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Shah Rukh Khan believes only he could play Raees
By Our Correspondent

Mumbai , 11 Jan, 2017 :: Since its first teaser, the action crime thriller 'Raees' has created a buzz with its dialogue-baazi, songs and of course, Shah Rukh Khan's gangster avatar. Now, ahead of its release, National Award-winning director Rahul Dholakia, who is helming the project, and producer Ritesh Sidhwani speak to BT on prepping for the film, getting SRK on board and how the story isn't inspired from real life, contrary to speculations. Excerpts...

How difficult was it to convince SRK to play a character, which is very different from what he has done before?

Rahul : When I went to narrate the script, he was on his way to attend an awards function and could give me only 10 minutes. But by the time I reached the interval stage, we had sat for more than 45 minutes. SRK was so hooked to the story that he wanted to know the end. That's when he told me he will be doing the film. He believed no one else could play Raees (his character in the film) better than him. Once he wears the pathani, surma and chashma, he transforms into Raees. In fact, whenever SRK was in his Raees avatar on set, people would get intimidated by him.

Ritesh : Once the script was ready, we discussed who we wanted to cast and Shah Rukh was the unanimous choice. When I first called him, he thought we had finally got a script for 'Don 3'(laughs). He questioned me why we thought he should play Raees. I just told him one dialogue from the film — Baniye Ka Dimaag Aur Miyanbhai Ki Daring! It sums up the film perfectly and that clinched it for us. He was totally convinced.

Rahul, this is your first big-budget film, that too with SRK. How challenging was it to helm such a huge project?

Rahul : Actually, I wasn't nervous. I wasn't pressurised into doing things by the production house or the actors. Even before we began shooting, we did innumerable readings. We've all made this film together and I received a lot of positive inputs. The pressure actually started after the first teaser released.

Ritesh: Yes, due to Shah Rukh's injury, there was a long gap after the teaser came out, which took its toll on the film. As for Rahul, he is open to suggestions and hears everybody out. It's a remarkable quality which a director needs to have.

SRK has very strong off-screen personality. Was it difficult for him to play a gangster like Raees?

Rahul : The minute you see him in the film, he looks different. He has lived Raees. When he resumed shooting for the film after a seven-month break, he was totally in character. He picked up from where he had left and had the same body language. What many people don't know is that SRK does a lot of homework. So, it made my job easy. Of course, he has a larger-than-life persona, but he is the kind of person who can sit on a baakda and drink chai or eat food at a dhabha. You will connect with him right away. He also has an incredible amount of range as an actor.

Was working with SRK intimidating?

Rahul : On the first day, SRK invited me to have lunch with him in the van. But I told him I will be eating with the unit in the cafeteria. So, he also came there and started interacting with people. If SRK sees that an actor isn't performing as expected, he doesn't mind spending some time to sit down and talk to him. He will rehearse lines as many times as his co-actor wants him to, no matter who it is or how big or small his role is in the film. He makes the other person extremely comfortable.

There is speculation that the story is based on the life of gangster Abdul Latif...

Ritesh : It's completely untrue. 'Raees' is a fictional story. Yes, it's about gangsters, set in a particular place and deals with certain issues, so people are drawing parallels. But we are not making a film on anyone's life.

Rahul : Also, Nawazuddin Siddiqui's character is Jaideep Majumdar and not Ghulam Patel as is being reported. People write negative stories and have even reported the names of the characters wrong. They don't do their research thoroughly. They want to judge, dissect and complain, just based on the teaser. We have spent two years doing research for the film.

Since the film is set in the 80s, what kind of research went into its making?

Rahul : Two of the co-writers of the script are journalists, who researched for almost two years before the film went on floors. We conducted interviews and travelled all over Gujarat to hunt for locations. From the construction of the village sets to the costumes, we recreated how things would have looked back in the 80s.Raees' is clashing with the Hrithik Roshan-starrer, 'Kaabil'. What's your take on it?

Rahul: I've made a film and it's releasing in theatres. I have done justice to it. Whatever happens when the film releases will happen. It's up to the public; they have the choice to watch whatever they want.

Ritesh : People have made this a big issue. Who says you can't watch two movies in a week? There is enough space for both films. If a film is good, you can't stop it from doing well. When Dangal was releasing people had said, who will watch another film on wrestling after Sultan? Look what happened! The clash doesn't matter as both films belong to different genres.

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