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Why Imran Khan sat home for 9 months!

Last updated on: February 8, 2012 12:07 IST

Why Imran Khan sat home for 9 months!

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Aseem Chhabra in New York

At 29, Imran Khan has learnt just how fickle Bollywood can be -- being born in a film family can be a good thing but not always. 

He has learned it the hard way. His career was launched by uncle Aamir Khan with Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na that was a huge success. It was followed by a couple of box office duds, which resulted in a lean period. Eventually, his career picked up. 

As he gets ready for the release of his eighth film, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Imran sat down with Aseem Chhabra in New York, reflecting on fame, his career, and the US, a country with which he has a special relationship.

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is the first film you have made in the US.  What is the difference in shooting a film in India and the US?

There's a big difference. In the US, you have one guy with the camera, a sound guy, a couple of light guys and that's your team. 

In India, you never, ever have a set with less than 80 or 100 people. It's insane. So you are literally climbing over people, stumbling into them. I am used to acting like that where I am looking at the camera, with a dozen guys running behind and someone is yelling 'Yeh hata, hata' during the take. 

And suddenly I am here and there is silence. When I saw one guy behind the camera,  I asked 'Where is everyone?' and I was told 'No sir that is all we need.'


Image: Imran Khan
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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'It is such a challenge to act the Indian way'

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So how does it feel as an actor?

It feels great. It is such a challenge to do it the Indian way. In the US, everything is about the actor and the director. The director will correct you and tell you what he wants. In India, you are battling so many people!

For my last film, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, the climax was in a convertible as we were driving down the road. We had -- I kid you not -- about 75 motorcyclists driving along the road -- honking, revving their bikes and screaming "Aye Imran. Aye Katrina."

I am sure you were recognised in Las Vegas. There are lots of desi tourists.

Yeah, but nothing close to what we have to deal with in India.

Are you able to walk the streets of New York City without getting noticed?

Yes, but every block or so you will run into an Indian and they will ask for a photo or something.

Are you able to walk on the streets of Mumbai at all?

I try...

And what happens?

It doesn't quite work out. There's a grocery store two blocks from my house in Bandra. I go there often to get supplies. I made the mistake of going out one evening, I think it was Eid. 

There were more people on the street than usual. I was shopping when suddenly the manager said, 'Sir there are a lot of people outside and they know you are here.'  I said 'Dude, relax it's Bandra.'  I picked up my bags and realised there were about hundred people outside. 

They had blocked one entire side of the road.  There was a traffic jam, people were screaming. I was shocked. I didn't have a car, or security. I had to barricade myself, call for a car. The shop employees came out and formed a human chain to get me out.


Image: Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

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'I miss being able to watch people'

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But you remember the time before Jaane Tu..., when you were able to walk on the streets of Mumbai?

About a week before our promotion campaign started, I did a walk of Linking Road, knowing that it was the last time I am going to be able to do this. I had a frankie, stopped by my favourite bhel puriwalah. I did the whole circuit there. The promotion campaign broke out and since then, I haven't walked along Linking Road.

Well, this is the life you wanted right? You are happy with your life?

I am thrilled with my life but I miss being able to do these things. I miss being able to watch people. I have always enjoyed sitting and watching people, how they talk to one another. Now the second I look at someone, they start to look at me and I get very conscious.


Image: Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

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'I never picked up the American accent'

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You were born in the US.

Yes, in Madison, Wisconsin.

And you were about a year old when you left, but you have been coming back.

I came back to join high school in Sunnyvale.  It was called Fremont High School.

Because your father lives there.

Yes.

What years were you there?

I was there for junior and senior years. I was 17 when I joined school.

You never picked up the American accent or did you lose it?

I never picked it up. I was very particular about that. I moved back to India and then came to LA -- film school, graduated, worked there for a while. That was actually a cool experience

What about school in Sunnyvale in California?

It was weird. It was a lot like they show in the movies. I felt I was living a cliche. I was meeting people who were jocks, nerd and goths and I would say 'This can't be real.' 

You had the big muscular football guys in varsity jackets and they would walk the halls with a group of cheerleaders, because they were all dating cheerleaders. And I would think I was in a movie.


Image: Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu


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'Acting is something that I never learned'

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What group did you fit in?

I didn't and that was the thing.

Were there any Indians there?

There were a fair amount of Indians. But again, I was an Indian from India. The others were born and brought up there. They were often listening to hip hop and I wasn't into hip hop. Right there was a conflict.

Did anyone realise that you come from a film family?

No, but I did mention to a couple of close friends later.

Was there anything about school that made you feel uncomfortable?

Not really. In my school, white kids were in a minority. We had a majority of Hispanics, Asian and African Americans.

And what school did you go to in Los Angeles?

New York Film Academy. It was the LA branch with a partnership with Universal Studios. We could use all their facilities -- cameras, editing suites, the sets. Most of our instructors were guys who were working in the industry. Our writing instructor was working on a TV show so he would bring that week's script.

Have you been able to take that experience to your work in Bollywood?
 
My core knowledge is behind the camera. I am a guy who is trained as a writer and director, and I have an understanding of that. Acting is something that I never learned. It is something I am figuring out with each film and director. I find myself spending a lot more time with the director and the DOP on the set, more aware of the technical aspects than most other actors.


Image: Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu


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'I was being offered three-hero films'

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Well if that is the case, did you make the right choices from a writer's point of view when you chose your roles? 

Right or wrong choices are something that can't be quantified. Films work or don't work. Question is: Would you undo something you have done in your life? In my case, the answer is no. 

Success is very hard. It's hard to achieve and hard to maintain. But failure teaches you more. If you haven't had failure in life, until you don't know how you cope with failure and when you are down, living through your low period, you have not learned anything in life.

My first film did very well. My second and third films failed very badly. I'd signed and shot both those films before Jaane Tu...was released. Immediately after that, I signed Delhi Belly. I was shooting for it and didn't focus on anything else or on people who were calling me.

I was the hot new thing at that time. By the time I finished Delhi Belly, both Kidnap and Luck had failed and I had not signed any new films. I was suddenly free to take new projects but there were no new offers or rather I was being offered three hero films or getting calls from extremely shady people.

How did it feel then?

That was a tremendous low point.

You are 29 now...

... I was 26 then. Suddenly the media was saying he's over, or a one-hit wonder, or he got his uncle to launch him and that's the end of it. I was not making any money. Delhi Belly was done for free since it was a family project. How could I charge my uncle?


Image: A scene from Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

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'I sat at home for nine months'

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I hope they have paid you some money by now...

... By now, yes!

You were about to get married around that time also.

Shortly thereafter. I've never gone for paid events, like ribbon cuttings. You get a lot of money for that. I think if I had, I would have made a choice that is not actually me. At that time, I wanted to hold on to my core values. I didn't sign up to endorse any products.

You endorse products now, right?

I endorse two products -- Coke and Levis Jeans. I was particular about what products to endorse, those I could relate to.

So you won't endorse cement?

No, although I got called to endorse cement. I'm not kidding.

That was the point when I got I Hate Luv Storys. But for nine months, I sat at home. It was test whether I could stand firm and say no, until I could get something that felt right.


Image: Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
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'Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is quirkier than it appears'

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Tell me about Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.  How is it different than your other work?

What's different in the film is that it is not the regular rom-com that people are expecting. It is more of a coming of age story.  Shakun Batra is very inspired by Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. 

The songs might give the rom-com flavour, but it is much quirkier. It's about a guy who lives his life according to his parents' wishes. And one day he suddenly wakes up when this girl comes into his life and says that he has wasted 25 years of his life, doing what he thinks is correct, but those weren't his choices. That's a major wake up call. He doesn't even choose his clothes.

They look cool though.

But they are all monochrome -- black and grey!

You mentioned Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. Did Shakun actually talk about those filmmakers?

Yes. The Royal Tenenbaums, 500 Days of Summer, Garden State, Annie Hall -- all of these films were there as reference points of tone, cinematography.


Image: Imran Khan and Avantika Malik
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
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'This film is different in the way it plays out'

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So how different is it from Break Ke Baad or I Hate Luv Storys?

The difference is the way it plays out. The earlier films had a very predictable relationship graph. This one does not take that path. The relationship between the boy and girl takes an entirely different path and it reaches a different destination.

You are in Vishal Bhardwaj's next film?

Yes.

Why are you keeping this beard, by the way?

That's for Vishal's film. I also had my ears pierced for the film. They haven't quite healed yet.

Both the sides? Did it hurt?

Not that much. It hurts about 15 or 20 minutes later. They use this gun. It snaps through your ear. That feels like nothing at all. About 15 minutes later it starts to throb a bit.  It's just sore.


Image: Imran Khan
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
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'We start shooting for Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola on February 13'

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Did anyone gift you diamond studs?

No (laughs). These (the earrings he is wearing) were put in my ears immediately after the piercing. In the film I am going to wear those thick gold balis. It is a rural setting. The shoot starts on February 13.

Do you enjoy press events?  Are they any different outside as compared to India?

Yeah. In India, particularly in Bombay, the media has so much access to us. At some point they simply run out of what to ask, and that's when they reach a rather inane level trivialness. You are answering questions and wondering, 'I mean, really, does anyone want to know this?'  People ask 'What is your style mantra? When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing that you do?' How can anyone care?


Image: Imran Khan
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani
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