He would rather be a creative person than a "businessman", he says, yet, Aamir Khan is one actor who manages to set cash registers ringing at the box office with almost all his films.
As he gears up to step into the shoes of a wrestler for his next film Dangal, the actor talks about the importance of quality over quantity, and how he doesn’t make money unless the film does well.
Your last film made over Rs 300 crore. Does that lead to the pressure of matching the same figure every time you release a film?
I don’t feel the pressure. If I start thinking, "After PK (2014), I should do a film which will make Rs 400 crore", then my choices will become limited, and I will only do those films that I know will make that kind of money. In my next, I am playing a 50-plus character, who has white hair and a beard, and I have put on a lot of weight for that. Will such a film make Rs 400 crore on the face of it? If I love the story, I will do it regardless of how many crores it will make. The moment a creative person starts selecting a film based on economics, he becomes a businessman; and then he does bad work.
So, how do you ensure quality work and box-office success?
I don’t want to satisfy my creative instincts on the basis of someone else’s money. I want to do work that makes me happy, but also work that doesn’t drown other people’s money. So, in effect, I do work that I want to do, but I don’t charge for it. When I do a film, I don’t charge a fee. What it does is that it immediately takes away the weight or pressure of signing a big star.
How has this worked for you?
Street performers don’t have a ticket price (for their shows). They simply perform and after the end of the performance, they come to you with their hats. If you like the performance, you put in some money, and if you don’t, you simply leave. I am like a street performer. I do a film for which I don’t charge anything. If the film is good, people will come to the theatres and pay money for the tickets, making the film a success. And then, I will charge from the box-office earnings as per how the film has done economically. If the film doesn’t do well, I don’t get my share.
Aamir Khan says he charges from the box-office earnings, as per how the film has performed at the ticket windows.
What factors do you look for before signing a film?
I make sure that I’m not irresponsible. Whatever I choose, I try and make it economically viable for the producers, and I also have a responsibility towards my audience. They must enjoy and feel enriched after watching the film.
Was the film trade ever wary of your ‘different’ choices?
When I started making these so-called unusual choices, the market did look at me with a lot of suspicion. But I didn’t mind that, because I knew I had to deliver, and only then would they develop confidence in me. And that comes from a deep-seated understanding of what a producer goes through, because I saw my father; he was a producer and he lost money. I know what it is like to lose money.
But producers have hardly lost money on your films?
Yes, the producers might not have, but I have. I don’t want producers to face the brunt. I don’t believe in saying things like, "I have taken my Rs 50 crore. If there’s a loss, it’s yours to deal with." That’s not my philosophy. If I haven’t done a good job, I won’t get anything. If you are working with me, you must get something from me; and it shouldn’t be the other way around. If a producer, who works with me, doesn’t earn, then what is my value? People must earn through me; even the audience must feel that they have got their ticket money’s worth.
Seems like now you have mastered the formula of a ‘successful’ film...
We say such things in retrospect. When we look at the past 15 years, and realise that an actor hasn’t delivered a flop, we feel like he knows the tricks of the trade. But for me, every decision has been an individual one, and each film is a unique project.