Your contemporaries —
Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan —give quotes that make for great headlines or stay in the news. You are considered boring,
almost like Pete Sampras, when the media and public prefer a John McEnroe. Do you feel you’ve taken yourself too seriously as an artiste and a public figure?
You’re right. I’ve changed a bit only in the last four years. I used to be very closed, and took myself and life too seriously, perhaps.(Smiles) Pichhle 4-5 saalon mein thoda sudhar gaya hoon.
How did that happen?
One of the reasons for the turnaround is Kiran (wife, Kiran Rao). She’s an important influence in my life. Her personality is infectious. She has managed to bring out certain hidden traits to my personality. She’s a happy and effervescent person. Probably, that has changed me. Besides, I’ve also matured a bit. I’m less harsh on others and myself.
The good side to the way you’ve been in the past 20 years is that this country has seen a mainstream star, who’s also a normal human being — One who goes to a Roger Walters concert, hangs out at a film festival with a bag, watching movies. What makes you different from the other stars considering you’ve grown up in the industry.
I don’t take my stardom seriously. Yes, I’m aware of it and happy that people like my work and me. But I don’t have the trappings of a star. I don’t shut myself off. I’m curious about the people I meet and the goings-on in their lives. I want to know their thought processes and what their issues are. That helps me to stay rooted.
It’s tricky being a star because one is given so much importance that one really starts believing in it. Before Qayamat Se QayamatTak, I used to play cricket in my building every day and I would get shouted at — ‘You can’t play before 4 pm, everyone is sleeping.’ If someone’s windowpane would break, then people would scream, ‘Kaanch tod diya!’ If I would request someone, ‘Uncle, could you please move your car, we want to play,’ I would get cold looks.
When Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak released and I became a star, those same people would say, ‘Beta, kaanch toot gaya, toh no problem.’ The watchman, who wouldn’t let me play earlier, would say, ‘Khelo, khelo, koi tension nahin hai.’
A person doesn’t change when he or she becomes a star. It’s the people around you who change. They treat you differently.
If you start taking that seriously, then you’ll think: "Zaahir hai, main aaya hoon, to sab log gaadi vaadi hatayenge.’ You assume that it’s a norm — Yaar, I’ve come down with my bat and no one has moved the cars! That becomes your attitude. So you ask, ‘Gaadi nahin hataya?’ then that guy will say, ‘Dekha, star ban gaya hai.’ That’s how it starts.
The other problem that arises when you become a star is you become the focus of everyone’s attention, be it at the airport or when you are travelling by car. It’s a natural human response which all stars like. The moment I make eye contact with people in an airport, I have to start communicating with them. So I normally keep my eyes down. Most stars do that, not because they are badly behaved.
If someone says, ‘Hi,’ I can’t ignore that person. But if I don’t respond then the person will think, ‘He didn’t respond. He’s a snob.’ Ek star kis kis ko jawab dega? This is a genuine problem that stars have to face. Wherever you go, everyone wants either a smile or an autograph from you... Or a photograph with you. That’s natural but it’s very tiring.
They are demanding on your time.
Yeah, it gets so tiring that most stars build (gesturing with his hands) a wall around themselves. I’ve consciously tried to break down that wall. But when I’m in an aircraft, I want to get to know the guy sitting next to me and have a meaningful conversation with him.There are so many issues you come with as a star, that if you want to remain sane, you have to interact with the common man.
I’m not excited about coming with an entourage, four cars etc.. Basically, I’m a shy person and slink into a corner. I don’t enjoy coming late. I find it embarrassing. If you make a late entry, people say, ‘Lo, aa gaya star.’ When I look at people like Sanju (Sanjay Dutt), Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan, I mean this in a positive way, I feel, ‘Haan, ab aaya star.’ I see myself as a normal guy, a laloo.
Is there a creative entrapment also, that movie stars go through. They cannot play characters because they have a Dilip Kumar or an Amitabh Bachchan in their heads.
That happens with time. You get trapped in your own image. I’ve seen that happen to many people. But one person in whom I haven’t seen that is Shammi Kapoor. He was the biggest star of his time and a charming personality. But he’s not bothered. Woh apne computer pe lage hue hain, doing other things. He doesn’t care about stardom and is not caught in its trap.
You’ve also been accused of being manipulative with the media. You talk only when your film is up for release. Otherwise, you don’t bother.
That is untrue. I’ve often been accused of this. If there’s one non-interfering actor, it’s me. A film with four costars, with a child star or even 11 other guys wouldn’t have been possible if I had the trappings of a star. Darsheel Safary wouldn’t have been more prominent, with me slightly out of focus, in the posters of Taare Zameen Pe. I don’t think like that.
Perhaps I’m the only star who doesn’t manipulate the media, who doesnt demand to see the list of questions beforehand. I’ve never told a media person, ‘Yaar, 3 Idiots is releasing. Ask me about the film only .’ They can ask me 10 questions on anything and I’ll answer them. But as a creative person, I do have the right to say, "Right now, I’m working and am not in the frame of mind to give interviews."
When I’m doing a film, I get into that space and often a lot of things become soft focus for me. Then, if you ask me for an interview, I’m not in the right frame of mind to give interviews.
Just before Rang De Basanti, the media was upset with me. Probably, it was because I didn’t ever call up a journalist and asked him or her to write something good about me, bitch about other stars or supplied them with stories.
Mediapersons were treated badly at your wedding to Kiran Rao.
When I was getting married to Kiran, the media wanted to speak to us and shoot the wedding. I didn’t have an ostentatious wedding. It was a private affair with just family and close friends. But hidden cameras were used and the mediapersons were trying to peep from all over. The more it happened, the more I went into a shell. And I started feeling, ‘Why are they attacking me? Why am I being persecuted like this?’
My successes are underplayed, my failures are exaggerated... Somewhere I felt I was being persecuted. So I kept defending myself… Apne aur media ke beech deewar khadi kar raha hoon. Ultimately, it reached a point when my PR came to me with a promotion plan for Rang De Basanti with the entire team. I agreed it was a great plan but there was one problem, I wasn’t doing a single interview. There was a nervous laughter in the room. They thought I was joking.
Then they realised that I was serious and wondered if I wouldn’t give interviews, who would? Because no one else in the film was a star. How were we supposed to communicate about our film? Why would they talk to anyone else? Wouldn’t the media get upset and angry with me? I told the team that they were already angry with me. Itne joote pade hain, do joote aur padenge to kya fark padega?
One of the reasons, I pointed out to them, the media always says that Aamir Khan humko use karta hai. Alright, if this is your allegation, then I shall not use you. Once and for all, I want to explain to the media that I’m not using them. Every other star is using you, ask yourself that question and you’ll get the answer.
Fanaa released and I didn’t do a single interview. It was the same even when two of my other films released. But all of them got outstanding openings and were commercial successes. But I wasn’t happy about it. The media is my only link with my audience.
Having a good relationship with them meant that I was doing something, which wasn’t good for me or my audience. I couldn’t understand main kya galat kar raha hoon ki mujhe itne joote pad rahen hain, itni gaaliyaan pad rahi hai. Did this mean I should do what other stars were doing?
Am I supposed to wine and dine people and make friends with them? Is that what I’m supposed to do to have a good relationship with the media?
So you didn’t think that the media is important?
No, I had realised an important thing. I’m of no use to the media. In the present times, everything is business. I’m bad business for the media because I don’t sell anything for them. I don’t go for their award functions, so why would they call me a star? If you say that Aamir Khan kamaal ka aadmi hai, then other stars will wonder, ‘Yaar, tu uski taarif kar raha hai. Woh toh aata hi nahin tere program mein.’
Businesswise, I’m doing nothing that makes any sense to media houses. So they thought yaar, isko Sanjeev Kumar bana do. He’s a good actor, but not a star. Isko thoda hatao yahaan se, aur kone mein rakho’.
But the fact of the matter is that if you look at numbers, Mangal Pandey, that was supposed to be my flop film, did a first week’s business that was more than the business of the hit films of that time. I can’t take names, but one so-called ‘hit’ film, in its entire run in Mumbai territory, did a business of Rs 6 crore. Another ‘hit’ film collected Rs 4.25 crore. The first week’s business of Mangal Pandey was Rs 6.5 crore. In its run in the Mumbai territory, it did a business of about 19 crore while that year’s supposed ‘biggest hit,’ had netted about Rs 13.5 crore. That’s about Rs 6 crore less. And at that time, Rs 6 crore was a considerable figure. That fact went unreported.
You could have put the point across to the producers and distributors so that they could have issued advertisements to announce its box-office collections.
I talked to them but they were chilled out about it. They said they would do it later. I even spoke to Aditya Chopra because Yash Raj Films was distributing Mangal Pandey. All the time, the film continued to be regarded a flop and was dubbed a loss maker, by a leading newspaper.
Yeah, you had sued them for using you to promote their awards function.
That happened later. They put my Mangal Pandey picture with a quote, ‘Even he fought for the black lady,’ which is their statuette. If I’m not attending any award function, how can they involve me in their publicity campaign? So I sent them a legal notice. They apologised.
A couple of your interviews appeared during Rang De Basanti and Fanaa. That means, eventually, you spoke to the media.
I did not. NDTV wanted us to take part in a discussion, during the pre-release promotion of Rang De Basanti. I reiterated that I wouldn’t do interviews. If you’ve watched the programme, you’ll notice that only the other participants in the discussion were asking us questions. Given my stand of not wanting to talk to the media, no one from that channel was allowed to ask me questions.
When actors achieve stardom, they move into bungalows. But you continue to live in an apartment. What do you do with all the money that you make from your films and endorsements?
I don’t have the trappings of a star. I’m a simple guy. I don’t have a fleet of cars at my disposal, just the two that I need.
I have invested my money wisely. My financial advisor, Bimal Parekh, is the only one who knows where my money is. I meet him for barely an hour or so every year when he gets me to sign the documents for taxation purpose. Even then, I’m always in a hurry to finish off the meeting. So, if there’s one guy who can take me to the cleaners, it’s him. I’ve also bought a couple of properties.
One of them is a bungalow in Panchgani that used to be Homi Adajania’s?
Yes, I loved it. So I expressed a desire to buy it. I got married to Kiran there. There’s a school nearby. Initially, even the students and teachers didn’t know that I had bought the place. Later, word got around and students started dropping in.
How much money do you make per film? You are said to be the highest paid star!
I can’t discuss money matters here. But I don’t do a film only for money. It varies from project to project and part of my remuneration comes from a stake in the profit. The share is finalised when I’m signing the movie.
In 1992, you had six releases including Aatank Hi Aatank, Love Love Love, Afsana Pyaar Ka, Daulat Ki Jung, Isi Ka Naam Zindagi and Jawani Zindabad. Any funny moments you can recall?
The problem with these films was they changed a lot during their journey from narration to completion. When the director would narrate a scene to me, he’d say, ‘Hum isko lavishly shoot karenge,’ and I’d think he would film abroad, when he’d be thinking of Khandala. And the final product usually turned out very differently from what I’d visualised at the start.
Most of them flopped and I was wondering who would give me work, when Mahesh Bhatt, whom I’d been desperate to work with, called me. I was thrilled till I heard the narration. With much trepidation, I told him that I didn’t like the script. We got talking about the kind of cinema I wanted to do. A year later, he gave me the script of It Happened One Night and asked for my feedback. That’s how I got to do my first movie with Bhatt saab. Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin proved to be a turning point in my career.
Andaaz Apna Apna has become a cult classic today but don’t you wish it had been a commercial success too?
Yes, at times, I wish it had fared better but the producer had some financial issues. Till about four days before the release, distributors were unsure if they’d get prints. On Wednesday, some stray publicity material came up at the theatres. Owing to lack of any publicity, the film didn’t get an opening. By Monday, it had been declared a flop and by the following Friday, it had been pulled out.
There has been talk about a sequel.
We all would like to make it some day. But only Rajkumar Santoshi can make the film and he has to come up with a script that’s as good as Andaaz Apna Apna.
Apparently, you weren’t too happy with co-actor Salman Khan’s unpunctual and easy-going ways during its making?
A lot has changed since then, abhi woh bhi thoda sudhar gaya hai. We have become close friends and it shouldn’t be difficult for us to work together if the script is good.