Monday, December 22, 2014

Aamir Khan

“Numbers are a loose representation of how much people have liked the film”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the December 20, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

Meet and speak to Aamir Khan and the one thing you might notice about him, is his ‘thairaav’. There’s a sense of calm in his demeanour, there are long pauses when he speaks, but that only means he has gone into the depth of the conversation and given a serious thought to things you've asked him. His responses are like him narrating stories, and that might come across in this interview. Little wonder then, that he syncs in deeply into every character and emotion he displays on-screen. So much so, that he confesses he starts behaving and looking like the part he plays, even for real. The actor's latest offering ‘PK’ is no different. When Khan enters the room, you almost feel he is walking the way his character in the film walks. Just as he settles down, we get talking about ‘PK’, his stand on the box-office numbers v/s quality cinema debate, choice of films and lots more in an engaging conversation…

From a nude picture with a transistor to being dressed as a policeman…was it a conscious decision to create a striking poster campaign ‘PK’?
All of these are moments from the film, and these photographs are clicked on location when the scene was being shot. I actually mentioned it to Raju (Rajkumar Hirani), that for this particular film, we can probably have a good poster campaign, with different looks which are quite strong visuals. So, we decided to open the promotions with a poster rather than a trailer. There’s something called key art, which is the central thought of the film. If we had released a poster which is a romantic shot between Anushka and me, it would be a wrong message for my audience. My messaging has to be accurate and honest to what the material is. In ‘Taare Zameen Par’, the key art was a little boy sitting on a bench and a teacher sitting a few benches behind him. That one image reflected the film. For ‘PK’, it was that image which was released first. It wasn’t used in order to sensationalise. I don’t think Raju thinks that way, nor do I. But we’re certainly very particular about what we’re expressing creatively. We want to be honest to our film, the story, and its creative requirements. There’s a chain of thought and narrative in the posters that we released.

What was the brief that Rajkumar Hirani first gave you about the film?
He narrated the entire developed script to me and I really loved it. He’s written a film which is saying something extremely important and fundamental, and once again the vehicle he has chosen is humour. There’s a lot of humour in the film while he’s telling you what he wants to tell you. That’s his strength as a film-maker. I think Raju is the biggest USP of the film. But there’s not much I can tell you about the brief he gave me. The only reason we’ve kept a lot of things under wraps is because some scripts are such that if we tell you anything, it becomes a spoiler of sort. I want people to experience the film the way I experienced it for the first time when Raju narrated the script to me.

More often than not, a director brings something from his own self or life into his films. Do you think there’s a bit of Rajkumar Hirani in ‘PK’?
I think there’s a bit of Raju in all his films. He’s also a very unusual human being. I think the kind of person he is comes through in the sensibilities of his films and characters. I’ve observed that even his negative characters are lovable. For instance, Chatur from ‘3 Idiots’ was so likeable – though he wasn’t really a negative character but we can say he was the negative force of the film. We even like Boman’s (Irani) character in ‘3 Idiots’ or ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’. So Raju’s bad characters are also not so bad, because he has a very humane way of looking at things, which comes through in all his films. He also has a great sense of humour which comes naturally in all his work.

Your character in ‘PK’ has traits like he doesn’t blink….being the perfectionist that you are, do such traits for a character now come easily to you? What are the other nuances you had to adapt for the film?
I’m not a trained actor, so I don’t have a process hence, each film is a very different. What is the most important to me is to get into the head of the character, and once I manage to do that, everything else follows. This was a peculiarity which cropped up just in the last rehearsal before we began shooting. We were doing a test shoot and co-incidentally, Vinod (Vidhu Vinod Chopra) landed up on the set. He saw me doing a scene and said that why don’t we do the same thing without blinking. It didn’t make sense to me at that time, but I thought let me just try what he is saying. Later when we saw the shot, we realised it was a big cue which he had given to get the key of my character right. So, by and large I don’t blink in the film except for a few emotional scenes. As far as the other traits are concerned, my language is Bhojpuri, my ears which pop out already, have been made to pop out even more. I’m wearing green lenses, which made the not-blinking part even tougher because when you wear lenses you tend to blink more. Also, I don’t move my hands while running. I think it gets easier when a character syncs into you after a point.

And given that you sync so deeply into a character, does it help that you do just one film at a time?
After a very long time I’ve done two films simultaneously. ‘Dhoom 3’ was about 60 percent complete, when Victor (director Vijay Krishna Acharya) told me that he needs some time to prepare before we shoot the rest of the 40 per cent. So, I told Raju that Victor needs more time, so I need to push your film by four months or so, but Raju has been waiting for a long time. It’s now been five years since the release of ‘3 Idiots’. Raju suggested that I could finish shooting one schedule of ‘PK’ till the ‘Dhoom 3’ shoot commences again. So I ended up doing both these films simultaneously. I’d do a schedule for ‘PK’ and then ‘Dhoom 3’ and for me, that’s a very difficult thing to do. I’ve not done that in so many years. I hate the idea of playing two characters simultaneously and in this case three, because I played a double role in ‘Dhoom 3’. After doing a long schedule of about 40-45 days for ‘PK’, I went to Switzerland straight away to shoot the climax of ‘Dhoom 3’. We were shooting this scene where both my characters, Samar and Sahir are running away and Samar stops because he sees Aaliya (Katrina Kaif’s character). My line was, ‘Samar chal, yeh sab dhokha hai, chal, waqt nahi hai humare paas.’ In the first take, I said that line in Bhojpuri. I said, “Chal Samar, bakhat nahi hai humre paas (laughs).”  I finally got it right after two-three takes post which Victor asked me, “Why are you talking in the ‘Lagaan’ language?” I laughed and said, “No, this isn’t the ‘Lagaan’ language, this is the ‘PK’ language!” So no, I really don’t enjoy doing two films together!  

You mean a character stays with you long after you’ve finished shooting for a film?
Yes, I’ve noticed it and I find it strange that something happens and I also start looking and behaving like a particular character when I’m shooting for a film. For instance, after ‘Ghajini’, my short term memory has gone for a toss. I don’t know what stays with me, I don’t have any control over it, but something does stay with me for sure. I’m not one of those switch on-switch off kind of actors. I don’t think about bringing in my own individuality, I just try and be the character.

Apart from being in the character mentally, now there’s also more emphasis on looking a certain way. Not to forget the hysteria around the six-pack and eight-pack abs...So what’s more difficult?
You know that’s good thing! There’s been too much objectifying of women, now let’s objectify men also a bit (laughs). But, it’s important to look like a character. As an actor it’s my job to use my body as a tool, at least I believe so. If I’m playing an old, over-weight person then I cannot be shy to look that. But the mental and emotional transformation is a lot tougher. The physical transformation is more scientific, wherein you work-out or follow a diet, but mentally and emotionally, you have to feel your way through and hope you get there.

You’ve said that ‘PK’ has been the most difficult role for you…why so? Also, which has been your most emotionally draining role?
It’ll be a bit difficult for me to explain it to you, without telling you the plot, so you’ll have to see the film to realise why I feel that it’s the most difficult role I’ve played. I think, ‘Talaash’ has been the most emotionally draining film for me. The back story of my character, Shekhawat was that he has lost his son in a drowning accident. He couldn’t save him and is living with guilt. So, no matter what scene it was, in every moment Shekhawat carried that baggage. There was always this dark cloud over him which never lifts. For me to get into that headspace every morning, I had to start my day by imagining that I’ve lost someone really close to me and that was very draining emotionally!

What is your criterion to choose films, and has it changed over the years?
No, it hasn’t changed. For me, the criterion is how I react to the script as an audience. The idea is to see that if I’m experiencing a film for the first time through the script, what do I feel about it? It’s an instinctive thing. If I hear the narration and if I say, “Wow! I really love that…” then I do it. There are no boxes that I have to tick. It’s just an emotional reaction about how I like the material. If I’ve loved the script, it’s very unlikely that I won’t like my character. A film doesn’t have to be centered around me for me do it. For example, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ was a story of three friends, or ‘Rang De Basanti’ had five to six characters.

You have this knack of choosing good stories…
As a kid I loved to listen to stories. Whenever a writer or a director pitched a story to my father or uncle, I would sit in a corner and listen to them. May be that’s something which has helped me develop an instinct towards good stories.

Don’t numbers or the commercial viability of a film play on your mind while choosing a film, especially in today’s scenario where box-office collection is the only way to judge its success?
I think my choice of films speaks for itself. When you’re selecting, I’m using the word selecting because that’s an important stage in the life of a film. So, at the time of selecting a film, if you think that you cannot do a film if it doesn’t have the potential to do ‘X’ number of crores, then you’re really killing its creativity. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people in the industry I believe, are thinking that way, and it is showing in the kind of films we’re making. It’s exactly the message which ‘3 Idiots’ gives – Don’t chase success. Chase excellence and success will follow. That’s how I have always been. I wouldn’t have done films like ‘Sarfarosh’ or ‘Rang De Basanti’ or ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ or ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ which at that time didn’t do well. ‘Rang De Basanti’ is the fifth film on Bhagat Singh and Azad. ‘Taare Zameen Par’ is a story of a child with dyslexia. These are my choice of films. None of these films, on script level are meant to be big blockbusters. I did all of them because I loved the script, they went on to do a big business, that’s a separate issue. It would be much better for the film industry, if we just thought of what we feel like doing creatively, while selecting a film. That’s how I run my life at least.

So, there’s no pressure of sort to deliver a hit and generate big numbers?
Of course there’s pressure on me, but the pressure to achieve the vision of the director and deliver what we’d set out to do. I’m never thinking about the crores we can make, I always analyse if we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. The concern is, will the audience find the same things funny or emotional that we did? If they love the film, it will do well. Numbers are a loose representation of how much people have liked the film. So if people have really liked it, you’ll have bigger numbers. If people have not liked the film, it’ll crash. Even if the collections go down after the first day, it means people haven’t liked it. In that sense, collections do become a yardstick to measure a film’s success.

As an actor what is the most gratifying for you?
So in the order of preference, there are two things. Firstly, what’s gratifying is to know that we’ve made a film we set out to make. The second thing is to know if the audience, for whom we’ve made the film has liked it.

Has it ever happened that you saw a film and thought it could have been made better?
As an actor that happens to me in all my films. I’m never really happy with my work. But there have also been times when we’ve seen a few films, and as a team felt that we’ve not really done it the way we thought we would, or it hasn’t done justice to the script’s potential.

What next after ‘PK’? Is another season of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on the cards?
Right now I’m reading scripts so I haven’t decided what I’m doing next which is alarming because this year I didn’t shoot for any film, as I did ‘Satyamev Jayate (SMJ)’ and because I still don’t have a script, obviously next year I won’t see a release. And no, I’m not doing ‘SMJ’ next year either. After five years of ‘SMJ’, my team and I feel we need a break. What I’m going to do is a film after this. But I don’t know what film yet. I’ll decide soon enough, and then a few months will go in the prep work before we start shooting. The only thing that’s definite is that I won’t have a release next year.

And how will you utilise some free time on hand?
I am looking forward to spending some time with Azad. He’s so delightful! I always feel that I’m giving less time to my children. You can never give them more or enough time. A while ago, Kiran had gone off to Himachal to write her script for two weeks. At first, she was hesitating to go, because she’s hands-on with Azad and didn’t want to leave him alone. But I told her I’ll be with him, so she went off for two weeks, and then I was looking after him. From waking him up, to dropping him to school to picking him up, having lunch with him, I would do everything. My work would start in the afternoon, once I put him to sleep and then I would only work at few hours, wake him up and play with him. My meetings would start after 9.30 pm only after I put him to sleep. My entire schedule was made around his schedule but I really enjoyed that, so I’d like to spend some time with my family. I also like to read and travel, so might do that as well!

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