Talking over a scratchy telephone line from Mumbai, Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt sound relaxed as they discuss their new film, Dear Zindagi (Dear Life), which is due out tomorrow (November 24) in the UAE.
The superstar and young actress have been working tirelessly to promote the film, and spent a whole day last week talking to reporters, whose time slots were queued up, but, like every big Bollywood interview, were then postponed.
“You have 10 minutes,” I was told as my call finally went through, a good six hours behind schedule.
Curiosity about Dear Zindagi — produced by celebrity filmmaker Karan Johar and SRK’s wife, Gauri Khan — has been skyrocketing ever since the official poster dropped on social media. Fans have been more than intrigued by the pairing of 50-year-old SRK and 23-year-old Bhatt in the film, the characters they portray strike up an unlikely friendship, and learn important lessons along the way.
“Dear Zindagi is about life,” says the chirpy Bhatt, who made her Bollywood debut in 2012 with Johar’s romantic drama Student of the Year.
“On any given day we go through various emotions — we laugh, cry, feel sad or happy,” she says. “And that’s what the film is about: life, and coping with it — as mothers, fathers, friends, daughters, sons.”
SRK chimes in: “I think the kids of today will feel enthralled by Dear Zindagi. It’s life with all its ups and downs.”
Dear Zindagi is only the second Hindi film by director Gauri Shinde. Her first, English Vinglish, was released in 2012, and immediately captured the hearts of millions of Indian housewives, with its sensitively drawn tale — based on Shinde’s own mother — a timid woman who cannot speak English.
Bhatt believes it is Shinde’s insight and honesty that define her. “What I love about Gauri is that she can weave a whole film around a single thought. Also I just love her frankness. Whatever she feels, she tells you to your face. She knows what she wants from you. Woh jo hai, woh hai [she is what she is].”
SRK agrees — “Gauri is very strong” — then delivers an empowering statement on why he likes working with female directors.
“Given a choice, I would only work with women,” admits the superstar. “Seriously. Their approach towards expressing emotions and their sincerity — I really like that.
“Now I am not saying that male directors are not sensitive, but it’s more interesting to be guided by a woman. They are resilient, and I also feel they have more conviction of purpose. I like having women around me; 95 per cent of my staff on set are women. They are much nicer than men.” Then, in true SRK style, he adds: “And they are softer to hug, too.”
One reason for the excitement over Dear Zindagi is the soundtrack (by music director Amit Trivedi).
SRK is particularly fond of the peppy number Love You Zindagi.
“Love You Zindagi is my favourite, definitely,” he says. “As for the audience, some of the songs are situational, so they will like the way they are shot. And Alia has sung some of the songs in the film.”
So, would SRK consider a career in singing? Bhatt immediately pipes up: “He sang in Baadshah [King].”
The movie she is referring to is the 1999 slapstick comedy in which a young SRK plays a bumbling private detective, complete with sunglasses, gun and greatcoat. The songs were over-the-top, too.
There’s a short pause, then laughter. “Ladies, don’t laugh,” SRK shouts. “No, I did not sing in Baadshah, listen to me! I sang, well, I rapped, in Josh  and Don 2 . As for singing more often, well, there are certain things that I want to do, but step by step, as my career progresses.
“But I will not expose all my talents at once because I want the world to want more from me. I want [my fans] to shout: ‘Shah Rukh Khan! Shah Rukh Khan!’ And I will reveal my hidden skills slowly, over time.”
Next up for Bhatt is the romantic comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (Badrinath’s Bride), due out in March 2017. SRK is looking forward to the crime drama Raees (Wealthy), due for release on January 26, India’s Republic Day, and co-starring Pakistani actress Mahira Khan. Raees is in the eye of a storm, after the recent ban by the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association on Pakistani actors, singers and technicians working in the country.
A few days ago, the Indian Express reported that SRK and his Pakistani co-star would shoot the film’s remaining scenes in Abu Dhabi to get around the ban. SRK, however, refused to confirm this. “Thanks for asking about this, but I cannot get into it right now, I am so very sorry,” he says, apologetically. “It’s just something that I would not want to talk about. I am very sorry.”
• Dear Zindagi is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday, November 24