Mr Perfectionist, that’s what they call him around the studios. I prefer Mr Professional because once Aamir Khan agrees to something, he gives it his best shot.. even if it’s just another interview.
The first time I approached him for one, he was rehearsing his moves at a suburban hall. Slightly out-of-breath, he sank down besides me, whipped out his organiser, tapped a few keys, and said, “I’m free three months from now, on October 14, between 4.15 and 4.35 pm. We could talk then?” This was in the days when we still jotted down appointments in a diary.
On another occasion, there was a controversy over his abrupt exit from a film. I’d gone to him for his side of the story. I was invited into his make-up room and politely offered a chair.
I sat down and hunted out a writing pad and pen from my shoulder bag. Aamir hunted out a bulky tape recorder and put it on the table between us.
Those were the days when journos still relied on scribbled notes (I still do) rather than a dictaphone. So I regarded the tape recorder with frowning curiosity, wondering if he had a naach-gaana session in mind rather than a q-and-a session.
“I’d just like to record the conversation so there’s no danger of being misquoted,” I was informed. He kept the tape for himself. I referred to my jottings. He wasn’t misquoted.
An interview with Aamir generally stretched over a couple of hours. This was in the days when fellow journalists weren’t waiting in the queue and publicists didn’t turn up to remind you that your 10 minutes were up.
Aamir likes to think out his answers.. he likes to rethink and rephrase them. He has even made me rewrite them occasionally. He wasn’t being difficult, he just wanted to ‘do it right’.
Once, I had accompanied a colleague for the shoot of Awwal Number. I’d been assigned to cover the shoot, she had to get witty one-line answers from Aamir to ‘20 Questions’, a fun feature. It was a sunny mid-afternoon in May. The heat was on, literally. We hadn’t planned on staying long.
To my surprise, the ‘20 Questions’ with Aamir Khan ran into a good couple of hours. I finally wandered over, wondering what was happening. I found Aamir poring over the questions that went something like: “Who would you like to be with if you were marooned on an island?” He hadn’t got beyond the first couple as he pondered over his replies.
Finally, my colleague snatched the questions from him and in a stern voice told him to say the first thing that came to his mind. “If you can’t think of anything just say pass,” she instructed. And that’s how we finally wrapped up the tête-à-tête.
Even now, Aamir likes to ponder over his words as he tries to get a point across. He doesn’t plead off if the line-of-questioning doesn’t please him. He keeps you waiting but he makes sure you have a chair and a cup of chai.. even when you’re waiting to interview someone else. That’s Aamir Khan.
Not easy to like.. but not easy to dislike either. Bemused? But then, we’re talking about someone who’s kept even the audience in suspense about his next act over the last two decades.