‘God is in the details’ | entertainment | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Jan 17, 2018-Wednesday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

‘God is in the details’

You are coming to see Aamir Khan because you like his work and you like him, but when you leave the theatre, it’s with the character he’s played.

entertainment Updated: Jan 06, 2010 20:20 IST

‘You are coming to see Aamir Khan because you like his work and you like him, but when you leave the theatre, it’s with the character he’s played’

Mainline Indians don’t go to see a film, they go to see a movie star. Like they go to see Shah Rukh Khan but not a Mohan Bhargav. Or Salman Khan – they don’t care what he’s doing, so long as he beats people to pulp.

You’re probably the only mainstream star who broke that and began to crack characters. So if someone goes to see Aamir Khan, there’s also someone who sees the film as different from your last film.
I know what you’re saying, but I’ll tweak it slightly. When people are coming to see my film, they don’t know the character yet. If I’m playing Rancho in 3 Idiots, they don’t know who Rancho is. I think they’re still coming to see Aamir Khan. But when they go away from the theatre, are they going away with Aamir Khan, or Rancho? I’d like them to go away with Rancho.

So when you come to see Lagaan, you take back Bhuvan. Right from Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin, wherever I went, people called me by my character’s name for the next three months after the film’s release. Raghu Jaitly after Dil Hai Ki… and so on. For me, that’s a big high, and a satisfaction that I’m able to convince you that I’m a three-dimensional character, and that’s what you’re left with. That’s been my attempt and I feel I’ve largely been successful and I’m really thrilled that I’m able to do that. You are coming to see Aamir Khan because you like his work and you like him, but when you leave the theatre, it’s with the character he’s played.

Ghajini, possibly the top-most grossing film, could in some ways be viewed as two parts. Part 1: Shah Rukh Khan serenades women, stretches his arms out. Part 2: Salman Khan takes his shirt off and beats to pulp the bad guys. Is that a post-fact analysis, or something you had really planned or thought of.
(Laughs) No, I had never thought anything like this. It never occurred to me at all. I don’t see it as two parts, but one story flitting between the past and the present. In the present, he’s a certain kind of a guy who’s just got murder on his mind. And each time he goes into the past, you realise that his life was something else. If you’ve seen Sanjay Singhania, and the way he behaves with the girl he loves in the past, the romantic, I don’t see Shah Rukh anywhere there. Do you?

But there was a parody of Shah Rukh Khan.
No. Remind me about it.

‘To make a fifth film after four have flopped challenges all logic.’

If I want a hit, then that’s the last thing I should be doing’ It is a formula film, you’d agree, as a film person. In the sense that you’re giving both; romance and action as a package, something that audiences in the ’80s and ’90s were so accustomed to. And you’re looking for that big hit in the hinterland, which it turned out to be.

It’s true that it turned out to be a hit, but the earlier part of the question is not true. My excitement in doing a film is not based on ‘Yaar, yeh film hit honewali hai, toh mujhe yeh karni hai.’ That’s not how I sign films. I had no idea whether Taare Zameen Par, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti would be successful either. All these films, on the face of it, were 90 per cent going to be disasters. They had barely 10 per cent chances of being successful.

Before Rang De Basanti, the story of Bhagat Singh and Azad had been made four times and all of them had turned out to be duds. To make a fifth film after four have flopped challenges all logic. If I want a hit, then that’s the last thing I should be doing.

At a time when people were shooting in Switzerland, wearing DKNY and half the language in films had become English, I was doing the exact opposite with Lagaan -- shooting in a small village in Kutch, wearing dhotis and bandis and talking in Avadhi. And it’s a film on sport and historically no film on sports had worked in India up till Lagaan. Javed (Akhtar) saab specifically called me home and said I shouldn’t make it. He told me that he cared for me, and this one’s a disaster. When I was making Taare Zameen Par, people asked me what Dyslexia was, and if I was making a documentary on it. If I wanted a hit, then that didn’t look like a hit either.

Ghajini may have flopped. Everyone I knew told me that you’ve made a South Indian film, it won’t run in the north’

But with Ghajini, you were looking at the masses. Come on, you didn’t make that film for critical acclaim, did you?

No. The first reason I do a film is because I have reacted to the story and it has engaged me in a particular way. Unless that happens, I don’t do it. When I saw the Tamil version of Ghajini, I was mesmerised by it. I loved it and found the screenplay to be very dramatic. When I saw the killing machine suddenly tied to a chair after the cop hits him from behind, and he finds a diary, I felt, ‘Arre, yeh toh kuchh alag hi aadmi hai. Accha, yeh iska history hai etc.’

After the diary gets over, as an audience, I’m wondering what happens next. When the cop finds another diary then I think that now I’ll know more about the killing machine’s history. But he gets up and hits the cop so hard, then his story is left there. The next time you see the cop, he’s locked in a cupboard, and the guy has also forgotten since he has short-term memory.

Later, he chases the cop, who’s the only guy who knows his story. But the cop meets with an accident, and dies. So I’m like, ‘Arre, yeh toh mar gaya. Ab aage kya hoga?’ Who’s going to tell the story now? I found the screenplay to be really solid.

If you think I did Ghajini because I knew it was going to be a hit, then you’re totally off the mark. I did it because I loved the film. But I had a problem with the climax and discussed it with the director (Murugadoss) before signing it. Even he agreed, and with the understanding that the climax needed to be worked upon, I signed the film.

Yes, it’s much more of a mainstream film than the others I’ve done, of course. So is Fanaa. But again, I did Fanaa because I reacted to it first. Some films are more mainstream and some are less. But I’m not doing a film because it’s mainstream, I’m doing it because I like it. That’s my bottom line.

Ghajini may have flopped. Everyone I knew told me that I’d made a South Indian film, it won’t run in the North. Now you explain that logic to me.
Even the reviews said that it’s a very violent film and ‘south types,’ so it won’t work in Hindi. I liked it, and wanted to do it. That it became a big hit is a separate issue.

When you saw the Tamil version of Ghajini, had you seen Memento before? Be honest.
No. But I did see it afterwards. When I met Murugadoss after watching Ghajini, I asked him how did he come about the story and he told me…

Sir, yeh hai DVD?
(Laughs) No, nothing like that! He said that he was in Chennai when someone told him about a film called Memento. His friend, who had seen the film, had told him the story. He said that he really liked it and within the next two days, he sat down and wrote the story based on what his friend had told him.

After writing the script, Murugadoss said he saw Memento and realised that it was different from what he had written. When you watch Memento and Ghajini, you will notice that the story and plot are totally different. What is similar is the concept of short-term memory loss. Even the way Memento is told — it goes backwards, Ghajini is very linear. We go into flashback and show you what had happened.

I had not seen Memento then and asked Murugadoss if Ghajini was a remake. He replied that he went about wanting to write what he had been told, but when he saw Memento, he realised that this was not what he had written. Then I saw Memento. And if someone had told me that he wanted to remake Memento, I would have said no. Because, one, I found (Christopher Nolan’s) Memento highly boring. You may have liked it since cinema is very subjective.

Two, I couldn’t understand the film. If someone tells me the story of Memento, I could offer him Rs 5 crore. It’s very difficult to figure the story of the film. The hero has short-term memory loss… his wife has died… No, someone killed his wife… Or had he killed his wife? At the end of it, you don’t even know if he had a wife. That’s how confusing I found Memento to be. For me, as an audience, it didn’t work.

Going back to your career, if one looks at three landmark films which would be turning point youth movies of their times, they would be Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dil Chahta Hai and Rang De Basanti. In their own ways, they define what youth stood for in spirit. All them starred you. Is there something that you know about the youth that marketers don’t? Their pitch to everything is youth, and you seem to always click.
Hmm... No. I don’t know anything special about the youth actually, I have to confess. Jo Jeeta… was completely a product of Mansoor’s (Khan) mind. It had nothing to do with me. Dil Chahta Hai was a product of Farhan’s (Akhtar) mind and it was entirely his story and vision. Similarly, Rang De Basanti was entirely Rensil (D’Silva) and (Rakesh) Mehra’s creation.

I became a part of these films and I’m fortunate that they came my way. I’ve nothing to do with creating them. So I can take no credit for understanding the young. ‘I’ve always found it difficult to explain how I work. Because most of the time, I’m doing things because I feel I should do them in a particular way. And often, I myself don’t know why I was doing that’

But you were the original choice for the material, at least to the extent that we can see it on screen. You played a schoolboy in Jo Jeeta… when you were 27!
It released in 1992… I’m just trying to be accurate… (thinking)… you’re right, I was 27. I was around 25-26 when it was shot, and 27 when it released.

You were 41 when Rang De Basanti released, and there you were a guy just out of college.
When did it release? 2006? Three years ago… Correct… I was 36-37 when I did Dil Chahta Hai. (Smiles) God is in the details.

When you enter such characters, is it hard to actually connect with the contemporary young, playing something you are not? Do you do anything in terms of preparation, to set the lingo, posture, manners right?
I’ve always found it difficult to explain how I work. Because most of the time, I’m doing things because I feel I should do them in a particular way. And often, I myself don’t know why I was doing what. If you were to ask me what I was thinking at that time, I wouldn’t know. I feel I do it, and I want to experience it. It’s like you asking your mom, ‘How did you make this dal, and when did you do what?’ She tells you that she made it, not telling you, “Kabhi chhounk dala etc.” You’re just experiencing it.

Did you ever hang out with the young at nightclubs to see how they talk, behave etc… because you might have to do a similar scene?
No, I didn’t. Now that you mention it, I should have. I’ll try and explain how it happens to me. When I listen to a script, I usually respond like this (snaps his fingers), over whether I like it or not. If I don’t like it, then never mind.

But if I like it, often, in the first hearing itself, the character sinks into my head. And I instinctively come to know who the character is. And then, everything that comes out of me thereafter comes out from the character. Am I making any sense?

You are possessed?
Yes, in a way you can say that. Let me try and break it further… Let me try to physically show it to you. (Stands up) For example, what is the core quality of Bhuvan? I feel Bhuvan’s inner strength is his strongest quality. When you look at a guy like him, you say this guy is rock-solid, “Yeh tass se mass nahin honewala hai. (He won’t budge an inch)” That’s what the script tells you.

At that time I didn’t think like this, but now I think I’m able to explain it. How do you convey strength? When you look at such a person, you should feel that he is strong. Normally when you stand with your weight on one leg (standing at ease), you don’t project strength. When you’re standing with your weight equally on both feet, your balance is centered and your back is straight... strength. Bhuvanis normally standing straight, ramrod back and steady gaze (enacts the erect posture, and gaze).

Now you juxtapose that withAkash(Dil Chahta Hai). Akash is a very shallow kind of person, caught lazing about, dheela-dhala, talking to you, but looking somewhere else, smiling at someone else. These are physical things that come out naturally to me (enacts). But when someone asks me why I did that, is when I figure out, and understand myself. Some things happen out of design, some things happen automatically. In Bhuvan’s case, one thing happened by design, which I was trying very hard to crack. The script was telling me that he’s very strong, but also that he’s innocent, because unless he’s innocent, he can’t say yes to the bet.

Only if you’re innocent, would you agree to the impossible. It’s an impossible challenge that Bhuvan takes on. How do I combine innocence and strength? Innocence, in a crude way, is portrayed through wide eyes. The moment you put innocence, you take away strength. I wanted 95 per cent strength to be there in Bhuvan, but until I added five per cent of innocence, the character wouldn’t ring true. Because when he agrees to the bet, you should feel that this guy is foolish enough to have agreed to the bet.

I didn’t want to perform, lest it affect strength. I asked Mickey Contractor (make-up artiste) to suggest me something that would bring innocence to my face without me needing to perform it. It had to be in my make-up. He said, ‘Simple. Curl your eyelashes.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ ‘Yes. Curl your eyelashes.’ So throughout Lagaan, I would get my eyelashes curled up before giving my shots. I have long eyelashes, and when I got them curled up, it made my eyes look slightly bigger. I don’t know whether people caught on or not. That brought in the 5 per cent innocence that I needed for Bhuvan’s character. When you see my close-ups now and in Lagaan, you’ll know the difference.

‘On a certain level, I feel a lot of us are stuck in a certain time zone in our own heads. I feel it happens to me, so I’m assuming it happens to others also. I still feel I’m 18’

Talking of the youth…

Yes, I’m taking that from the script. I’m taking DJ from the script of Rang De, Akash from the script of Dil Chahta Hai. On a certain level, I feel a lot of us are stuck in a certain time zone in our own heads. It happens to me, so I’m assuming it happens to others also. I still feel I’m 18.

One day, I was referring to one lady as aunty. Later, the friend next to me asked me why I was calling her aunty, and I was like, ‘Aunty nahin bolunga toh kya bolunga usko? Aunty to hai woh.’ He said she was 38, and younger than me, and here I was calling her Aunty. ‘Usko bura lagega yaar.” I was like ‘Accha.’ I’m not seeing myself but I’m looking at the person opposite me. She must be thinking that I’m an uncle. Does it happen to you also? You don’t realise what your physical age is; mentally, you think you’re still young.

Would you attribute it to the nature of your profession? Lots of people in the entertainment industry appear younger than they actually are: even politicians for that matter. For example, looking at Pramod Mahajan, no one would know that he was nearing 60. You don’t look like 44 either, because you’re constantly keeping in touch with your younger side, as that’s your life to a large extent.

Hmm... I don’t know.
Like Dev Anand remains forever 18 in his head.

You guys don’t seem to age as fast as we do.
I don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t know whether that actually happens… I don’t know. Physically, you can’t. How can you turn back the clock?

What about mentally?
I mean, when you gave the example of Pramod Mahajan, he did look younger to me. I had no idea he was nearing 60. I guess some people are lucky to look younger than their age.

Some people look older than their age also. So I guess it’s a physical attribute. I don’t know if it applies to everyone in the acting field, or arts.

Good for you then.

Over a long period of time, from the audience’s perspective, you’ve remained the most bankable actor. When the movie appears, you know it’s an Aamir Khan film, it will be different, and may not let you down because you take a while to choose a subject. Does that put a lot of pressure on you to choose the subject? There is a similar expectation when Sachin Tendulkar walks out on to the field.
No. It puts a pressure on me, but not when I’m selecting the film. I select a film out of my sheer desire to do that thing. It’s something that I feel will make me happy, so I feel like doing it. I don’t go by logic at that time at all.

Once I say yes, and I’m committed emotionally to what I’m doing, then sometimes I sit back and think that ‘Yaar, badi galti ki. Yeh thoda danger hai. Is dafa toh, I’m gone.’ That sense hits me after I’m emotionally committed to doing the film. Then I sit back and think, ‘Now let’s see how we can work around it.’ That fear factor sets in after I’ve said yes. It doesn’t affect my decision, but it is existent. Halfway through also, I wonder, if I’m doing the right thing.

Talking of 3 Idiots, my first reaction to Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) was I’m 43 now. By the time we make it, I’ll be 44. It makes absolutely no sense for me to play a 22-year-old. There’s no reason for us to go down that path, it’s only filled with disasters. “Teri naak kategi, meri naak kategi, hum sabki naak kategi. Kyun hum jaa rahen hain vahaan pe? (We’ll all lose face. Why go that way?). It’s very unwise, unnecessary and dangerous. Yes, we want to work with each other and we will. But we don’t have to. Doctor ne nahin bola hai ki abhi hi kaam karna hai (The doctor hasn’t prescribed this moment).” I was dead against it.

I wanted to work with Raju and loved the script too. Raju tried convincing me, saying he felt that the character of Rancho is very close to mine, so I should do it. Rancho is a guy who’s never followed the rules, he’s followed his heart, done mad things, and people think he’s a complete idiot. He’s not a conformist, doesn’t follow conventions, walks his own path, lives life the way he feels he should. Raju said that’s how I’ve lived my life and that’s why he wanted me to play Rancho, there’s an honesty that will come through when I play the character. The second thing he said was that physically, he never thought I could pull off a Ghajini.

So I could pull this (playing a 22-year-old) off also. But a few days before release, I still thought that it was an unwise decision. I took it on as a challenge.

So you go through performance anxieties.
I do. It doesn’t happen when I’m giving a shot. It happens when I sit back and think… or sometimes in the middle of the shoot. It happens a lot before the release. Then, it’s like a panic attack that goes on for two-three weeks before release, and I’m like, “Have I done the right thing? This time we’ve messed up big time.”

And then you interfere in the director’s work. This allegation has been going on for years — your involvement, being perceived as interference.
Only by the media. My directors and co-stars are thrilled with me. Problem is, the media, in certain spaces, I feel, has never bothered to find out. In 20 years, I’ve seen, not a single journalist has even tried to find out. For them it’s just a spicy question to ask. “Sir humne suna hai aap interfere karte hain? (We hear that you interfere).” And then they brag to others, ‘Maine Aamir Khan ko puchha ki tum interfere karte ho?’ If you want to know whether Aamir Khan really interferes, toh set pe aao (come to the set). Get on to the tarapa, where the light men sit. From there you can observe everything that is happening down.

Here’s a secret for journalists: If you want to find out what happens on a film set, get on the tarapa. Whatever is happening on the sets is there for you to see. So if you really want to know, it’s very easy to find out. So instead of asking me if I interfere, you should come and see for yourself. This label of being an interfering person, slapped on me by the media for 20 years now, is probably something I’ll die with. It doesn’t bother me. I’m working the way I do. Everyone I work with is happy with me.