A favourite Shabana Azmi story about Aamir Khan is when offering him tea, she asked, how much sugar he would like. A simple question and one that needed a simple answer. But nothing that has to do with Aamir Khan can be all that simple. For, while Shabana waited, the teapot on the table and sugar bowl in hand, Aamir looked thoughtful... 'How big is the cup?' he wanted to know. Shabana showed him the cup...Pause... 'How big is the spoon?' Aamir enquired, the expression more pensive this time. Shabana, trying not to be impatient, showed the spoon... Longer pause... 'Actually...' Aamir finally drawled, 'I'm not used to taking small decisions at home.' This in a nutshell is Aamir Khan.
Over the years I've encountered similar incidents with the actor. Hilarious, unpredictable, considerate and comic. It's difficult to slot Aamir in a few adjectives. Articulate yet argumentative, affectionate yet exasperating, you can love him or hate him, but cannot be indifferent to Aamir Khan. That's his strength. The following interview, my first with him, happened impromptu. On our way to a common friend's home in town, we began as usual discussing, analysing and of course, disagreeing.
How important is money to you?
Money is important, but it's not the only important factor.
Does it bother you that you earn less compared to actors who do greater number of films?
No, because there are other things I'd like to do besides films. These things may not bring in that flow of money but I do them because I want to.
Is your family supportive of this or do they sometimes feel deprived?
They don't feel deprived. I haven't even once sensed such a feeling from them.
One observes that you lead a very simple life.
That's me. Reena is simple too. In fact, she would be very happy if I give up films altogether.
And do what?
Nothing. Go to Coonoor. Spend time with the family. Start a new life.
It's a nice place to live... We've been thinking of buying a home there for quite some time. Call it a dream...
But wouldn't that be unfair to your career?
But your career isn't your life.
But life wouldn't be the same without your career either.
That's also true. It would be different, I agree, but how would you know it wouldn't be better unless you tried it? There are so many options, so many things I want to do but cannot because I'm an actor.
Like learning to swim.
Come on, that's hardly an impossibility. Think of the million things you are able to do only because you are an actor.
Sure... Like having the gruelling session I had this morning with my chartered accountant (laughs) Oof... It was awful!
You make it seem like you are not terribly happy about being a star.
(Smiles) I'm quite satisfied with the way things are but I'd like them to be better. I'm slowly working towards achieving that. In fact, I have been at it for the last couple of years. Doing selective films is a part of the programme. At one time I was doing 11 films simultaneously and God, how unhappy I was. Today, I've cut down on my workload and am doing only three films.
And are you feeling calmer?
(Laughs again) Calmness has nothing to do with workload. You are mixing up the two.
In which case what is the logic behind doing such few films?
If logic is what I was looking for, I'd make the best of these years. Instead, by being extremely choosy and fussy I'm doing the most illogical thing. But I do it because I feel like it.
Has it occurred to you that this could be some sort of a defence mechanism?
Defence mechanism? From what? Haven't I worked with top banners, given successful films?
Yes, but not the way Shah Rukh Khan has in recent times. Do you feel envious of Shah Rukh's success?
I would if I did not get the response I do from my audience. I don't think the audience respects me any less than it does Shh Rukh. That he has had two blockbusters in a row, which is what Anil (Kapoor) had after Tezaab and later Salman (Khan), does not become a barometer for any star's popularity.
Then what does?
Something more long term than two hits. The current mass hysteria for Shah Rukh was inevitable. They do that to every hero after a successful release. I enjoyed it too after Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, after Dil, after Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke. These waves come in everytime there's a hit. It's no big deal!!
Would you agree that you haven't been able to draw the right balance between creativity and success?
I think I have. Why do you say I haven't? Because there is no hype? Because I don't sell myself hard? Don't boast of my achievements to film magazines? I don't believe in media hype. I don't believe in channelising my energies for wrong motives. And despite this, let me tell you I want to be the country's most successful actor... Let's see, the race is not over yet!
Even though the rivals have overshot?
So what? They did because they had the talent. For myself, I can say that out of my 15 films, five were successes and three, earning propositions. This is a very good strike record. As for creative satisfaction, I can safely say that to seven out of these 15, I'm proud to lend my name to and I'm not sure how many actors can be so fortunate.
Critics feel that you don't market yourself as well as your rivals. That you don't cash in on your success.
That could be true. I don't market myself well. After Dil, I deliberately didn't sign a single film, a normal practice amongst actors after a successful release. I don't believe in this artificial enhancement of stardom... It's all so fake.
And Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (HHRPK)?
It was the same. Akele Hum Akele Tum came much later, and very quietly that too.
Talking of HHRPK, did you feel that Juhi Chawla got more credit than you?
I got more than what was due to me. People unnecessarily credited me for directing the film when I didn't.
No contribution at all...?
Well, contribution maybe but then that's the level of contribution I make in all my films as an actor. And considering the script was mine, my involvement was a little more. Also the fact that my father was the producer. But this doesn't mean I directed the film. If I had directed, it would have been a better film (laughs).
Would you rate Juhi's performance better than your own?
No, I don't think so. I think her character was spicier than mine. It had more shades while my character was one dimensional. But I don't think the audience liked Juhi more than they liked me. And if they did, then it's their choice. I accept it.
On to Juhi. While once you two were considered an ideal pair, today she is rated as a better pair with Shah Rukh Khan.
That's because she's doing films with Shah Rukh and not with me. My current assignments include Manisha (Koirala), Karisma (Kapoor), Mamta (Kulkarni) and Urmila (Matondkar) (looks out from the window to wave out at a fan passing by).
When you are travelling, what are your preoccupations?
That's impossible to answer. I think of so many things - sometimes personal, sometimes professional. I muse over my decisions sometimes.
Do you regret your decision of walking out of Darr?
One, I did not walk out of Darr. I was removed from the film. Two, I was removed from the film because I asked for a joint narration with Sunny Deol. Initially, the director agreed, but later I don't know why he changed his mind. When I persisted, he phoned to say 'Aamir, let's work some other time.' So I said, 'Fine'.
Do you feel bad now that the film is a huge success?
That the film was going to become a big hit is something I had expected. In fact, that's the reason I signed it.
Isn't that a contradiction, earlier you said that you sign films on choice not because they are going toprove commercially viable?
I said that success and failure are not in my control. But using my judgement for choosing a success or a failure most certainly is. And I was using this judgement when I accepted Darr. When I said yes to Darr, I was absolutely sure of two things - one that the film was going to click and two, that I was going to enjoy doing the role. My doubts about my enjoying it, surfaced when the director refused t give a joint narration. In a way I was relieved when I was finally out of the film, because this was better than suffering all through its shooting. If I felt sad, it was about my missing out on a very good role.
Would you work with Yash Chopra again?
No. I'll never work with him. Not after this incident. Our styles of working are different.
Apparently you were Vinod Chopra's first choice for 1942 - A Love Story.
I don't know if I was the first choice but yes, Vinod offered me the film which I could not accept because I didn't have the dates.
Didn't have dates? Isn't that strange considering you do such few films?
I don't change my commitments.
Aren't you being too idealistic?
I think that's a very unfair question. Journalists always do this. If an actor does not honour his commitment, the press accuses him of being unprofessional. If he does, like I have in this case, you call him idealistic. The press has double standards. And I want you to print this. Instead of appreciating what I'm doing, you are asking me to change my dates. (Looks hurt) How can you suggest this?
You view it as double standards, I view it as pragmatism. The fact of the matter is that your loss has worked out to be Anil Kapoor's gain?
The fact also is that he had the dates, I didn't.
Has anybody told you how difficult you can be?
(Laughs) Nobody says that to me. Have they told you that? Tell me one name.
Well not difficult, but your directors often describe you as very demanding...
Ah, there's a difference between the two. Being difficult means being a pain in the neck. An actor who is unprofessional, who doesn't believe in working on his character, is careless about his work and someone you'd like to kick out of your film but don't, because he's a star! A demanding actor, on the other hand, is someone who works on his character, someone who wants more of your time, who insists on discussing details, I agree I am that. (Pause) This is another complaint I have against the press. They ask questions that are not true.
Okay, let me ask you a question that is true. Why are you so argumentative?
(Laughs loudly and picks up the bottle to hit me) I'm not going to answer this because I haven't yet finished with my earlier answer - about my being difficult. If you question any of my directors, they will all say, that at last they've found an actor who is as involved in their film as they are. They are all mighty happy about my involvement. All my producers and directors want to work with me again and again.
I've observed some of them on your sets and feel that they are more dependent on you than necessary.
I have never viewed it like that. I feel that the job of a director is extremely difficult, extremely taxing and demanding. There are 10,001 things for which he has to think of answers... There are difficult moments when halfway during the film, a director feels that probably he is not on the right track, that probably he is messing up his idea. At such times, he loses his confidence even though in reality he could be making the most brilliant film. At such times, if I can, in any way be supportive of my director, aid him in making up his mind or merely serve as some sort of a sounding board, then it's only fair that I do it. That the director has that confidence in me, trusts me that I will not give a biased opinion, is a compliment. And so far all the directors I've worked with have shown that faith.
What made you accept Ashutosh Gowariker's Baazi after the failure of Pehla Nasha?
Ashutosh Gowariker is a very talented film-maker and it's unfortunate that his first film didn't do well. But I still think he's going to be rated amongst our good directors. Actually, his choice for a debut film was wrong. It was not a subject that was popular in nature and that's why probably it didn't click. What is attractive about Ashu is that he is adventurous, he wants to try out new things, different things, he has a lot of raw energy in him, has a good sense of scripting and music. And most importantly, his instructions to his actors are very good.
Everyone says that you've taken on this film only so that you can ghost-direct it.
Sorry boss, I have no energy to direct films for others. When I direct, it will be for myself.
You've started to use a lot of 'boss' in your conversation these days.
You are right, I do. I don't know where I picked it up from.
Are you easily influenced?
Depends... Reena has been trying to influence me to watch The Bold And Beautiful and Santa Barbara serials she is hooked onto for a long time, but I have not been influenced.
You talk a lot about Reena?
(Blushes) Come on, that's not true. You are pulling my leg now.
Has your relationship changed after becoming parents?
I think we've come closer. The relationship has strengthened. In fact, I think our relationship is at its best now.
Would you say you are happy?
Well... not entirely. But I'm fairly happy.
Why not entirely?
For one, I'd like to work even lesser than I do now. As of now I'm working every single day of the year except Sundays. I'm working on three films simultaneously and I'm not enjoying this pace. I would like to do only one film in a year.
And the rest of the time?
Do whatever I feel like doing. Anything that fancies me like teaching Junaid (his son) how to swim. Just being with Reena, my parents, my brother and sisters, learning computers, so many things... All I have to do is plan whereby I shoot for four months, relax for four months and again plan my next project in the coming four months. That's how Kamal Haasan functions.
That's the professional side, what about the personal front?
Personally I'm fairly happy, in fact, very happy. I have a son, whom you met today, who's the sweetest thing on this earth and most of all I have a lovely wife, lovely parents. What more can I want?
What other things make you happy?
Umm... Let me think, success makes me happy... Good things happening to my family, to people I care for makes me happy... People who are sensitive make me happy... Kindness makes me happy.
And what makes you unhappy?
When things go wrong in my life... Suffering, my own, and of those around me makes me unhappy.
What are your concerns today?
One of my main concerns is that will I be able to spend the kind of time I want to with my son. Right now, I'm not able to... Well not as much as I would like to. And this concerns me deeply. The other concern is a professional one - I would like to be the most popular actor on the Indian screen.
And what are you doing to achieve this?
I'm trying to improve my work but apart from that I'm not doing anything. I'm not grabbing roles, not manipulating right films or banners that could enable me to become the No.1 star. All I'm doing is films that I enjoy doing. And, yes, I'm working hard.
An intelligent actor like you should have extended himself beyond the film periphery. Except for the drug abuse messages and the limited involvement during the Bombay riots, you haven't done much for public service.
Frankly right now I don't have the time. I'm shooting everyday.
wow...that's shocking!!! can u imagine Aamir Khan saying 'K-K-Kiran'??? Naaaah... Well SRK was so luck, he got the role that changed his life...btw It seems Aamir forgot his commitment and now he's going to work for Yash Chopra in Dhoom 3...