Monday, June 13, 2011

Aamir Khan's Secrets & Confidences By Nisha JamVwal

Chatting to Aamir 


'Delhi Belly' is the ultimate culture shock for Aamir's fans I'm told. On his way to dinner , the script was discovered amidst a pile of unread scripts almost accidently. And the next thing he knew he was producing the first film that might forever eradicate the ultra clean image of his production channel. And he's not complaining. Infact I'd say he's enjoying the change. 

But then that's what Aamir's USP is, change, experiment and exploration.

He is not a safe player, curiosity, question, interest and quick wittedness accompany his every question I have noticed in all the years of seeing him, meeting him on and off,  and most importantly to chat about his work. 

The last film that made ripples from the AKP cartel was  'Talaash' and  'Peepli Live' produced by Aamir had news channels blast bullet headlines ‘Peepli Live’ India’s nomination for the Oscars". Close at the heels of the marvelous success of ‘Three Idiots’ Aamir Khan had had another moment in cinematic history. He makes everything he does a noteworthy outpouring of his passion and commitment. Something that I am personally inspired by.

Billboards Banners, Magazine covers Bus livery -Amir Khan was everywhere! 

The inspired artist has finished in the first rung, and left behind the contrived craftsmen of carbon copy films.
The decade that saw many a hyped Bollywood mega-movie extravaganza sink to less than luke warm audience response, witnesses the actor, dubbed India’s Mel Gibson, showered with a profusion of accolades. Most of the few films that did see  blockbuster success this decade , featured him.

“Man Of The Decade” 

..............he’s been called, since the time “Lagaan– Once Upon A Time in India “ his maiden

production venture went on to become the country’s official entry for the Oscars in the “Best Foreign Film” Category. A distinction achieved by only two Indian films in the last 50 years and INDIA TODAY hailed him “Bollywood’s Current God”. But that was just the beginning of the makings of a cine icon......

Reliable? A Big YES!!!

Today unequivocally recognized as the most reliable actor who will deliver an impeccable  performance, his beginnings in films promised not much beyond the usual film-scion fondly being launched by family ‘into the business’. “QAYAMAT SE QAYAMAT TAK” went on to an exceptionally ‘lucky’ success. But further on, luck became only a whimsical epithet, as hit or not, his talent ensured that Aamir Khan” bloomed with each film, hit or not. “BETA” onto “SARFAROSH” , roles essayed with an abandonment of the awareness of ‘self’ - too numerous and too well-known  to name, endorse the legend .

No Self Adulation ! NO SIR !!

 If you were to ask me what distinguishes Aamir as one of the greatest performers of our time, it has to be the fact that he has not allowed himself to become entrapped in the web of self aggrandizement .  It is not Aamir you see in “LAGAAN” You forget the man as Bhuvan impacts you with all his nuances. ’It is ‘Daljit’  in “Rang De Basanti”. “Aatee Kya Khandala” rocks the nation, the sensitively handled ‘Taare Zameen Par’ goes on to win the National Award,  and the very endearing Rancchoddas Shyamaldas Chanchad aka Phunsukh Wangdu  in  ‘3 Idiots’ endears the cine-goer worldwide in the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time in India, breaking his own previous  record set by “GHAAGINI” creating a bench-mark.

At Home With Aamir

Aamir Khan’s suburban office-from-home, like his personality, presents no film-flam, no opulence- the basic Amir to you on a platter, endearing, expansive. A jeans and T-shirt apartment - beige sofas, rattan cane furniture - an underplay of color, a profusion of books. Eclectic, as are the films he picks - Biography (Frank Capra, Brando) Cricket, Adventure, Cinema, of course. Gore Vidal, William Goldman, Sergei E Isenstein… and his favorite - Harry Cruz. “Try ‘Childhood’” recommends Aamir, relaxed in ‘cool’ cargo trousers, shirt in earth colours reminiscent of the desert color palette of Lagaan, hair gelled and spiked –the youthful look he has carried allows him to play a cross a section of roles. The intelligent actor is at his stimulating best this morning, ‘neath the studiously courteous restraint he is pleased as punch. His eyes crinkle in merriment that endears in a moment and under the sway of charm. This Khan does not need a scimitar like the historical Ghengis Khan to conquer, earnest eyes deliver a view, with under tones of joy in what he’s doing- totally conquer.

An Actor NOT A 'STAR'

I’d say from interacting with many ‘stars’ that he could safely win the vote of one of the only successful actors who has not been a casualty to ‘star’doms erratic and whimsical behavior. Unarguably one of the most talented. Not tall, but terribly attractive. His cleft chin and shy smile. Combination of cerebral and celebrity aspects are lethal, as co-stars and millions of admiring fans discover. Ofcourse I do too! Macho appeal is not the operative factor. Its the “Thinking Khan”, and the content of his act. His is not a face that is mobile. The play comes to a large extent from clear, brown, intense, penetrating eyes. They can glint in merriment, in intelligent scrutiny or in icy impatience  - he is known not to suffer fools gladly and the infectious appeal is not on screen alone!.

Miracle at Piazza-‘Jahanpanah Tussi Great Ho- Tofaah Kabool Karo

At the Locarno festival in Switzerland, the huge outdoor Piazza a Grande, brimful to capacity, eight thousand people had given his film a standing ovation, winning him the “Prix De Public” (the audience award) for Lagaan.
“Longer than the Ganges” said a newspaper lauding the film despite the fact that the audience is unused to a six-song musical, a long movie of three hours,  unfamiliar with the game of cricket - a key theme of the movie! And yet the papers called it ‘Miracle at Piazza’! And six additional screenings had to be organized!”

This new age Bollywood creation managed to make that leap across audiences over the world and the box office charts declared it as one of the ten most popular films at British inemas.

Here atlast was a film that put the Indian Film Industry seriously on the world cine viewer’s screen and created an awareness of Indian cinema. But what we thought was a highpoint was only just the beginning of the makings of a cine icon.

Could He Top The Act?

But one had not reckoned with Aamir’s genie lamp. With “PEEPLE LIVE” another contender for the Oscars and, would you belive it, again an Aamir Khan presentation he went on to proove that he's going to (hopefully) win the oscar one day. 

I just know he's thirsting for that one finishing line. He deserves it if anyone does. And I feel he'll get there one day. He has proven his commitment and belief that a film is about it’s content and the telling of it in cinematic terms. His films are mostly successful not only because of content and integrity, but one magic quotient underlying all- of course- AAMIR KHAN.

But for his belief a good film could easily sink unmade,unviewed into oblivion, presenting another facet of Aamir’s beliefs and views about cinema that are integral to the persona we already know.
Preferring to perform! 

Aamir's take on Formula Films and Bollywood:
"India is a country of film addicts who may watch the same film two, three or even four times! The syrupy sentiment, the black and white villainy and heroism, the family melodrama, the enthusiastic song and dance, the turmoil that after all ends happily, have the audiences glued to those hours of escapist relief! And they are immensely popular in the neighboring Asian region even unto the erstwhile Soviet Union and East Europe."

Not to mention the nostalgia–starved Diaspora abroad. With the plethora of fantasy and escapism that the “Bollywood factory” churns out there has evolved a largely predictable format. -A “formula” with a majority of the players taking the conventional ‘tried-and-tested’ path.

Experiment & Diagression

And this is where Aamir has shown a difference in his mettle. The regressive run-of-the-mill fare made him restless. He has continually experimented and digressed from strict ‘formula’ to gamble with opportunities that promised stimulus and challenge. To extend boundaries beyond the comfortable. A dare to go to the edge of the cliff - preferring to be an actor over a star Aamir devoted himself to one assignment per year. – The only star to do this in India , working with directors whose talent he believes in. Even if it was the new kid on the block back then- Farhan Akhtar, Director in Aamir’s other big success Dil Chahtha Hai (2001) that completely broke the mould.

                                                           AMITABH ON AAMIR

In the highly competitive environment where stars work two even three shifts round the clock, of the hundreds of films that pour out, most sink without a ripple, drowning with them yesterday’s ‘superstar’.

Most of us don’t have courage, so individually insecure are we that we cushion ourselves with so many projects, but not Aamir. He is risk taking, with a huge amount of confidence”- says ’star of the millenium’ of Indian Cinema Amitabh Bachhan 

I decided to go with my heart and not my head Nisha. What has driven me has never been money. Ours is a line of Saraswati (the goddess of learning) not Laxhmi (the Goddess of Money) chinkle in eye , avers Aamir. 

Sometimes labeled arrogant -I have to vehemently disagree- his is an undisturbed equipoise, he is dismissive about his detractors and is transparent about his scant regard for Bollywood awards, even when conferred upon him, as being largely arbitrary.

Arbitrary awards given in India hold no interest for me, there are too many inconsistencies. I’d rather stay away as they hold no value for me.”

Through the years Aamir has received many awards but has not gone to the award functions to collect them.
Failure to him is in not being able to achieve his own vision.

Have Bollywood films become one commercially homogeneous theme park?!

I believe in Indian cinema and am proud to be a part of it. Our cinema is part of Indian society; it has a tradition, our way of doing things. Indian audiences delight in songs and dance - but there is more to it than that. The color, romance and magic of India unfolds with a story, often accompanied with a social message. In the U.K. Bollywood films often thrash their Hollywood counterparts at the box office.

Hollywood had various genre of films as well- musical, mystery, thrillers. But in India within all these genres what has stayed consistent is the popularity of the musical- that is the form of Indian Cinema since the early 40’s when sound came into cinema. Let us not be ‘superior’ about it as it is part of our culture, to the extent that in India until a few years ago you did not have a ‘pop’ music culture. Laxmikant Pyarelal, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohamed Rafi – these were our ‘pop’ singers and believe me they are world class if not better.

The cavalcade traverses west

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical  “Bombay Dreams” was along the lines of a Bollywood product and he had imported Indian song and dance choreographer Farah Khan for that panache. Indeed Lord Webber wanted Aamir for the lead part, but he says to me, “I am too involved in cinema to have given him the time commitment of a full year.”  Not enamored by the attraction the west seems to hold for most he says about Hollywood 

When I came here post-nominations and pre-Oscars, a number of Hollywood agencies did contact me and wanted to represent me ,  Endeavor was one of them. Quite honestly, I didn’t see how I would be of any use to them because I don’t intend to shift (to Hollywood); I’m really happy where I am. I have an emotional connection with my audience that is nearly two decades long. If some script excites me and the director is someone I trust completely, it would be at the most a one-off.. Over these past 10 years, there have been a number of scripts that have been sent to me. Nothing really excited me, so I turned them all down.”

That doesn’t change his reception in the west though- In Toronto a hoard of people thronged to see their ‘favorite star’.

“Who is coming, Brad Pitt?” asked a passer-by as he tried to navigate his way through the growing crowd outside Elgin theatre for Peepli Live.

The huge queue across the street was not for any Hollywood actor. It was for Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan, who was here to attend the screening of ‘Dhobi Ghat’ at the ongoing 35th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Aamir Tastes Blood- A Quick Flashback

Filmdom was always home to Aamir. Born in the milieu, his father, uncle and cousins are all firmly entrenched in the line. For the cherubic child star in ‘Yaadon Ki Baarat’ (1973) (A celebration of Memories) absorbing know-how by osmosis was natural. Classmate and filmmaker Aditya Bhattacharya in 1983 made a 35-minute silent film “Paranoia” with Khan. To his parents dismay he quit studies after high school - they had hoped to veer him away from the insecurities of this unpredictable line. But Aamir had tasted blood – “After Aditya’s film I became sure that I was created to act in films!” Not formally trained in acting, films were a “basic instinct”. He chose to watch and learn through a three-year stint as assistant to Uncle Nasir Husain through box office flop films ‘Manzil Manzil’ (‘84) and ‘Zabardast’ (‘85). Perhaps the best way to learn.

Last couple of years at school I was confused as to what I wanted to do, but after I acted in Aditya’s film I  became sure of what I wanted to do in life. I quit studies after highschool. My family was against my joining films as they had been through the unpredictability of filmworld and did not want their child to go through film insecurities.  Then they saw ‘Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak’ which changed all that. Infact it changed the face of Indian cinema, and was a turning point for me.  Crudity was the staple diet of the Indian filmgoer until then but this brought a new sensibility to Indian Cinema.

Debutante Runaway Success
THE whole STORY 

As the strapping lean ’boy-next-door hero’ of  “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” (From Climax to Climax) the débutante Khan belted out a runaway success in 1988. The 80’s saw numerous imitations, refashioning a trend for youthful Romeo–Juliet romances and away from the excessively violent fare that had begun to pall. A second huge hit in 1990 “Dil” (Heart) established ‘Aamir the star’. With the winsome adolescent of ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’ (The Winner Rules) in ’92, and a personal favorite ‘Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke’ (Through the Journey of Love) in ‘93, the earnest nice guy won hands down. Those eyes sparkle with mischief in the slapstick ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ (94). With the loud vulgate of blackmarketeer ‘Munna’, Aamir endeared with his characters beliefs and brought out the humor and poignancy that stayed with one way beyond the experience of watching runaway hit ‘Rangeela’ (’95). But it was the role of the village Taxi Driver who falls in love with a rich heiress Karishma Kapoor in director Dharmesh Darshan’s ‘Raja Hindustani’ in 1996, that created box office history within the first week so that Aamir came up head over shoulders above his contemporaries Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Doel, Akshay Kumar. He also won the best actor award for the film.

The decade started with many big films that sank into oblivion in 2000 and the so called ‘No 1’ ‘hero’s’ that failed to produce ‘hits’, while Aamir belted out sureshot success after success , what was his ‘formula’?


I cannot pretend there was anything profound about the way I did what I did Nisha, whatever I felt strongly about I took on. This is how I am. There are the decisions I made in my career, alternatives I choose with my heart because whenever I went with my head I was not happy nor successful 

...........sitting here I just can’t help believing that it is an innate passion that guides his decisions. Very much like his character Rancho from ‘3 Idiots’ who advises his friend to give up engineering and pursue wildlife photography, his true passion, because only when you are passionate about what you do you don’t have to run after success, but can let success come after you! 

It is important for me to be the most loved and respected actor- and my only way to work toward that is to do only good work. I want that I am remembered for my work.

I am still curious, and I persist…..”Aamir when you choose a project how are you able to go for the most successful films, what is the formula that when most projects sink, you pinpoint and work in  a success, and have more successes than any actor in the industry since 1988?  (Apart from the basic instinct and the fact that you are born of a film family.)


There is instinct which is the most important factor. But also when I am listening to a story I am like the audience. I react to the script like an audience. If it moves me I go for the movie, it has to be a combination of instinct and as an individual I go with my taste. I do not try to predict what the audience will like. 

Infact, somehow I don’t watch so many films, because at home on the DVD the experience is limiting as opposed to the large screen and in India it is impossible for me to go to the cinema (the price of fame!!) so I only manage to see films while travelling abroad. But I read everyday. (One of my favorite authors is Harry Cruz. Please buy his ‘Childhood’). What I picked up in my childhood about film might have helped (in the last 25/30 years environment of filmmaking) but though I am trying to think, intellectualize and answer you it is essentially in my heart.

Endowed with considerable gray cells –(he solved the Rubik’s cube in 28 seconds when he was just ten) - films were a passion and he has always been meticulous to a fault, uncompromising, impatient with his perception of mediocrity. His affinity to detail, the need to argue out his point of view, brought him his share of detractors in the fraternity -labeled “interfering” “obsessed” and worse. Drawing an analogy Aamir defends himself, 

If an artist has a brilliant vision and translates onto the canvas a work that is less than what he visualized in his imagination, the passionate artist will restart, but there is another who would go on to sell anyway, unperturbed in the lack- after all someone will buy it! 

And  since Lagaan nearly won the Oscar detractors are evanescent like dissipated odour. The Bollywood `man-of-the-decade` has proven beyond doubt that his is right!! 

I may not be proud to be part of Indian society the way it is as a whole-but Indian cinema I am very proud to be part of. See, the thing is that Indian cinema is not of the highest quality because Indian Society has a lot of development to go thorough and then Cinema is not isolated, it is not from Mars or Jupiter- it is born of Indian Society – so it reflects all the pitfalls of Indian Society. There are those who are trying to swim against the current in every profession, a questioning and gradually there will be prosperity…..

Getting Into Production

Of course Aamir’s view explained his foray into film production – to himself make the kind of product he yearned to act in, and pour his penchant for perfection into his own creative vehicle. And starting with Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan that excited him to ‘Taare Zameen Par’ which he brilliantly produced and directed , taking him into yet another orbit of creative impetus, to ‘Jane Tu’ and now ‘Peepli Live’ which has opened to rave reviews.

Aamir is excited by and part of the new generation of filmmakers who are attempting to expand the range and depth of Indian cinema with originality, finesse, art and the belief that  “commercial” need not be crass. The humane tale of ‘Lagaan’ that eschewed the blacks and whites, eschewed concessions to titillation’s of the overtly sexual, and one hour of cricket on celluloid found film makers wary of taking chances… And then there was Aamir!


To Aamir’s credit is that where a lesser mortal would have quavered over risking his standing a second time with a man who had both his previous directorial endeavours Baazi and Pehla Nasha rejected at the box office, did not allow the past to cloud his assessment.

 For me the attitude of the director I work with is most important Even when we overshot Lagaan by one and a half months and a million rupees, I took loans to support my belief that we should not compromise on the scale we envisaged.” 

Even before its release Lagaan fetched a hundred and eighty million rupees for overseas rights, fifty for its music and twenty million per territory. Cut to  his first directorial debut , ‘Taare Zameen Par’ where Aamir proved an answer , and how, to the querry that can actors be good directors. He received a Filmfare Best Director Award and it was a resounding success. This was followed by Ghajhni (2008), which became the highest grossing film of that year, and 3 Idiots (2009), which became the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all-time, unadjusted for inflation. In 2010, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan for his contributions towards Indian Cinema.

The Thinking Khan metamorphoses with every experience 

I’ve learnt a lot from each one of my films, whether it did well or not – something to carry to my next effort.
With Deepa Mehta in “Earth” ’99 and earlier on “Parampara” by Yash Chopra, that went completely wrong.” “Ghulam” ‘98 where he plays the street-smart Bombay “tapori” (a ruffian) that endeared audiences and critics.

And what of Amir Khan the man? His private life? He works hard and plays – well chess! He married early, eloping with childhood sweetheart Reena and rivals happily looked to writing his career obituary! Married actors are not known as major daydream material in India. Two flops in 1989, coinciding with the publicity his elopement with Hindu wife Reena  (Aamir is a Muslim), seemed to almost prove them right until the ‘Dil’ megahit in 1990. Today post a quiet and dignified divorce he is married to film maker Kiran Rao. But that is his private life guarded with passion- he keeps prying media firmly at bay.

Chinks in his armor?

There might be speculation and guess work when his glance lingers a moment extra on anything in the opposite-sex category, but rumor mills have little fodder to chew on. 

Of course, I find a lot of women attractive… but sorry, I don’t stray. Even if a section of the film industry can’t digest the fact that I am not sleeping around…

Aishwarya Rai giggles ...........

he is a brat! To me he is both Bhuvan but also Aakash the cool brattish hero of Dil Chahtha Hai.”

I sense an unfashionable idealism though Bhuvan, his protagonist in “Lagaan” is speaking for him  “For those whose heart is ruled by truth and strength, at the end victory is his alone”.  At the other end of the spectrum is Aakash, as different from his earlier portrayals as he could wish for. A quirky contemporary urbane “hard nut to crack” kind of guy, played so naturally with a complete change over from the lovable rural Bhuvan. 
Both people live inside of him. On and off the sets he can display a puckish sense of humor, even to pranks” avers Aishwarya , those eyes would then twinkle wickedly perhaps.

Not all is adulation. Mahesh Bhatt, established film director says People like Aamir, who are in awe of their own goodness and honesty sometimes get an offensive edge to their personality!” But Pretty Zinta co-star of Dil Chahtha Hai feels he couldn’t be more off the mark…. “People used to say Aamir is mad, until he proved them wrong time and again with his brilliant work. I think he’s a genius. There is a thin line between genius and madness- the line of success. If you are successful you are a genius, if not you are mad. Aamir is a genius!

Aamir was never one actor, he changed color and form, morphed into different people seamlessly transcending ‘moulds’ and ‘signatures’, becoming someone who is today regarded as a great actor in his time. But he is a BRAND. A one person sure shot, that promises me as his audience, that I could never go wrong seeing a movie essayed by him. And so it is that I go to watch ‘Peepli Live’ today…………………….

Amitabh Bachan in that much loved baritone....

“I’ve known Aamir for a very long , one has been seeing his work always and he has impressed me as a very conscientious focused individual, with nothing frivolous about him. I got to know him personally at a stage show in London, where he performed an item along with me. 

The diligence with which he approached the work, the sincerity of being part of a team, the dimension he gave to the whole show by treating him  self as part of the character, not independent of the theme or team, by mingling with everyone and becoming part of a joint effort, followed systems set up for a professional environment all sets him apart as an actor of great repute.

I produced a film with him and realized he is a man of his word. It was a while since we signed him since we did, but the understanding had not changed. It would have been very easy for a person of his stature to wish away the commitment.

I’d say his two feet are firmly on ground. Maybe some might consider him short in stature physically but these facets make him stand very tall. I find him very clear about what he wants in life and goes about it very much like an arrow. Most of us don’t have guts we are so individually insecure-we pack ourselves with so many projects, but not he, he is risk taking, with a huge amount of confidence, and he labors very extensively – I see in him a huge amount of commitment. Aamir is a man who calls a spade a spade, backed by honesty and truth, I like such people. Most of the time he is right – that’s the other great thing. Mostly he likes to keep to himself. 

He does not follow a beaten track, does not follow the normal routine – and his strength of belief has been proven to the world beyond doubt that he is unique success, I am very fond of him. Everything he has done has worked as per his wish. A surprise that a person so young commands so much respect. Look forward to work with him again and again."

Aishwarya Rai further emphasises.......

 “He is extrememly methodical; very correct; transends just hard work- someone who puts much much more into a role. An achiever, almost schoolish which is the term I use for myself. There is a  simplicity and a diligence which I associate with and first noticed when we co starred in the Pepsi commercial . I have avidly watched him in his film, distinguishing the sincerity toward his art form, a very sincere, very passionate, very involved attitude in whatever he takes on, the kind of work he has chosen. Earlier I had thought he is very correct but later realized that he is a brat at the same time, when I did my first show with him - Rani Me Twinkle, Akshay , he was The Amir Khan ,we thought he’d be the teacher and we the students. Instead he had said in humor “If you cannot beat them join them”

Photographes By Ace Photographer Avinash Gowarikar, friend & exclusive photographer to Aamir Khan

Write in the comments box with your thoughts & questions

Nisha JamVwal


Anonymous said...

MILIND_003(from Twitter):
nice one Nisha..

Muralikrishnan,T said...

nice presentation Nisha in the right sequence.go on.....there is awonderful writer in u.May God bless u.

Nisha JamVwal Roller Coaster Called Life