Shah Rukh Khan is an Indian actor, film producer, and television personality. Referred to in the media as the “Badshah of Bollywood”, “King of Bollywood” and “King Khan”, he has appeared in more than 80 Bollywood films, and earned numerous accolades, including 14 Filmfare Awards.
Below is the full text of his speech titled “Life Lessons” that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh.
Dr. Shah Rukh Khan – Bollywood Actor
Thank you. Thank you very much everyone. It’s a great pleasure today here. Thank you.
All right. How this works is that I have to give you a lecture. So I prepared… it’s very thick but it’s because the font is big. I will go on and on until you guys get bored, you can stop me up and ask questions or – OK.
First of all, it’s an honor for me to receive this doctorate today. So thank you everyone who’s involved with this.
And “Humbled” is a word often used by people in my profession. You meet actors and they’ll give, “I am very humbled, I am very humbled”. We also know.
I dislike the hypocritical, 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 – which is right there, so thank you everyone for putting me in my place.
I do get invited to conferences and inaugurations now and then to speak. And when I receive the invite, I also receive my brief. It’s usually about “success” and my “tips” on it — not my toes — those are covered by “I will never show my toes” clause in my contracts. They are very ugly. And it’s my attempt at gender equality.
My co-actresses have no cleavage clause; I have no toes one.
Most people believe Bollywood stars aren’t insightful about anything other than the fateful occurrences which made them stars in the first place.
But I’ve had the odd divergence from being taken for stupid though. Recently I got an email from the International Association of Advertising. And they said, “Dear Mr. Khan, the advertising community would like you to come and address them on Globalization and disruptive marketing”.
And 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 for deliverance from God.
But I have a film releasing soon, so I don’t want to take extra favors from God before the film releases. So I chose business over knowledge.
So I did the next best thing. I sat on my IO Hawk – have you guys seen that segue thing, yeah – so I went on my IO Hawk and told everybody, a gathering like yours, that there is nothing I can tell you that you already don’t know.
Now, people when they are told they are smart, they like it. You are such an august gathering of people and…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 how to do… The Lungi Dance.
So I got away with it without being “humbled” — it always pays to be a better dancer than the advertisers — and what’s more, they seemed to have a good time.
But that was a conference and this is a Doctorate from a 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 whatever it’s worth: here goes. Let me start at the very, very beginning.
Whatever I have learned of life has been at the movies. Actually the first few films that I did in my career and titles, given to them, very nearly formulated whatever I know of life and that’s how I am going to pass it on to you.
One of the first movies of my career was a movie called Deewana. But do you remember the story of the film? I’ll remind you the story.
So I fall in love with a widow, who I meet literally by accident in which I very nearly kill her mother in law. Then 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…he tries to kill the widow. And I am naturally disgusted by his behavior and after a long two page stand off with him, in which I use heavy-sounding Urdu words, 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.
And there is something about sick man which always attracts women to them. I have noticed this. 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 in spite of his inheritance hungry uncle’s best efforts.
Now evil uncle then decides to kidnap me and my ex widow, now not so ex present day wife to get hold of his nephew. I escape his clutches and I come back with my wife’s undead husband to rescue her.
By now she is of course strapped to a bomb and – do you think they’ll take my doctorate back? — 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 or romantic kind. But I have a feeling it had something to do with the guy who wrote the plot.
So, here’s my first life lesson, inspired by the movie title Deewana: Madness of the particularly nice or 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’. Normal is 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 graveyard only to be awakened by the ghost of a murdered mobster. A ghost that only I can see and nobody else can. 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, of course, from a wife that has passed on after being duped by the flunky of the mobster.
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, then we forgive them because we have a good heart and let each other descend into the respective abodes where we belong in the first place.
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. Trust me! 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 efforts 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.
Honor your life, please. Honor 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, 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.
OK, those stories I won’t tell you. You seem to know them.
Twenty years ago in the movies, 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 in the next 33 too. This applied to female stars as well: wives were wives, seductresses were seductresses, mother in laws were mother in laws, and so on and forth.
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 extremely ugly.
And being ugly necessarily meant – I know, now I know — 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.
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 at speeches like these 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 – Yes, I am sorry, if that word is being very scared, all the way to the party. But getting there all the same 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 kids by doing this…it takes a lot of bravery resolve and grit to do it.
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 won’t even have done the Funky Chicken.
While we’re talking about fears and bravery, let me also add this that all the planning in the world won’t take you where you want to go. And 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, if this goes live on YouTube, my big next loan for the film is finished from my friendly neighborhood banker.
I did a movie once called Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, in which I was – one of my favorite films actually — 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.
Yes, Guddu was my name in a movie – I hardly look like a guddu but they still named me — 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 tumor, a legal battle for the right to donate organs and a fast unto death by my mother, my scientific lawyer father, my mother and I are battling over which one of us will donate our eyes to my blind girlfriend.
In the end, I recover miraculously – I still don’t know how — 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 realize that you aren’t doing anyone any favors by being kind to them. 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 transactive or karmic way. It’s 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 recipient of your kindnesses.
You might be able to buy your friend a Rolls for his/her birthday but it’s 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.
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, please don’t panic. Everything evolves as you go along. 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. And you will be hurting and despairing a lot in this life time.
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), that’s what it means, 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 genuinely is your heart.
Ask or read about the Artist Formerly Known As Prince! And you’ll learn a thing or two from him, if you don’t believe this insanely sexy Indian Superstar telling you so.
But I genuinely 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 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 endeavors 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, if you have seen, don’t forget where you came from – please 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, it’s 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 humor.
Laugh at yourself when you are despairing, shed a tear or two when one of my movie plots makes you hysterical with laughter.
I need to tell you. In Guddu, we did consider donating a single eye to his blind girlfriend and both of them waltzing into the sunset eye patch to eye patch. We didn’t do that.
Then there was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. It means 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?
I’ve acted in 50 plus full length movies, or 60, if I took you through a journey of each title, we’d be sitting here forever and you’d all end up fast asleep.
So I’ll wrap up with my last couple of words or lessons.
OK, film number 17. This one is 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.
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 in the film!
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, they will soon be embarking on a wondrous journey of their own like most of you are.
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 is…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 theek na ho, toh woh anth nahi hai…picture abhi baaki hai mere doston.”
So all your kids here, please take it as the only truth you need to know. In the end everything will be all right.
Take it and believe it because the most – and this I say honestly – the most unlikely actor to make it in Bollywood is telling you so…the most romantic hero who doesn’t look anything like chocolate or taste like it.
Thank you very much. I wish you all the best in your lives. These are the only life lessons I can give you.
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