In his just over four-year career in the industry, people have wondered about actor Imran Khan. His debut film, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) made audiences and critics alike position him, together with Ranbir Kapoor, as a potential successor to today’s Bollywood’s superstars. But somehow, he never quite seemed to live up to that expectation.
That seems set to change this year, when a slew of movies he stars in will release, including those by filmmakers such as Karan Johar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Milan Luthria and Tigmanshu Dhulia. With a wide variety of roles that explore his talent, the good-looking young man stands revealed as a person with a silently-controlled ambition. And as we spend time with him during this exclusive interview at a suburban five-star hotel, we find ourselves pretty impressed with Imran. He’s your boy next door who enjoys stardom, but is pretty sorted in his head. Read on to learn his thoughts on his career, marriage, frustrations, Ranbir Kapoor, filmmaker Mansoor Khan (his uncle) and reviving the legendary Nasir Hussain banner.
What are your plans for 2013?
It’s an interesting year for me. I am enjoying my work. For the first time, I will be supported by big directors as well. Every success I have had so far was given to me by a new guy, who had just begun his career too. I see tremendous benefits in working with high-profile directors. They lend you a lot of confidence with their experience. They shape and guide you.
Are you planning to revive your grandfather Nasir Hussain’s banner?
The banner has been silent since 2000. Nana (Nasir Hussain) passed away and my mama Mansoor Khan (director of movies like Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar; 1992 and Josh; 2000) is not looking into production anymore. There was a time when it was considered a privilege to work in a Nasir Hussain movie. It has a legacy of rich films. I think it would be a tragedy to let it all slip away. Look at Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar — how remarkably they have carried forward their fathers’ legacies. I want to do that for my grandfather. What he has done for our family and the industry is immeasurable.
Is directing also on your agenda?
Certainly, at some point in the future. That was what I had always wanted to do. Right now, I am discovering myself as an actor. I think, for a long time, I didn’t see myself as one. But with Vishal Bhardwaj’s film Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, I have properly seen myself as an actor for the first time. And that’s my focus now.
What’s your equation with Ranbir Kapoor?
Ranbir and I never knew each other even before we came into the industry. We met here. And someone just decided that we were best friends! We are not. He’s a cool guy with whom I can have a proper conversation. I am happy when I meet him. The equation has always been like this. It’s only in the last couple of years that we have got to know each other better. When reports about our falling out emerged in the papers, we called each other up and sorted it out man to man.
Both of you were touted as the next big thing in Bollywood, but Ranbir moved a little ahead of you. Why do you think that happened?
I signed too many films, actually. I did Kidnap (2008) and Luck (2010) very early in my career. These were shot before Jaane Tu... was released. And when you are not in a position of stardom, the offers you get are different than the ones that come after success.
So at that time, I chose films from among whatever was offered to me, and they didn’t work. Anyway, I find it a little strange that films I did four years ago, and which were not successful, are still talked about. Nobody else’s flops are discussed as much as mine are, and nobody talks about the last six successful films that I delivered — Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012), Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011), Delhi Belly (2011), I Hate Luv Storys (2010) and so on.
What are your best memories of your career so far?
My debut movie Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) had the most emotional impact on me. When I signed it in 2006, Jhamu Sugandh was the producer, and he was also simultaneously producing Johnny Gaddaar (2007) and Gulaal (2009). Jhamu ran into financial problems and all three films were stalled. Abbas Tyrewala, my director and I were left in the lurch and we were desperately looking for a producer to bail out the film.
Why didn’t you approach your uncle Aamir Khan? He is also a producer.
That’s another story. I thought Aamir, who was making big and major movies like Lagaan (2001) and Taare Zameen Par (2007) wouldn’t be interested in the rom-com space. But Aamir was doing Rang De Basanti (2006) with UTV and I happened to see the promos of it and thought these guys must be a cool young bunch like us. So I asked Aamir to introduce us to someone at UTV. He asked why. I told him our sad story and Aamir said, ‘Why? I am also a producer. And as a producer, I want to make good films that make money’. So he agreed to produce it and asked us to meet him after three months. After three months, we went to him again. After two hours of listening to the script and watching the CD we’d prepared of the songs, he looked at us and said, ‘Okay, I will produce it’. Abbas and I almost jumped with joy. And then he said, ‘Wait, I will do it after a year!’ He was making Taare Zameen Par then. So we sat for another year. It was a long journey that Abbas and I took. The movie released in 2008.
Such a long journey!
Looking at the kind of adversity that we overcame, it was a big thing for me. After that I settled into some kind of rhythm. I never got depressed by failure or excited by success. Essentially, I got onto an even keel. You react much more emotionally in your first endeavour.
Why has a brilliant director like Mansoor Khan given up on the industry? Is he disillusioned?
He never thought about the industry so highly as to let himself be disillusioned by it. Every film he made was from the heart and today he has no more stories to tell. He has given up filmmaking and taken to farming, and trust me, I have never seen him so happy.
What’s your personal life like? Is your wife Avantika interested in your work?
My family and friends are removed from my work. When the work is done, I need to have some time with them to recharge my batteries. They are the ones who nourish me and keep me sane. As a policy, I never take calls on a Sunday and after 10 pm every day. Aamir had a pager for many years. He didn’t have a mobile, because he felt life moved too fast. I see value in this.
I have no reservations about kissing. As an actor, you cannot have any. But it’s terribly weird. When you are doing a kissing scene, it’s weird because you do not know her that well. Normally when you kiss someone you love, it’s romantic, special and sexual. It is something you do with your wife or girlfriend.
Do you miss living a ‘normal’ life?
I lived in a gurukul in south India with only about 20 people around me. It’s about three hours away from Ooty. We had kerosene lamps in place of electricity. We got water from streams, grew vegetables, plucked them and cooked them. We mopped the floors and washed utensils and clothes. So I am not used to the normal life.
You don’t seem to be the regular flamboyant Bollywood hero.
When I was about 19 years old, the industry was very different. Hrithik Roshan had just made his debut and set a benchmark in terms of looks, acting, dance and performance. It appeared to be the height of the filmi period — everything was larger than life, exaggerated. And none of it was me. The flamboyancy, machogiri and herogiri that usually surround a hero don’t work for me and don’t come naturally to me. I always felt awkward about it. I have always seen myself as a character, never a hero. My instinct has always been to blend in seamlessly. How can I make my character part of the ensemble, is what I always think.
Have you ever travelled by public transport?
For a long time, that was the only way I travelled. I got a cell phone when I was 21 years old and was the last among my friends to get a car. And that’s how I wooed Avantika. When we started dating, she had the car, cell phone, and money. I got less than half the pocket money she got. I would take a rickshaw to her house and then we’d take her car which she would drive because I didn’t know how to drive. I do miss my earlier life.
What are your views on marriage, considering that your parents are divorced?
It’s a personal choice. I think it works for some people and it doesn’t work for some. I know a lot of people who do not believe and place no value in marriage. That’s correct for them. For Avantika and me, it’s the correct choice as it was a natural progression of our love. It’s working for us and I like it.
You married quite early by today’s standards. Didn’t you fear losing your poster boy image?
I don’t know why I have become a poster boy for young marriage. And why should there be fear? I was 28 when I got married. Aamir was 21, Shah Rukh Khan was about 22, and Hrithik was 24/25 when they married. It’s a misconception that marriage has any impact on your star status. The biggest stars of our country were married when they started out. The only thing that impacts your stardom is good work. People want value for money. They are not interested in your link-ups or marriages.
Every hero attracts attention. Actors are inherently attention-seekers, don’t you think?
I agree. There’s an inherent tendency in actors to seek attention, which is why they are actors or public personalities. But I am talking about myself when I say I prefer my character in the film to come out more strongly than my personality.
We’ve heard that you and Salman Khan have a mutual admiration society.
Salman is endlessly watchable and everything about him is damn fascinating! I have been his fan for years. If he stands in a particular style, I go, ‘wow’. When he drives, I watch fascinated. His charisma is unparalleled. He himself says he is not an actor, and that’s the best part. I also like a couple of young talents like Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor. They are so fearless and bold. I think this is the best time for the film industry.
Some critics feel you have a permanent deadpan expression on your face when you act.
Lots of people have told me this and that’s fine. It’s a general sense in Indian movies that unless your acting is ‘seen’, you are not acting. The more ‘nautanki’ you do, the better an actor you are. The drama has to be over the top. Indians love hamming. You have to watch television shows to believe it. They talk to you as though you are a retard. The volume of their voices is also very unattractive to me. Such loud acting, whether it’s on TV shows or in movies, makes me feel that the actors are reaching out of the screen and shaking and slapping me to make me pay attention. If you are doing something interesting, I’ll pay attention anyway. Such acting is not my forte. I would rather convey things subtly. You should be drawn into my world and I should blend into yours. When I crack a joke, nine out of 10 people do not understand. My jokes are very deadpan. For better or worse, this is how I am and who I am. Some will like it and some may not.
You resemble the Twilight star Robert Pattinson. Would you ever do an Indian vampire movie?
Everyone says I look like him. But I don’t know if in India blood-sucker vampires would be considered attractive or sexy the way they are in the West. Here we don’t have a high regard for horror films. Any kind of horror space is given to villains. I don’t know if an Indian Twilight would work here. The audiences here will be like, ‘Hero khoon peeta hai’ (the hero is drinking blood). Our culture and cinematic language are different. However big Twilight is, it cannot compete with a big Hindi film. ‘It’s remarkable that in so many years, Aamir has managed to underplay himself and iconise his characters in his movies. I greatly admire that in him.'