He reinvented romance with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and gave us one of the best romantic pairs in Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla.
And then, after directing four films, Mansoor Khan vanished. He left Bollywood for the solitude of Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. And now, after almost a decade of country living, Khan is back. Not with a film, but an economics book, The Third Curve – The End Of Growth As We Know It, which questions our concept of growth.
We caught up with him for a chat at Nom Nom at the Ashok Hotel in Delhi over spicy Chinese.
You are producer-director Nasir Hussain’s son. What made you decide to study engineering?
My father was a legendary filmmaker, but he was also a very private man. He was very low key. He used to throw one party every year on his birthday when all the bigwigs – Javed Saab, RD Burman, Shammi Kapoor (I used to call him Shammi uncle), Sachin Bhowmick and others – would come home. I’d go around with my autograph book. But more than films, gadgets interested me. I wanted to make things, I liked tinkering. After some time, my interest moved from simple electrical things like microphones to wanting to bug every room in the house! I was also into amplifiers and ham radio (amateur radio). I liked spying on things as I was quite influenced by Enid Blyton and the Famous Five books. And even though I’d play the piano and drums, compose and write music, I was not into the filmi side of it. Though music did turn out to be one of the motivating factors behind making movies.
From IIT Bombay to Boston’s MIT to making one of the biggest love stories of its time, you’ve done it all…
Not many know that I opted out of engineering after one-and-a-half years at IIT, two years at Cornell and one year at MIT. At MIT, I realised that I didn’t want to do this as a career. I stopped going to class but I picked up two things: sailing and drumming. Sailing became a big part of my life. I wanted to live on a boat and go cruising. I even did a 36-day journey from Taiwan to India. The four of us on the boat did deep-sea navigation – that was my life for many years. I really wanted to live near the sea. But life had different plans for me.
My father had a bypass surgery. He couldn’t take the stress of making films. He made two more films after Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981), but they didn’t do too well and he was disappointed. He had managed to surpass expectations every time, but this time... This was the one thing I was always wary of – chasing your shadow. When people get popular, they become victims of their own image. But very few can handle it. I’m very shy and I was scared after I saw what happened to my dad. I was also very sensitive to the fact that a person can be so badly jolted by a so-called failure that it completely undermines his belief in himself. Though, of course, my dad regained that with Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT, 1988). It was his vision. I contributed to the screenwriting but in the end it was his love story.
How do you feel about the way Aamir’s career has shaped up? Are you a perfectionist too?
Aamir is six-seven years younger than I am. At one time, he used to be very influenced by me. Today, I’m influenced by all the things he is doing. Aamir was absolutely clear about coming into films right from the beginning. He is a deep thinker, has a wider sensibility and is actually the true successor to my dad. And Imran, my sister Nuzhat’s son, is a true successor to Aamir. Imran is extremely intelligent and is very passionate about cinema. He is actually a surprise. He was quite an angrez – he didn’t know much Hindi but he was never camera shy. He’ll definitely make films sometime. These are the guys who are carrying the legacy forward.
While Aamir is a perfectionist, I’m not at all like that. I’m obsessive but not a perfectionist. To be honest, I’m quite random. My dad always used to say ‘You are a jack of all trades but master of none’. All my life, I have only chosen things that turn me on. Like my book. I have worked on it for years, not to make money (you can’t make money with a non-fiction book like this), but because I feel so strongly about the subject matter.
So what was the thought behind The Third Curve?
The research for this book started in 1991 when I was all set to fulfill my dream of living on the land I’d bought in Mandwa. But before I could realise my dream, I was told that I had to give away that land to the government to build an airport there. I decided to fight back and get to the truth behind this and went through this whole journey of learning and probing, of discovery, of anxiety, of soul-searching. And then I realised this whole concept of greater common need, how common people have to sacrifice for the pleasure of a few. I was a rich guy, but what about people who can’t afford it? And from there I got the idea about this book. The book is about how our belief that money can grow is false. Every aspect of our life is based on the concept of growth. But it is insane to assume that we can have limitless growth with our limited resources. There is a peak point for everything; even our body reaches a peak point before it slumps. There comes a point when the growth has to come down. This is what I call the third curve. You cannot chase this curve.
This is not a moral book, it’s not about greed or ecology. It is about energy accounting. We have to realise that we need to simplify things at some point. One reason why the last recession in 2008 didn’t affect India so much was because we hadn’t opened our markets then. The RBI had not allowed us to be exposed, which was a very good thing.
Is that why you decided to give it all up and move to Coonoor?
Moving to Coonoor was a very planned decision. My parents had a house and I used to feel at peace there. I intuitively knew that I wanted to live there. After I made Josh (2000), I finally decided to move. But the decision had nothing to do with Josh at all. It is a classic media way of looking at things. Josh didn’t do well because I didn’t make it nicely. I take full responsibility for it.
When my parents were no more, something happened. I just got into the car with my dog and computer and lived there alone for a year. In fact, that was my healing. Then in 2003, after my wife Tina was convinced about my decision, we moved lock, stock and barrel. I really wanted my kids to experience this life, something they would treasure their entire life. I bought more land and we started with our farm, making cheese (Gouda, Parmesan and Cheddar), bread, soaps and even gobar gas. Now we have farmstays. This is the life I have always dreamt of living. I have absolutely no interest in glamour or in the fact that people should know me.
Are you in touch with your family?
My immediate family is my sister Nuzhat who I’m in touch with. I don’t usually intrude too much into Aamir’s life as he is very busy. I interact with him regularly though. Imran of late has been in touch with me as he wants me to be involved in some scripts he’s working on. I just do that for the structural part. I don’t do the scenes.
Life on my Coonoor Farm
My day begins early, especially if we have guests staying with us.
Tina, my wife, conducts classes on cheesemaking in the morning, while I tell guests about making bread or even soaps, something I’ve started doing recently after learning from the Net.
We occasionally go into town where we have a few friends. We also go to the Coonoor Club with them, but only once in a while.
Now that our two kids are away, Tina and I have more time and we plan to start going away from the farm for small breaks of our own.
I definitely need my afternoon nap, though it may not necessarily happen in the afternoon.
I’m very interested in the Internet and have been designing my own website. Evenings are usually spent surfing the Net.
Though I’m not very regular with watching movies, I really liked Chennai Express. And I love all of Aamir’s movies.
From HT Brunch, October 20
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