The Great King Khan

Shahrukh Khan has acted in nearly 60 films and produced more than a handful of his own. But at 40 years, he's just hitting his stride. "Age hasn't hit me yet," says the father of two. "Only when my knees are in pain, or when I run out of breath from going upstairs, does it remind me that I'm 40." His career is certainly still in ascendance: He's got four new films slated for

release this year, and his latest, "Paheli," is now India's contender for the best-foreign-film Oscar. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Beith spoke with Khan--whose fame and box-office clout has earned him the nickname "King Khan"--about Bollywood, its increasing global appeal, and his double life as both an actor and a producer. Excerpts:

"Heartthrob" has never been something I've ever gotten used to. I've always believed I should just be an OK actor. But I guess you don't get what you want to be.

The first film we made, which tanked at the box office, was on the commercialization of the media. None of the journalists liked it, so they completely destroyed it on opening night. So that didn't do well.

The second film we made, called "Asoka," talked about peace through Buddhism. It called for world peace. It was a very sweet film, a very meaningful film.

Buddhism, I think, is a more neutral religion, a way of thinking which is still not fanatically irreligious. So I thought that was a nicer path to explain to everyone around the world--instead of taking Christianity or Islam or Hinduism--to explain that everyone speaks the same. I think Buddhism is universal because it [doesn't have] a fundamentalist aspect.

You can't have Hindi films without songs--it's like having American films without special effects. You need to have songs, you need to have dances. There has to be escapism. You can't tell [audiences] about the drudgery of everyday life, you need to tell them about fantastic things. And one of the simple fantasies of Indians is that we can sing and dance when we feel like it.

Yes. Every story told is somewhere down the road to fantasy film. Hollywood films don't have songs and dance in them, but you have King Kong taking over New York, and that, I think, is an amazing fantasy. You have the president of the United States saving the world from a meteorite.

Our fantasies are smaller. The fantasies of Indians are still achievable. Our economy, our country and our lifestyle haven't reached a level where we need to go out to space for fantasy.

In Europe, I could say that. In Germany, Poland, Russia, England. In America we have only just begun to make inroads.

The crux of the films won't change, but we will have to make them a bit shorter. I think that songs and dances will remain an inherent quality. [But] I think the brevity of expression will have to be learned from the West.

When I joined the industry, I remember my coactors working on 22 films at the same time. In the last five years it's become easier. We used to do about 10 films a year. Bollywood makes 900 films [a year]. Now it has become very professional.

It's easy to consume 900 films a year in India. And now with the rest of the world opening up, I think 900 films is good.

" Paheli" is India's nomination for the Oscar.

It's about women and emancipation. For a change, a film chosen for the Oscars does not show the darkness and morbidity of the country. It shows a lot of exuberance, color and happiness. I was told by some people in L.A., "It's too pretty and entertaining to win an Oscar." Inshallah, people will see it as an interesting story from India. It's based on a folk tale, a very naughty folk tale, about a woman falling in love after marriage, with a ghost, and deciding to choose him over her husband.

" Paheli" means "the riddle," is that correct?

The question at the end is: will emancipation of women ever happen, as long as men don't allow it?