'Both films are about the empowerment of the girl child. Both try to put a spotlight on the issue of gender equality.'
'The difference is, in Dangal, the lead character is still a man. It is Mahavir’s dream that is being fulfilled.'
'But Secret Superstar is driven by a female character.'
Aamir Khan tells Urvi Parikh why his next release is probably one of the most important films he has made.
Stars are averse to meeting journalists on Sunday mornings.
Aamir Khan is different.
He is busy promoting his latest production, Secret Superstar and has invited us for an interaction at his sea-facing residence in Bandra, a posh suburb of Mumbai.
Casually dressed in a grey t-shirt and black track pants, Aamir is all smiles for the scribes.
Sporting his Thugs Of Hindostan look -- rimmed glasses and a handlebar moustache, with a few piercings in his ear -- he’s ready for a conversation.
He gets candid with Rediff.com contributor Urvi Parikh about Secret Superstar, working with Amitabh Bachchan, superstardom and more.
Tell us something about your character in Secret Superstar.
Shakti is a music director and a composer who is going downhill now.
He is very arrogant, full of himself, self-centred and rude. He isn’t bothered about others. He is not interested in your answers.
Woh apne dhunki main chal raha hai (he lives in his own world).
He was a very entertaining character for me to play and, hopefully, it will be entertaining for people to watch as well.
The character is very real. I can make you meet many such people who are are over-the-top in real life as well.
Is the character inspired by Anu Malik?
No, it is not inspired by anyone.
You might get to see a glimpse of various people, but it is not modelled on any one person.
I was inspired by the script that Advait wrote.
How different is the work environment when you work with a kid?
As far as the work environment is concerned, it is the same as we all want to get the shot right.
But the responsibility is greater because you can’t make children work for a long time.
I remember, while shooting for Taare Zameen Par, we used to have a kids' break.
His (Darsheel Safary's) tuition teacher was there on the sets to look after his studies.
We can’t make a kid work like an adult.
You are known to do a lot of preparation to get into the skin of a character before you start shooting for a film. What motivates you to go through the process time and again?
I started the concept of one film at a time from Lagaan. This is the work I love and I don’t have to motivate myself.
It is great that, as an actor, I get the opportunity to live so many lives and characters. It helps me change as a person.
So there is no motivation as such to get into the skin of a character; it just comes naturally.
What made you do Lagaan after you had rejected it?
First, the concept was narrated to me. I found it absurd and rejected it.
Luckily, Ashutosh (Gowariker, director) did not get discouraged.
He wrote the entire script and asked me to listen to it.
When I did, I loved it.
But I didn’t have the courage to do the movie. It was too unusual a script to be mainstream cinema. It was a big film, an experiment. I was scared to shoulder the responsibility.
It took me a year to get convinced.
Then, I thought about the filmmakers I admire -- V Shantaram, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, K Asif... -- they made movies they liked. I thought I should follow their footsteps.
The other thing that gave me courage were my parents. When they heard the script, they were moved.
Abba Jaan said it was a good story, you should do it. Ammi had tears in her eyes.
Do you miss being any of the characters you have played in the past?
I am certainly going to miss Shakti Kumar because I got the license to do just about anything in this film!
To be honest, I miss all the characters I have played. Even PK... it was a fascinating character. Rancho (3 Idiots) and DJ (Rang De Basanti) are all lovely characters.
Post Mangal Pandey, most of the characters you took up involved a physical transformation as well. Doesn’t it take a toll on your health?
I am sure it has some impact but, so far, I have always felt healthy.
Looking back, is there any character you wished looked different than the way you did it?
The look of ACP Rathore (in Sarfarosh) would have been slightly different had I done it today. I am not talking about physicality, but about the hair. The hair I had back then was too long for a police officer.
I tried to keep it as short as I could, but that was the time I couldn’t do one film at a time as the producers would not agree.
Ideally, the character should have had shorter hair.
We passed it off because he did not want people to know that he is a cop. For example, Talaash was a proper cop look.
For Sarfarosh, I would not have gone that short because the character had an aspect of being a civil person. So, it would be shorter but not as short as Talaash.
Now, I do one film at a time so it is easier.
Do you think the audiences prefer content-driven films over commercial ones?
I don’t think this observation is applicable to Secret Superstar. Unusual films were made even earlier and they will be made after this as well.
This film will succeed only if it is a good film. Just because it is unusual, it doesn’t mean it will succeed.
You can make a very bad unusual film.
Every film is ultimately judged on its merit.
A well-made mainstream film will always do well. I think Judwaa 2 is doing well very at the box office.
In one of your interviews, you had said Secret Superstar is a bigger film than Dangal. Could you elaborate?
I am not talking about the box office, as that is something I don’t enter into.
For me, it is a bigger film than Dangal because the film is trying to say something that is much bigger.
Both films are about the empowerment of the girl child. Both try to put a spotlight on the issue of gender equality.
The difference is, in Dangal, the lead character is still a man. It is Mahavir’s dream that is being fulfilled. It is what he decides -- ‘Beta nahi toh beti kar sakti hai’ -- this is his decision, not the daughter’s decision.
But Secret Superstar is driven by a female character. It chronicles the story of a 14-year-old girl from Baroda (in Gujarat). There are lakhs of girls from small towns in India with a lot of dreams and aspirations.
Dangal spoke to parents, (saying) that they should not differentiate between girls and boys. Secret Superstar talks to teenagers about their dreams, aspirations, challenges and constraints.
So, in this film, the attempt is much larger.
In the trailer, you might have seen Shakti Kumar helping the girl but, in reality, the girl uses him. She is a 14-year-old girl who is very spunky. She doesn’t need help from any man.
Zaira (Wasim) was the first choice for Secret Superstar. She first tested for Dangal and then I told Advait (Chandan, director) about her. We checked her for this movie and selected her.
You are probably the only star in the industry who keeps test screenings for the films. How much does it really help the film?
I started this with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and it helps to a great extent. It is a very important process for me.
Many times, we become very close to the material we make and lose objectivity. Showing it to an audience who has no connectivity with filmmaking helps us understand how our communication is being received.
If there is some miscommunication, we can correct it before the release.
How do you decide on who will watch the film?
I ask my manager to get some people to watch the film.
We get people from different age groups and backgrounds. Some of them may be housewives, with no connection to the film industry.
I am personally present at the test screenings.
Despite being such a huge superstar, how do you manage to keep yourself grounded?
That has never been an issue for me.
I don’t feel I am a superstar.
I feel I am a person who loves what he is doing. Super-stardom is not something I take seriously.
At times, I have to work a little hard to do things that I want to.
Kiran (Rao, his wife) did not want to cast me in Dhobi Ghat because she felt I was a superstar. She was worried about how she would shoot on location. I convinced her and had to move away from my stardom.
If you have seen the film, my house is in a very crowded area in Mumbai. So, I went there at 3.30 am with Advait and stayed there for three weeks. I just didn’t come out.
If you remember, it was one room and the bathroom. Since Kiran used to shoot in the room, my meetings used to take place in the bathroom.
I remember I met Rajkumar Hirani in that house. He used to sit on the tub and I, in the bathroom.
All my meetings had to be there.
Ghajini was due to release then and I was preparing for 3 Idiots. My meeting with Murugadoss as well as the marketing team of Ghajini would take place in the bathroom.
I could not stand near the window as well. The only time I could go to the window was at night.
Do you think Zaira Wasim is an epitome of hope, especially for Kashmiris?
Someone as young as her and as talented as her is a great icon for youth across the country. I wouldn’t make it region specific.
There are so many kids in our country who come from small towns and are so talented. She represents them. She is a hope for young kids.
Talking about the people of Kashmir, do you think they need to be embraced into the Indian society without force?
You are asking a very political question. We will talk about it in December. Let my film release. We have made it with lot of effort.
What is your secret talent?
I am an excellent Catan player. It is a strategy game. That is my hidden talent.
I love playing chess, football, cricket, table tennis, carrom, poker...
Recently, Amitabh Bachchan’s look from Thugs of Hindostan was leaked. Even your picture was leaked. What do you have to say about it?
Ideally, they shouldn’t be leaked. It is an important film and we would like to present the characters in a particular way. But aap log baaz nahi aate. We cannot do much about it.
Earlier, very few people had cameras. Now, everyone has cameras.
During PK, my ghagra look was out on the first day itself.
We try to keep it under wraps as much as we can.
Earlier, I used to give photographs to fans while shooting. But during Thugs, I didn’t, because that would have gone up on social (media).
How was your experience of working with Amitabh Bachchan?
It has been my dream to work with him. Mr Bachchan is an amazing actor. Watching him in cinema halls was amazing. His aura and sway over the audience, his powerhouse performances are magical. He has a complete hold on us as an entertainer.
The audience hangs on to every word and gesture of his. Every nuance has an impact.
Natwarlal and Don were wonderful but I remember Namak Halal. I saw the film, came out, called up Mansoor (Khan, his cousin and filmmaker) and told him to go watch it.
The sway that Bachchan has cannot be recreated.
He had seven films running in theatres at the same time.
He would clash with himself!
That was a different era. That stardom which Mr Bachchan has seen will never be seen by us.
Do you think the definition of stardom has changed over the years?
I think so. It is changing. The fabric is changing.
At one time, the access to the stars was limited. In 1950s-60s, there was no television as well.
The only access was when you stood physically outside the theatre when he arrived for the film’s premiere -- either you stand outside their house or the theatre.
The only other access was through the print media. One could read Dilip Kumar or Amitabh Bachchan or Raj Kapoor’s interview.
Then TV came and Phool Khile Gulshan Gulshan gave a window into their lives. We could hear them talk and see their expressions first hand.
Now there is so much, therefore things have changed.
The stars have become more accessible. A lot of stars are very communicative.
With the advent of Netflix, Amazon Prime, is there a threat to films?
When you make a good film, people will see it.
Experiencing a movie on the phone, TV and a theatre makes a huge difference.
Cinema is a medium where you are sitting with hundreds of people and watching it. It is a collective medium. That experience cannot be replicated in any other medium.
How would you define the evolution of Aamir Khan?
Ultimately, it is the work that matters. Stars are made through films, not vice versa.
I can never claim that a movie is a hit because of me. If you look at PK or Dangal or 3 Idiots, the maximum I can do as a star is bring in the first weekend.
After the first weekend, it is the content.
The big credit goes to the director and the writer. They conceive the ideas and get the credit and responsibility for the movie -- whether it works or doesn’t.
So Dangal and PK has made me, not the other way round.
Dangal released in China and made Rs 100 crore in its second weekend. But if I am such a big star, why didn’t it collect Rs 100 crore in the first weekend? Clearly, because of word-of-mouth.
I enjoy fame and success because of films.
Do you fear losing stardom?
No. I am clear that I will lose it all. There will be a day when I will not have all of it. So there is no need to fear.
What I scared about is something else -- jo hum banane chale hai woh ban payega ki nahi (what we set out to make, will they get made?).
We shouldn’t go wrong in what we are trying to achieve. Will I lose my fame, creativity? Yes, I will. It is a matter of time.
The Paani Foundation is doing very well. Would you like to involve your friends from the industry into it?
The entire Marathi entertainment industry is behind it. They have been working with Paani Foundation since the first year.
We also made a presentation to the Hindi film industry and they have come forward to help.
We don’t need it right now but, as and when the need arises, we will take their help. This time, we plan to take it to the 90 talukas.
Last time, you spoke about making Mahabharata.
That’s a dream. I don’t know when it will get realised.
Has your son Azad ever expressed his desire to work in films?
No. I don’t think Azad has seen a full film, he has seen a movie in parts. He is too small. He has seen animated movies.
He starts crying when he sees my films. Woh ghabra jaata hai. He got scared of seeing me beaten up on screen in PK.
How do you deal with the media glare that your kids -- Azad, Ira and Junaid -- have to go through?
That is something I have been dealing for 23 years (since Junaid was born).
We have tried our level best to give them a normal life. I am happy to say that Junaid and Ira have turned out to be wonderful adults. They are very caring and sorted in their heads. Hopefully, Azad will be the same.
Recently, Shah Rukh Khan said he is, like you, a curious person. So have you guys ever had a curious conversation together?
I have sat with SRK many times and he is a very entertaining person to sit with. He has a wonderful way in which he tells stories, so I love listening to him.
Between him and me, I am more curious because I like to hear him talk. I like the way he narrates the stories. He really brings the moment alive. He is a wonderful storyteller.
Are you doing Rakesh Sharma’s biopic?
When I do, I will announce it.