Bollywood actor Aamir Khan spoke candidly to South African journalists from Mumbai about his accidental debut as director in his latest film, Taare Zameen Par, which opens worldwide this Friday, and his views on educating children today.
Explaining his role as an unconventional teacher who helps change the life of a child with academic problems, Aamir said the film does reflect on traditional teaching methods and their efficacy or otherwise.
"It's about a kid who has a passion for painting but faces a lot of difficulty in his academic life. It's a story about his life and his relationship with his art teacher, which is the role that I play, by changing his life through caring and understanding. That is the key message of the film - that with caring and love you can actually do a lot," Aamir said.
"The film is also saying that each of us has got strengths and each of us has got weaknesses - children, adults, everyone. With love and care you can address any weakness and it is our duty to encourage kids in what is their passion and what they love doing to help them to grow," the actor said.
Promos and trailers at cinemas in South Africa show his character doing some rather unconventional things for a teacher, like jumping on the table and shaking his rear at the kids as if to tell them "Get rid of these stereotypes about people".
<b1>Asked about this, Aamir said: "I think my character is very open-minded as a teacher. He doesn't believe in the rigid authority of what is conventional education.
"What the film is also trying to say is that there is a multitude of talents in all of us and reading and writing are only two of them. There is singing, there is art, there is painting, there is callisthenics and there is sport.
"When teaching children, it's very important that kids enjoy what they are doing, and that's when they learn best because it's exciting for them. It's our responsibility to make it exciting for kids."
The actor explained how he took over the reins as director.
"About a week into the shooting I was not very happy and Amole Gupte (who wrote the script and was directing the film) and I had a meeting and I expressed my reservations.
"Obviously we realised that we had creative differences, so I offered to him that I would back off. Gupte gave it some thought and both of us decided that perhaps I should take over the responsibility."
Aamir conceded that acting and directing together for the first time was a bit of a challenge.
"It is challenging and comes with its own demands so I did the best that I could. I think I'm quite happy with the way the film has turned out.
<b2>"While it was tough to do both things, it's not something that has not been done before. There are some great examples before us - Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Guru Dutt, Charlie Chaplin. You know a lot of them have acted and directed at the same time."
Commenting on rumours that he may be seen on screen with Amitabh Bachchan and Salman Khan soon, and also on Madhuri Dixit's comment that he was the actor she would most want to act with again now that she has made a comeback after motherhood, Aamir said: "Madhuri is a wonderful co-star. I've really enjoyed working with her and if and when the opportunity comes up again, I'd love to repeat that.
"Again, I'm a big fan of Amitji and if I ever get the chance to work with him it will be my good fortune. Salman is a friend and I think we had a great time doing Andaaz Apna Apna, so while there is nothing definite on the cards with any of these three, if it does happen, I'd be happy."