'Even today, Aamir feels he was the right choice for Josh'
I first saw Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT) in 1998, a good 10 years after it released. Although I didn't think the film was that great, I was inspired by the song Papa Kehte Hai and decided to do something big in life. But never did I imagine that I would interview the director of the film, Mansoor Khan.
Khan seldom speaks to the media. He was in Mumbai recently to celebrate the 25 years of QSQT and agreed to speak on one condition: that I would not talk to him about anything other than his films.
The 53-year-old Khan has directed only four films -- Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak,Jo Jeeta Woh Sikandar, Akele Hum Akele Tum and Josh.
He gave up on films and settled down in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu where he runs a farm-stay.
I met Mansoor Khan at his nephew Imran Khan's bungalow, in Bandra, a posh suburb in Mumbai. The house earlier belonged to Mansoor's father Nasir Hussain, a prolific filmmaker. Imran recently renovated the entire place before moving in last year.
In the conversation that follows, Mansoor Khan recalls his early days, his move away from filmmaking to near reclusiveness in Coonoor.
Imran Khan has recently renovated your bungalow. Do you like it?
This has always been our family house and now my sister Nuzhat and my nephew Imran with his family stay here. They too are very emotionally attached to this house and they have nurtured and preserved the character of the place.
Ever since my parents bought this place, it has been a house where lots of people come at any time, share some thoughts, have food, have good moments.
I believe that essence is still alive. It is more than a home for all of us. The lineage of making good films has been carried forward by Aamir (Khan) and Imran.
Image: Mansoor Khan, Juhi Chawla and Aamir Khan
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'My fondest memory of this place is my father having parties in the garden area'
What are your fondest memories of growing up in this house?
I was five years old when my parents moved here. The house has gone through a lot of changes in terms of its looks and structure and similarly we as a family have gone through many phases of our lives.
My fondest memory of this place is my father (Nasir Hussain) having parties in the garden area. My father was a private person otherwise. We would have just one party a year and that was on his birthday.
He was an immensely successful filmmaker, but he wasn't flamboyant and didn't have too much of a social life. He had very few friends. People like R D Burman, Majrooh Sultanpuri, and Suresh Bhatt were really close to my father.
Only on his birthday he would invite a lot of people from the film industry. All his contemporaries were so cordial with each other. There wasn't too much glamour, but still it was beautiful. Those moments are something that I will always cherish.
Image: Mansoor Khan
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
'I was so spoilt by my family that I reached a point of self-destruction'
Your father was a prolific filmmaker. How did you find his films?
I would enjoy my father's films. We would all watch them together. I would joke around and criticise them a lot. It was all healthy criticism and my father took it very sportingly.
I love his style of filmmaking. Although a lot of his films had the same plot, they were always entertaining.
I remember Shammi uncle (Shammi Kapoor) would jokingly tell me, 'Your father came to me with a script and used that same story 12 times' and my father would agree to it. He was never apologetic about it.
There is a strong father and son relationship in all your films. How were your relations with your father, and how are you as a father to your kids?
I think I am more like a friend than a father. I am very liberal with my kids. My daughter has a boyfriend who comes to meet us at our house.
It comes from my father with whom I had very cordial relations. I was the spoilt brat of the family. My sister was always the ignored child. I would try and gain all the attention. I would get all the perks. I was the privileged male child amongst all my cousins.
Aamir and my other cousins would come over for Eid when our grandmother would give us money for good luck and blessings. All of them would get one rupee, but I would get ten rupees.
I was so spoilt that I reached a point of self-destruction. That was one of the reasons I wanted to redeem myself. My relations with my father were similar to Sanjay Lal Sharma (Aamir Khan's character) in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.
Image: Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
'Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar has similarites to my personal life'
You went to IIT, and dropped out; you then opted to go to USA for further studies and then dropped out of that as well. Did you make films just to prove a point to your father?
I am a professional dropout (laughs). Yes, I had to prove to my father but it was not a compulsion to get into films. I had to do something worthwhile as I had already proved myself wrong a couple of times in terms of academics and also on some personal decisions in my life.
I have always been driven by my own conviction. I moved away from films because of my own conviction.
Before deciding to get into films I felt that I needed to justify all the money and the time that my parents have spent on me.
I felt like Sanjay Lal Sharma -- the character played by Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (JJWS). The film has similarites to my personal life. In fact, I was writing JJWS before QSQT. I wanted to do something stable in life so that I could redeem myself to my parents.
So, directing films was an easy option for you?
I already had a small video studio called Scan Video in Nariman Point, which was doing decently well. Somewhere I had established myself in doing something. We actually introduced video editing in India. It was a small setup but it had state-of-the-art equipment.
I used to play the piano and drums and liked to visualise the music. That was one of the reasons I got into filmmaking. I realised that if I wanted the songs to look good, I'd probably need to make a film.
Image: Movie poster of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
'I was always unsure about QSQT's success'
Did you ever ask your father why he approached you to make QSQT?
I made a pilot film called Umberto, which was a bit like an experiment. My friend Amole Gupte acted in the film. My father saw the film and saw the ability in me to direct QSQT.
The film was written by my father very explicitly with the intention of launching Aamir. My father wanted to direct the film but unfortunately he was not keeping too well. Later, my sister and I advised him to relax a little and not to take up direction.
He approached me with an open mind, without forcing me to direct QSQT. Initially, I refused to direct it as I was writing JJWS. After spending almost a year and half on writing, I reached a dead-end. That's when my father approached me again and told me to hear the script of QSQT.
The first 11 scenes in the film are exactly how he wrote them. I made a lot of changes and added a lot of nuances.
Were you at any point of time unsure about QSQT and its success?
I was always unsure about QSQT's success (laughs). When I saw the first rushes of the film I felt it was very bad. I was very self-critical so to me it looked worse than it actually was.
My father saw it and he found it really good. It was his experience of filmmaking that convinced him and me that I had done a good job.
Image: Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla in Qaymat Se Qayamat Tak
'I wouldn't have allowed Aamir to play Max's character'
Is it true that you gave up making films because you had an argument with Aamir Khan over a role in Josh?
No, that is absolutely rubbish. The only argument between us was that Aamir wanted to play Max's character, which was played by Shah Rukh Khan, and I wanted him to do the role that eventually Chandrachur Singh did.
It was completely professional on our part. I have got none of this loyalty business. I could only see Shah Rukh playing the character. In fact, Shah Rukh had initially refused the film as he thought Aamir would be playing Max.
Even today, if Aamir was sitting here, he would say that I could have done a better job, no wonder Josh was a flop. And I would argue back, saying even if it was a flop, I wouldn't have allowed him to play Max's character (laughs).
Image: Shah Rukh Khan in Josh
'I don't have any problems with making films but I wanted to live away from city life'
After directing your fourth film, Josh, you decided to leave the city. You tried your luck in Mandwa (a small town near Mumbai) but were unsuccessful. What went wrong?
I always wanted to run away from Mumbai. I was very self-critical, so to me it looked worse than it actually was.
After Josh, I decided to move to Mandwa in 2002. I had bought land in Mandwa. I was planning to live there and I had signed two films, one was with ABCL (Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited).
I was planning to make those films. I don't have any problems with making films but I wanted to live away from city life.
But I had kids and I had to educate them. Unfortunately, there were no schools in Mandwa. I was even willing to put them in a patshala (simple school) because I think parental education is more important. But beyond a point, the milieu would be wrong.
And so you decided to settle in Coonoor?
I was aware of Coonoor as a place because we would go there for shooting. Another reason to shift to Coonoor was that my parents already had a house there as Imran was studying there.
My wife Tina and I decided to shift to Coonoor so that I could stay away from city life and at the same time my kids could get a good education.
It took me a year to convince my family to shift. I think it was a better choice than Mandwa.
Image: Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
'I might shift my base back to Mumbai'
You have a farm-stay in Coonoor where you also teach people how to make cheese. Did you have this in mind when you decided to shift?
I had some subconscious thoughts in my mind when I moved to Coonoor. I always thought that I would buy a big plot of land where I would set up my own farm house with some cattle, produce milk and ultimately make some dairy products.
Initially when I shifted to Coonoor, I did have a rough time in terms of my financial condition. I bought the land where I am currently staying one year after I shifted to Coonoor. I sold off my land in Mandwa to buy it.
I started the concept of farm-stay (called Acres Wild) in Coonoor just four years ago. Before that I was earning hardly any money. Today the running expenses are looked after. I can sleep better now (laughs).
You could take the risk because subconsciously you had the comfort of knowing that if it doesn't work out, you could get back to making films.
Yes, you are absolutely right. That sense of comfort was always there. I still have it. If things didn't work out, I can always write a script and make a film. I have a family to fall back on.
It isn't that I will pile on to Aamir, but I was sure that I could write a good script. I guess everybody needs a fall back option. Who knows, if things don't work out, I might shift my base back to Mumbai.
What appealed to you about this more primal way of life?
I can't describe it, but since my school days I have always wanted to lead the life that I am having today. It was my obsession to live outside the city and preferably close to nature.
I had a successful film career but I didn't want to make a film for the heck of it. It was always the small things in my life that I have found pleasure in.
What is a normal day at the farm-stay like?
It's a farm-stay so we have to take care of the guests who come to stay at our place. More than a business, it is like a dream.
I personally take my guests around to show them the place. We also have a cheese-making course. I try and learn something from the guests who come and stay.
I have learnt bread making, soap making and lots of other stuff.
I am also writing three books. I have finished writing one book which is called The Third Cirve. It will be releasing in June. I also give lectures in IIM-Bangalore, ISB (Hyderabad) and other colleges.
Image: Mansoor Khan with his daughter Zayn, wife Tina and son Pablo
'I don't missing making films'
Don't your kids ever tell you to move to a bigger city, probably Mumbai?
Yes, sometimes they do. Earlier, they were reluctant (to stay here) as they would hear Tina and I argue over bills and expenses. But now they love it. They are as involved in the farm-stay as I am.
On your farm-stay website your daughter's profile reads, 'Looking at the track record of most of the top Bollywood artistes I figure she has a great career ahead.' Are there chances of her becoming an actress?
She is studying literature. She does participate in stage shows in her college. I don't know if she is going to pursue it as a career. She has a certain flair for acting. It's completely her decision what she wants to do in life.
In all these years you never thought of returning to films?
I don't missing making films. I get nightmares about shooting. I enjoy the process of writing.
I've always been wary of success. It's like a drug. After Josh, I could see my interest wavering. I have never been a great film watcher. I have never been enamoured of films. I am a very unlikely filmmaker from that point of view (Laughs).
Neither films, nor success, nor money has ever been a factor that has made me stick to filmmaking.
Image: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan in Josh
'I might direct a film if Rajkumar Hirani writes it'
How do you keep yourself updated on what's going in the film industry?
I am a very tolerant film viewer. I do go and watch films in theatres but don't make a conscious decision to do it. I also connect myself to films through Aamir and Imran.
During the making of Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na, Aamir was stuck at a certain point and he requested me to come and take charge as a creative producer.
So, even today, if Aamir or Imran needs any help from my side, I am always available.
It is rumoured that you are making a comeback and are planning to launch Imran's brother-in-law, Vedant Malik.
No, I am just helping them in the screenplay of the script that they have got. I am not launching him nor am I in any zone to make a film.
I am currently very busy with my books. Also, when I gave lectures I could see myself connect to a lot of people. My thinking and my argument got polished. It opened a new facet in my life. Maybe if someone can translate my book into a fictional film I would like to share it in a different medium.
I have great respect for Rajkumar Hirani. He is an amazing filmmaker. He might be able to understand my book. I remember during the 3 Idiots premier, he came up to me and asked me why I was not making films. I told him I'll direct a film if he writes it and I really meant it.
He was really excited and immediately told Aamir who was present. If someone capable can convert my book into a good script, I will surely make a film.
Image: Genelia D'Souza and Imran Khan in Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na