of an Indian style family drama in which I was one of many heroes and it means just that: to be happy sometimes, and sad others, is the very beauty of a life lived in full measure. Why fail yourself by desiring one emotion and detesting the other?
You know, I’ve acted in over 50 full length movies, if I took you through a journey of each title, we’d be sitting here forever and you’d all end up fast asleep (this wonderful venue being most un-cemetery like notwithstanding) so I’ll wrap up with my last two lessons.
Live from the heart. Dil Se. Love. Love people, love the world around you, love animals and birds, and big cities and mountains, love dreams, love life, love your work, your friends and your enemies even if you feel least like it. Most importantly, my friends; love yourselves. Embrace all that this life has in store for you, let your heart be as deep as the deepest ocean and as wide as the farthest horizon. Know that it is limitless. Love is not an excuse to grab or to hold or to own or to barter. It is the only excuse you will ever have to call yourself special. And if someone you love lets you down, don’t fault yourself for not trusting him, fault yourself for not trusting your love enough to forgive his/her trespasses.
You never know what the future will bring, whether there will be a tomorrow or not. I died at a shockingly young age in a movie called Kal Ho Na Ho which means exactly that. And I wasn’t even a smoker!!! I never let my two older children watch it to the end, we even filmed a whole alternate ending especially for them. But now they have grown up and like all of you, will soon be embarking on a wondrous journey of their own. Instead of trying to protect them from life, the wiser and older version of me grabs every chance to tell them: live as hard as you can in this very moment. Live now. Live today. You may not see it with your youthful eyes, but NOW is as much time as you will ever get. Because tomorrow we will all be dead. And just in case there is no cycle of rebirth etc…why take a chance. I don’t want to end this on a cynical note by reminding you about the reality of death. I want to let you all know that how important your today…your now is. Study hard. Work hard. Play harder. Don’t be bound by rules…don’t hurt anybody and never ever live somebody else’s dream. Remember however many times you go wrong, no matter how many times you fail, despair, feel like this world is against you….in the words of Bob Marley…at the end everything is gonna be alright. And in my words. “Hindi filmon ki tarah life mein bhi, anth mein sab kuch theek ho jaata hai. Aur agar na ho, toh woh anth nahi hai…picture abhi baaki hai mere doston.” Take it as the only truth you need to know. Take it and believe it because the most unlikely to make it in Bollywoood is telling you this…the most romantic hero who doesn’t look anything like chocolate or taste like it.
“Now” all you bored professors out there in the first row, come on up: lets do the Lungi Dance!!!”
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