Aamir, reloaded

Aamir, reloaded
He’s never had a flop since Mangal Pandey: The Rising way back in 2005: Hindi cinema’s own King Midas, Aamir Khan, is among the biggest of the seven superstars of Hindi cinema and is now set to release his latest production, Secret Superstar. This film could well share the tagline applied to an old movie once: ‘A small film with a big heart’. In a candid and easy conversation, Aamir Khan discusses his film, his stardom, and almost everything else of relevance to him today.

How does he manage to remain grounded after over 28 years of big-time stardom? “It is not difficult for me to remain grounded, I don’t know why. Maybe a lot of my bandwidth goes in understanding a film and role better, in enjoying, searching and discovering something in them. I feel I am just a person who loves what he is doing. I do not take superstardom seriously at all, except when there are times when I have to consciously work to get it out of the way!”

Uncooperative stardom
And Aamir provides a hilarious example of this: his wife and producer-director Kiran Rao was reluctant to cast him in her arty film Dhobi Ghat, as the highly crowded locations in Mumbai where the film was based would become unmanageable with his stardom. She told him that she had a small unit of nine people but he would have 15 bodyguards alone, besides thronging fans when all his scenes were being shot inside a house there. As a solution, Aamir went to the house at 3.30 in the morning and stayed in that single room with a bathroom (redesigned for them) for three weeks and did not so much as come out!

“In those days, the marketing for Ghajini was on, as was the prep for 3 Idiots!” recollects Khan. “So, as the outer room was booked for shooting, my meetings with A R Murugadoss and Rajkumar Hirani, my directors, would take place in the bathroom with me on the pot and them in the tub! And the building in front was so near that I could only look out of the window at night after the lights were out!”

Aamir is also extremely clear that stars are made through films and not the other way around. “As a star, I can give the film the first weekend at the most, though as an actor, my creative contribution will be much more. My directors (the story narrators) and writers (the story conceivers) have made me. Just imagine where I would be if I had no Dhoom 3, PK and Dangal. One more point: in China, Dangal opened at Rs 25 crore on day one and grew. On second Sunday, it collected 100 crores in one day. Forget the point that in India, we crave for that lifetime collection, but it was only word-of-mouth that did the trick! Had it been my stardom, should it not have collected 100 crores on day one itself even in China?”

Aamir concedes when told that he has the acumen to choose the right films, but that, he explains, is a very small part of the credit. For his greatest fear has always been not about losing his stardom and creativity, but about going wrong between what his films want to tell the audience and what they actually manage to communicate. “A hundred things can go wrong during the making of a film!” he says pragmatically.

But Aamir is not unduly scared of how films can now be streamed, or watched on small screens. “The 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound experience of collective viewing, where, for example, the whole theatre is laughing with you, cannot be matched with watching the film at home on television, or on your own on a phone. Technology is giving us more and more platforms to consume a film, that’s all, but ultimately, it is the product that will decide how it will fare,” he states.

Not so secretive
Coming to Secret Superstar, why did he recently say that for him, this was a bigger film than Dangal? Aamir explains, “For me, the message in this film is something much bigger, though both Dangal and Secret Superstar are about the empowerment of girls and gender equality. You see, in Dangal, the lead character is still a man and it is his dream that his daughters can do what a son could have, so the story is driven by a male character.”

He adds, “But in Secret Superstar, the overall message is more important and positive. My protagonist is a 14-year-old girl from Baroda, similar to lots of talents in our country with their dreams, hopes, aspirations, fears, constraints and challenges. This film talks to teenagers, whereas Dangal spoke to parents. So, the attempt is much larger. The trailer might give the impression that the girl is finally given her due by my character of a composer, but actually, she is so spunky that she shrewdly uses him. My character does not help her.”

His character of composer Shakti Kumar is another fascinating aspect of the film. Aamir smiles broadly and says, “Shakti is a composer who is going downhill. Yet, he is arrogant, full of himself and so self-centred that he ends up being rude! He talks all the time, but even if he asks you a question, he is never interested in your answer. For me, it was a very entertaining character to play. I have met several such people, so in that sense, he was a very real person.”

The challenge was in the fact that Aamir had to feel like the character deep down. “It was not about spouting those funny lines. But I am always questioning my own work, whereas he’s sure he’s the best.” So, where were Shakti’s inspirations? Aamir replies, “You meet so many people even outside films who are like him. It was not a single person on whom Shakti was based!”

But there is one line in the film about true talent rising like bubbles in a glass to the top that is also said by Shakti. Aamir agrees, “Yes! That’s about the only sensible thing Shakti says in the film. And I even unthinkingly used it on a reality show to a persistent parent of a normal child.”

Love for work
Since he is now on a one-film-at-a-time zone, does he miss any of his characters after he gets out of them? “I will miss Shakti for sure,” Aamir grins. “The license to play him has expired. But I think I miss them all. I miss Rancho, PK, ACP Rathod…! But I love my job. Which other profession allows you to be so many characters in one lifetime? Someone asked me how I am motivated each time to even change physically. My reply is I do not have to be motivated, it comes because I love my work. And thankfully, those physical changes have yet not affected my health!”

Of late, a lot of his films have involved kids. Is it easier to work with them rather than adults, or is it more difficult? “I think the responsibility is more,” he answers. “So while the working atmosphere is the same, and we have to get the moment right, we need to have more breaks and shorter working hours. During Taare Zameen Par, even the boy’s tuition teacher used to come on sets. We have to remember that they are kids, not adults.”
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