BEGINNINGSby Khalid Mohamed June 3 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 16 mins, 3 secs
In a flashback interview, Aamir Khan talks to Khalid Mohamed about the pleasures and pains of acting.
If there’s one Khan from the presiding troika who has remained steadfast in his career choices and professional conduct with his peers, it’s Aamir Khan.
In fact, while being Gibraltar-firm, he has taken way more risks, maintained a Peter Pan persona and worked towards establishing a quality conscious film production company, Aamir Khan Productions (AKP). At the age of 57, he has evolved majorly as an actor and has stuck to his principles – be it boycotting film award ceremonies, deflecting media discussion on his controversial private life taking in two divorces, and above all, he has spoken out loud on the spectre of intolerance.
Coincidentally, the three ruling Khans were born in the same year 1965. Aamir on March 14, Shah Rukh Khan on November 2 and Salman on December 27. Of the trio, SRK is smart-alecky, articulate, Salman just the opposite, and Aamir is the studied, self-analytical one.
Right now, his Laal Singh Chadha, the adaptation of the multiple Tom Hanks Oscar-winner, Forrest Gump, co-scripted by Atul Kulkarni, is in the news. To be released on August 11, its trailer was thumbed up but not without trollers seeking to incite a controversy by quoting an earlier statement made by the Khan on TV that he doesn’t feel “safe” in India. Guess trollers are irrepressible and are out to do their worst.
Be that as it may, here’s rewinding to an interview conducted circa 1996, with Aamir at his uncle Nasir Hussain’s Bandra residence. I suspect the answers in this q and a would still be a constant. Over to a batch of excerpts about his beginnings:
When I say ‘acting’, what comes to your mind right away?
Being the character I’m supposed to play, reacting the way he would in any given situation in the script, transmitting the emotion he may feel in the duration of the shot. I approach acting in accordance with the director’s instructions but we need to talk, the answers must have clarity. The first step is to be in tandem with the director. Or else the result is a terrible mess.
The next step is to look like the character: his clothes, hair style, the mobility or the lack of it on the face. I can’t be playing myself. In popular cinema, there isn’t scope for much change. In offbeat cinema, I would have to change myself drastically as I did at the outset in Ketan Mehta’s Holi and Aditya Bhattacharya’s Raakh.
The third step is to understand the language the character would use, his body language, his voice pitch etc.
Can you elaborate on ‘etc’?
Details like would the guy chew gum, smoke a cigarette, chew paan, sleep on a bed, cot, or on the floor? Still, the execution stage in front of the camera may be totally different from the preparation. I may not be able to project what’s been asked of me, especially in a tight close-up. So while being aware of the direction given to me, I try to achieve a state of semi-consciousness, immersing myself in a role. I can be as anxious or as elated as Raja Hindustani, Raghu Jetley of Dil Hai ke Maata Nahin or Sanjaylal Sharma of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.
I must get the physicality right, know the lines, never fumble. Too many rehearsals come in the way of spontaneity. Often my first take is the best one but at times, it can go up to 20 takes.
For Akele Hum Akele Tum, there was a four-minute soliloquy about the insecurities of a single parent. Mansoor (Khan) didn’t want me to rehearse. He was right, I had to feel the character’s pain, go higher and lower in intensity. Tears started flowing from my eyes in the middle of the shot. Using glycerine would have been fake, a sign of lousy acting.
By contrast, Andaz Apna Apna required lots of rehearsals, the dialogue exchange had to be timed perfectly. In sum, rehearsals are subjective, differing from actor to actor, and scene to scene.
Can an actor remain normal? Doesn’t he lost touch with reality?
Acting is a profession in which success does give you power, and it’s up to every actor to ensure that power doesn’t corrupt him or her. The police commissioner, an income-tax officer, a Chief Minister and the Prime Minister also wield immense power. But powerful persons will remain the way they were if they are stable-minded. Professionals in power misbehave only if they lose their balance. Speaking for myself, I’ve never taken adulation seriously.
I don’t think I’m special. Objectively, I feel that I’m a mediocre actor who has improved over the years with experience. As for the intensity of adulation, it’s like that when someone new arrives on the scene, whether it’s Shah Rukh or Aamir Khan. There is initial excitement the way there was when television first came into the market. After that it depends on whether an actor has sustaining power or not.
Were Juhi Chawla and you the first choices for Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak?
I was considered for QSQT at the scripting stage. I was tested. A girl called Rubina, and Alisha Chinai were also being considered besides Juhi. Alisha never showed up… now don’t ask me why because I don’t know.
Are you surprised by the emotions you discover within yourself while acting?
Let’s put it this way. I’m disappointed with myself at times when I feel I could have scaled a new emotional height, but only end up giving an okay shot. I feel I did leap a bit higher in Akele Hum Akele Tum and Raja Hindustani. Perhaps I was opening up more, perhaps it was a result of my talk with Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah).
I’d gone over to his place and told him that I felt I was stagnating as an actor. I respect him, I wanted him to guide me. And he told me, “The first good sign is that you’ve realised you’re stagnating. And since you’ve been disturbed by this, you’ll find your own way out.” So, I started getting myself to go a little more. I think I’m speaking better in my scenes. In Andaz Apna Apna, I felt I should let go myself more and succeeded.
At which point did you feel stagnant as an actor?
That was a phase right after Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke. It came across as a one-note performance. I looked harassed throughout. Similarly, I felt I’d grinned too much in Awwal Number, and had somehow moved away from the character’s graph in Parampara.
Do you ever act in real life? Do you lie?
Do you mean put on an act? I’m sure I do but on the whole to a lesser extent than others around me do.
Okay, this is a sudden question. What does love mean to you?
The definition of love keeps changing as one goes through life. I was 12 and madly in love with an older girl. And I was told, “What do you know about love? You’re just a kid. You’re just infatuated, that’s all.” But my feelings for her were very intense and strong. When I was 14, I felt this time love was for real and again I was told it was infatuation. I’d be heartbroken for months when my feelings weren’t reciprocated. And it went on like this till I met Reena. And I realised that all that I’d been experiencing was love.
Can a married man fall in love with another woman?
Sure, why not? By the same argument, a married woman can also fall in love with another man. Since we’re talking hypothetically, anything’s possible.
Right. When did you discover your acting instinct? Was it after performing as a child actor in Yaadon ki Baarat and Madhosh?
Not at all, I didn’t enjoy acting as a kid. I was so stiff and uncomfortable. I realised I wanted to be an actor when I saw the rushes of Paranoia, a 40-minute film directed by my classmate, Aditya Bhattacharya, at the Bombay Scottish (School). He had cast me since he had no one else. I must have been 14 or 15 then and the subject dealt with moments from a teenager’s life: his parents arguing, his father hitting his mum, the boy’s girlfriend leaving him. My performance surprised me since I was quite shy and introverted.
After that short film, I told myself okay, so acting and maybe even direction are for you. Believe it or not, before that I’d dream of becoming a test cricketer, while my parents wanted me to get into management or engineering. After assisting Nasir saab (paternal uncle Nasir Hussain) for six months, Qayamat se Qayamat Tak happened. I was apprehensive, I wasn’t sure I’d succeed as an actor.
I’ve often been unsure, like years later I had so many doubts before playing a tapori in Rangeela. Do I look like one? I took on the role of Munna as a challenge and dived into it. I hadn’t exactly led a sheltered life, my friends and I weren’t rich kids. I must have borrowed some shades of an absolutely bindaas guy, Baba Daring, who went on to work as a driver in Dubai.
Were you a stubborn kid?
Yes, I’m still stubborn. I was a quiet sort. But once when a guy called Ashley hit my brother, Faisal, I got into a scuffle with him. Ashley was almost six feet tall, he beat the hell out of me, I was lucky to get away with just a bleeding lip.
Are you comfortable with action scenes?
Obviously I can’t be a Rambo or The Terminator. But if I play a commando, or a tough cop I can carry it off well.
Do you try to avoid the ‘bad guy’ image on screen?
I know what you’re referring to (Yash Chopra’s Darr). All I can say is I wanted to do the role but it didn’t work out. It was puzzling why I couldn’t be given a joint narration with the other actors.
I wouldn’t like to play a negative character though - like say, a mindless goon or an insipid lalloo in typical popular cinema. But if the project is offbeat, I would have no qualms because the audience will be seeing me with a different yardstick.
Have there ever been any bad vibes between Shah Rukh Khan and you?
Why should there be any bad vibes between us? Come to think of it, he’s been avoiding a chess match with me for quite a while.
Would you have approached the Darr role any differently?
The film has worked, so perhaps it was the right way to do it. But I would have played the character more intensely than stylishly. I see that character as someone who has a mental problem, I would have kept that in mind for each and every shot. I feel that quality wasn’t there. I would have performed even simple scenes like reading a magazine less flamboyantly.
I wouldn’t have used that style for someone who can’t confess his love to the girl.. someone who doesn’t have the guts to go up to her and say, “I love you.” He only talks to her through letters or the phone. He has a deep-rooted complex. I would have kept that in mind.
Did you hesitate before cracking that joke…J…J..J.. in Andaz Apna Apna?
Not at all. It was my idea. It was added at the last minute. It wasn’t meant to taken seriously. It was a mad film, the madder the better.
You did Ketan Mehta’s Holi and Aditya Bhattacharya’s Raakh but that’s it. Which offbeat directors would you like to work with?
I’m not being approached for offbeat cinema. I wish Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Kundan Shah would. They aren’t directly offbeat but they aren’t typical commercial directors either.
You’ve often had talks with Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
Yeah, he always offers me a film two months before the shooting is about to start. Like he wanted me to do 1942: A Love Story, then he got delayed and I couldn’t shuffle my dates.
If you were to direct some day, whom would you cast?
Definitely not a star, I wouldn’t be able to deal with stars, they have too many preconceived notions. They’re overcommitted, and wouldn’t be able to give me undivided attention.
But you’re a star too.
What are your preconceived notions?
I can’t indulge in vulgarity, mainly. Yet I wouldn’t point an accusing finger at those who do. It’s their life. By the way, some actors have preconceived notions like they don’t want to get bashed up on the screen. If I was to direct, I’d spend half my energy with a reluctant actor, dealing with that.
Have you ever assessed your strengths and weaknesses as an actor?
I work very hard, apply myself no stops to a role. I’m concerned about the final product. And maybe I have reasonably expressive eyes and a good voice… though I do try to improve my performance while dubbing at times.
As for my weaknesses, there have been days when I just can’t do a shot. I can’t act, so I ask for a short break. Plus, I tend to speak a little fast, I’ve learnt how to slow down.
Does your height ever make you self-conscious?
No! I’m 5’ 7”. Everyone wears two-inch heels anyway - even Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor do. Even I do, so it’s no big deal.
What about the charges that you interfere in the script?
I raise questions when changes are made in the script by the director at the last minute. When that happens, I offer my inputs. Yes, these allegations have been constant, whatever ‘interference’ means. As far as I know, I’ve tried to be fair, never unilateral. Even if my career is not doing well I won’t sign 10 stupid films just to feel secure. And if my films are a success, I won’t sign up for five films at a hiked fee.
Isn’t it a pity that Shekhar Kapur’s Time Machine was shelved? What happened?
I was extremely keen on Time Machine. I liked the script very much. But at the same time certain financial obligations had to be fulfilled.
You mean the producer (Suresh Malhotra) had to pay you?
Yes and I assume there must have been problems with the other actors and director too. I had kept 150 days for Time Machine of which four were used. The other dates went to waste. That’s why after Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, I didn’t have a release for a year. Careerwise this did affect me. Personally, it gave me plenty of free time. In ’93, my son (Junaid) was born.
Which of the actors do you like today?
I like Govinda for many of his qualities, most importantly for the conviction he invests in his performances. He seems to believe in every line of dialogue and every situation he’s given. Of course, one of the jobs of an actor is to choose the right films. If 10 producers insist that you must do their films, then you have to say “No” at some stage.
Then I like Juhi, Shah Rukh Khan and love watching Rajinikanth, who’s always very stylised and entertaining. I like Jackie Shroff ever since his performances in Parinda, Ram Lakhan and Angaar.
If I don’t mention the names of Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah, it’s because I’ve talked about my admiration for them so many times before.
How would you rate yourself as an actor on a scale of one to ten?
And if looks count, what would be the rating?
Six. You don’t have to be good-looking to make it as an actor. If you are, that helps.
Do you remember the first film you ever saw?
It was a Laurel and Hardy film. The guys who were chasing them were closing in on them. Normally people find this funny. I would also find this funny today. But since I was a child, I was petrified that they’d get caught. I was bawling. I had to be rushed out of the theatre. Around the same time, I saw Pyar ka Mausam. My brother Faisal was a baby, he was caught in a fire in a scene. I was bawling again, “Get him out of there. Get him out fast!”
Do you still cry at the movies?
I cry very easily while watching films and reading books.
I remember crying while watching Pyaasa, Masoom, Love Story with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal, Fried Green Tomatoes and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. I felt very bad for Shah Rukh for not getting the girl, and the scene where his father finds out about the forged examination mark-sheet.
As for books, I was very moved on reading William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade when he’s not allowed into the preview theatre, which is screening the first film he wrote. I could understand what he must have gone through. And I cried on reading Frank Capra’s script of It Happened One Night before we started on Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin. There were so many touching moments. Anything that moves me emotionally brings tears to my eyes.
Now just a couple of general questions. Which would you say are your movie influences?
Mother India, Pyaasa, Ram aur Shyam, Ganga Jumuna, Mughal-e-Azam, Laila Majnu with Rishi Kapoor, Heer Ranjah with Raaj Kumar, Teesri Manzil, Caravan and Mera Gaon Mera Desh.
And your must-reads while growing up?
The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, the P.G.Wodehouse collection, any novel by Charles Dickens and The Mahabharata.