The child star of Yaadon Ki Baraat and the 1974 Madhosh is still young at heart. Pushing boundaries has become a norm with him since Sarfarosh in 1999, moving on to Lagaan (his debut production), Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti and Fanaa. He dared to take over the reigns of Taare Zameen Par and helmed a quasi-masterpiece, and then dared and made the offbeat but successful trilogy of Peepli (Live), Dhobi Ghat and Delhi Belly. He chose his first-ever television show after a lot of characteristic cerebration and hosted the path-breaking Satyamev Jayate.
Alongside, he went retro mainstream with a vengeance to make Ghajini, his production Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na and starred in the mainstream 3 Idiots, India’s highest-grossing film to date. Today, Aamir returns to the screen after a long gap with Talaash, a slick suspense thriller that will be followed by his very dark turn in Dhoom:3 and the Rajkumar Hirani film, PK.
Characteristically, the actor is all ears for you as he weighs and answers each question without looking at his watch in the 45 minutes we are together. The PR person’s gentle reminder that “others are waiting” gets an instant and smiling, “let them wait!” Clearly, for someone of his focussed concentration, a journalistic bird in the hand is worth much more than the many others in the bush!
Just back from Haj, Aamir describes the experience as “very cathartic” and is very happy that he could keep his promise to his mother to take her on the pilgrimage. “There was always the possibility that I would not have been able to fulfill it,” he says.
About his latest film, he simply states, “When Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti (the director) brought me the story, I was completely engrossed. What really impressed me were two things — first, the build-up of the suspense, and two, the emotional soul below the layer of suspense. The film is about coming to terms with the loss of someone close, which is a subconscious fear that lies in us. Like, I get scared every time for my kids whenever Kiran messages ‘Call ASAP’ while I am in a shoot.”
Aamir says he loves stories with an underlying message and has done more such films than the other top stars. But he vehemently contradicts the notion that he is a logical person.
“That’s a misconception!” he stresses. “Most of my choice of films has no logic. For example, there was no reason to accept Rang De Basanti from a director who had given just one flop, that too at a time when four films on Bhagat Singh had flopped! A logical person would never make or act in a Lagaan, or play a college student when he was 44 in 3 Idiots! When Satyamev Jayate was being aired, I refused endorsements that could have earned me huge money, because I did not want to risk any of the ads exploiting the show’s brand. My heart tells me what to do and I follow it instinctively.”
About working at a leisured pace, Aamir laughs, “No, I am not lazy! But I cannot work fast, and I work with dedicated people. Reema, for example, floored me with the nuances of her characters, shots and plot that surprised me even after 25 years of experience in this field.”
Actor and more...
We move to a non-comfort zone — of him taking over the reigns of his films from the director, and also sitting on the final edit of a movie.
“Let us look at this issue logically,” he says with an unruffled smile. “Why have I accepted your film, or signed you for my own production? Obviously because you are talented, not because I can take over and pay you while I am doing your work, right? And if I had been directing my films, they would have had a certain sameness despite the directors being completely different. But filmmaking is a difficult process and it is a part of my duty to help in whichever way I can.”
He adds candidly, “Yes, there is a stipulation in my contract that I have to approve the final cut, but I have never implemented it because there is always a mutual respect. Even if the films are my own productions, I request but do not demand certain changes, that too only because there are certain expectations from the audience and one has to do what is right for them. When the need arose, just once, I took over Taare Zameen Par officially, while retaining Amole Gupte as the scriptwriter because it was his subject and a fantastic script. I could have ghost-directed the film. Contrary to what everyone says, the decision not to direct was Amole’s. I had given him the option of taking the film to any other producer.”
He points out that no good film can be made without creative differences. “All four wheels of a car have to be strong to make it run well,” he points out. “The irony is that, with strong people in the team, occasionally, things can turn ugly. And then there is the rider: if someone accepts my suggestion, then it becomes his decision because he has chosen to accept it. But the responsibility remains mine either way.”
He dismisses his ‘perfectionist’ tag with the remark, “Mera waqt accha chal rahaa hai!” No one would have described him that way, had his films flopped, laughs Aamir. “Yes, we do try to put in our best efforts and work with enthusiasm and enjoy doing the films,” he smiles. The actor points out that at the end of the day, it is the director who is king.
Since Talaash is a suspense thriller, the team has been keeping the promotions low-key to maintain the curiosity factor, says the actor, stating that marketing is the key to making any product successful. “Cinema is a mass medium where the stakes run in crores of rupees. So it is important that there should be people occupying movie hall seats. We have to grab attention before the storytelling and every story decides its own marketing. We also have to be honest. Yes, there will be people who do not want to watch the film, and so the promo becomes important — not just as a source of information to those who want to go to the theatres, but also to create a desire in those who may not be willing to do so!”
Aamir says that he has been actively involved, whenever possible, in this aspect, right from his debut film as a hero, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988. “We thought of this poster campaign with ‘Who’s Aamir Khan?’ then,” he recalls. “When we made Ghajini, we thought of the press conferences in a gym, the typical hairstyling for multiplex staffers and so on to highlight the physical feel of the film and the fitness of my character.”
Finally, why are 40-plus heroes like the three Khans, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn ruling 20 or more years after they started out? “That’s not a logical question at all!” he laughs. “Speaking for myself, they say it is lonely at the top, but it’s not! Or maybe I am not at the top,” he chuckles, adding, “And why should I feel lonely when people love me? I’m lucky that I actually feel more connected to both my family and my audiences.”