By refusing to follow the pack and remain politically correct, Aamir Khan has paid a price.
A fascinating excerpt from Shobhaa De's new book, Insatiable.
My feelings about Bollywood and actors are ... are ... mixed, at best. But I have always liked Mr Perfectionist, Aamir Khan.
He is pretty radical in the choices (professional and personal) he has made and I appreciate his guts.
We are not 'friends'. (Friendship is a big word. Friendship and showbiz make strange bedfellows.)
However, when we do meet, I enjoy talking to him.
He reads a lot, is interested in several subjects beyond Bollywood, and he gets into a great deal of trouble.
To me, that is the best part. By refusing to follow the pack and remain politically correct, Aamir Khan has paid a price, His last film (Laal Singh Chaddha, 2022) was targeted by those who disapprove of his views, and the knives are frequently out for the man who holds on to his way of thinking regardless of the outcome. Aamir Khan is his own man.
So, when Mr Perfectionist sends me a message inviting two far-from-perfect people (me and Mr De) to dinner at his Pali Hill home, I am game.
Of course! Yes! We both like Aamir Khan and adore his ex, Kiran Rao.
The last time we met Aamir was at the launch of Jolie's the posh, members-only club launched by Aryaman Birla, the handsome cricketer-turned-businessman son of Kumar Mangalam and Neerja Birla.
It was fashionably dark on the lawns that evening and the music was pumping.
We couldn't really talk ... Aamir, who was with his daughter Ira, said he had to rush home to help his son Azaad with his homework, being a single parent now. I was impressed.
Earlier, he had spontaneously come to our home to a dinner in honour of Amitav Ghosh (they are good friends) after a book launch at which I had been in conversation with the erudite Ghosh.
I like people who don't have hang ups and childish ego issues about 'not being invited formally, so how can I possibly come?' Aamir is not one of them.
We met at the end of the well-attended event and I asked Aamir about his dinner plans.
He candidly said he had none. 'Come have dinner with us at home,' I had suggested. And he did.
At our residence, he ate and drank heartily, posed with the staff sportingly and behaved like a 'normal' guy -- not a Bollywood superstar.
This time we were going to his home.
Driving to Bandra, we got hopelessly lost, being 'townies' with zero idea of what happens across the Sea Link.
Disgraceful! After a great deal of discussion, we'd decided to take a fresh strawberry cake with us, and not a predictable bottle of wine.
Azaad would be there, Aamir had said, and possibly, Kiran too, who'd join us if she was free. Great. It's a zero-agenda meeting. No matlab. No occasion. No reason. Just!
Unlike other very grand, noisily glitzy, overtly ostentatious homes of his contemporaries, Aamir continues to live in the same building in which he grew up.
He now owns most of it. But, like he said simply, 'I like my family to live close to me my first wife and our two children reside down the road; Kiran has the floor above and is in and out of this home, where I live with Azaad. My mother lives on another floor...'
Just then his son Junaid joins us and offers to fetch drinks.
Aamir lights up a Sherlock Holmes type pipe, asks for a can of Coke and mixes himself a tall drink with dark rum.
Azaad is frighteningly articulate and bright, and Aamir talks to him like an equal.
At some point, Kiran walks in and reminds Aamir about a screening in the theatre downstairs. But first -- the feast!
Here's a family that takes its food seriously-- shabaash! Kiran supervises the arrangements as the staff brings out degchis and platters from the kitchen with piping hot ghar ka khaana.
The enticing aromas of exotic spices make me forget all the smart and brilliant things I have planned to share this evening -- who knows when Aamir might invite us again? His mother's biryani with a secret ingredient is discussed at length.
So is an unusual vegetarian house specialty with mushy potatoes slow cooked in pure ghee. Kebabs? Oh, the many and wondrous versions! Parochialism is in full play as Kiran and Mr De converse animatedly in Bangla while extolling the virtues of rolls from Kolkata's Nizam's Restaurant.
The meal has been meticulously planned by Aamir, down to the rich sheera studded with dry fruits.
The dishes travel around the table on a lazy Susan as we adopt a fikar-not attitude and tuck in unselfconsciously.
Nothing else matters but the tastes dancing on our tongues.
It's time to cut the cake before Azaad goes to bed.
Azaad instantly transforms into a little boy at the sight of the fresh strawberries, while Kiran cuts a slice for him and reminds Aamir once again that his crew is waiting in the theatre downstairs.
Definitely not the right moment to make an impressive-sounding statement about movies I have not seen.
We have discussed books, family, food and the brilliant Dr Rajesh Parikh, India's first neuropsychiatrist -- a mutual friend. It's a good note to part on before Kiran once again ... Never mind...
This edited excerpt from Insatiable by Shobhaa De has been used with the kind permission of the publishers, HarperCollins India.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com