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June 3, 1998


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Of Earth and a star

Aamir Khan.
At 33, Aamir Khan has an oeuvre of varied roles to his credit. True, not all of them have set the box-office on fire, but at the end of the day, despite those chocolate looks that could have trapped him, he is not frustrated like Rishi Kapoor, playing the eternal lover boy.

Flying in the face of Bollywood convention, he plays a flashy ice candy man, Dilnawaz, in Earth.

It was eight in the morning when Alpana Chaudhary met Aamir Khan. By then, the actor had already put in three hours of work on Ghulam. Waking up well before dawn, he had reported for dubbing at 5 am. Hectic finishing touches were being given to Ghulam since it is due for release next fortnight.

What had Deepa Mehta seen of you as an actor that she thought of you for the little role in the film based on Bapsi Sidhwa's novel?

Surprisingly, she had seen quite a few of my films -- Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander, Andaz Apna Apna, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Rangeela...

Did you read the novel before deciding to accept her offer?

Initially, I didn't have the dates she required, so I didn't go through the exercise of reading the script or the novel. Later, when her schedule was changed, and her co-producer Jhamu Sugandh approached me again I fortunately had 20 days I could allot to her film. Yes, after that I did read the novel and the excellent adaptation Deepa has done of it for the screen. It's very powerful, and sensitive at the same time.

I liked my role very much. It has amazing graph, that of the transformation of an innocent, lowly but charming rogue faced with the atrocities of Partition. Being an average human being, he is shaken to his roots and loses all control over his actions.

I have a dialogue that gives you an insight to his behaviour and which goes something like this, "It's nor a question of Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. All of us are like caged beasts waiting for the cage to open. And when that happens only God is the Maalik!" It's not a role you interpret in absolute black and white terms.

A still from Earth.
Also, I liked Deepa's earlier film Fire very much. Deepa and I had a couple of long meetings when I think both of us decided we'd like to work with each other.

This is the first time you worked with a woman director. Did you find any difference?

Every director works differently, every director has his/her own style, own strengths. Deepa, too, has her own way of working, not because she's a woman but because she's a different person and has her own taste and sensibility. It was a very satisfying experience working with her because she's very talented.

She's got strong leadership qualities and she's very clear about what she wants. One of her strengths as a director is her capability to write. She's written the script and it's almost like an integral part of her.

So when you have a discussion with her, she understands exactly what you are saying. She has all the answers. And I mean all. She tells you why she likes what you are saying and why not if she doesn't. She's extremely sharp and focused.

And I found her quite amazing, the way she extracts performances...

That's because she is very clear about her story and is not extracting performances for a pre-conceived commercial goal...

Whatever the reasons... I may be very clear -- there's nothing wrong with commercial reasons. My other directors are also very clear about what they want from their films. Clarity is there in a number of directors like Mansoor Khan, Raj Kumar Santoshi, Dharmesh Darshan, Inder Kumar. But Deepa has a very unique way of looking at moments, so the details of the performances are worked out. She layers the performances...

Aamir Khan in Ghulam. Click for bigger pic!
It must have been very satisfying completing your work for an entire film in just 20 days and working with a unit whose members have worked out all the details very carefully.

It was very satisfying. The whole film was wrapped up in 40 days. We had an international unit comprising British, American, German, French and Indian members. Aradhana Seth, who did the production designing, was very good. Incidentally, she is Vikram Seth's sister. Giles from the UK was the cameraman. Since he used cameras that were silent, we could do sync-sound even though we shot a major portion of the film in public places. Since the whirring of cameras didn't intrude on our dialogues we didn't have to dub then again at recording studios. This not only saves on time, it also enables you to retain the graph of the emotions.

In all other respects, the equipment we use in Bombay is the same. I don't know why nobody has thought of using silent cameras here. Now I keep recommending it to all my producers and directors because you definitely lose out or something trying to match your voice in an impersonal dubbing studio with the way you expressed yourself before the camera.

But do you require more re-takes when shooting with sync-sound in public places?

Occasionally, if a very loud sound overlaps on somebody's dialogue you do another take.

On the whole, does Deepa ask for a lot of re-takes?

The ratio, I would say was one to five, which is very good.

Normally, over here, in mainstream Hindi films, you ask for more, don't you?

Aamir Khan
I don't think so.

Some of your co-stars say you tend to ask for more takes.

Co-stars say a lot of things. I feel a lot of actors here are extremely lazy and they resent it when a director asks for another take. Their attitude is to finish their job fast and leave. Such people will feel I ask for more takes than others. An actor is entitled to ask for another take if he's not happy with what he has given. I would do so even with Deepa if I felt it was necessary. If she had felt she had got what she wanted, she'd say it wasn't necessary. And I wouldn't insist on it any more.

The number of takes really depends on the director. Some like to take more, some are satisfied with less. I've worked with all kinds. Ramu (Ram Gopal Verma) used to ask for very few takes for Rangeela. So if you feel that, as a performer, I warm up late, my performance in Rangeela should have been bad.

Well, They don't put it quite as rudely as that. They call you a perfectionist who improves with every re-take unlike some others who give their best in their first take.

I've given my best in my first take very often. The entire courtroom scene is Akele Hum Akele Tum was done in one take. So the number of takes is not important. What is important is to get what the film requires, what the director requires. Whether you achieve it in one or 10 takes is immaterial. I functioned on Deepa's sets very much the same way as I do on my other directors' sets.

Would you say that Deepa able to complete an entire film in just 40 days because all her crew members knew their jobs?

I don't think we are that bad here. A lot of people know their jobs in Bombay as well. The people I work with here are of an international standard. The only difference I found was that her unit was more organised and the percentage of people who were committed to the film was higher. This was not because it had foreign members. It was because of the director. A director chooses his/her team and the level of commitment depends on how he/she infuses excitement in each person. Dharmesh (Darshan) too, really charges everybody with enthusiasm.

Then why do films here take so long to be completed?

Because they are three-hour films. Deepa's is a one-hour, 50 minutes film. Then, our format is different. Shooting song and stunt sequences take much longer. Normally, we have six songs in every film. Even Hollywood films like Titanic and Apocalypse Now took must longer to shoot than the regular one-and-a-half hours because of the action scenes.

But you do seem to be very stimulated after your 20-day stint in Earth.

Yes, I am. Interacting with minds you have never worked with before is always very refreshing. I've always learnt something new whenever I've worked with a new director. The inputs one gets are different, so one is provoked differently, stimulated differently. This is always refreshing.

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