Down Memory Lane With Aamir Khan on His 54th Birthday
Rewinding to an interview with Aamir during the initial phase of his stardom.
He ushers in his 54th birthday today (14 March). And if there’s one Khan from the presiding troika who has remained steadfast in his career choices and professional conduct, it’s Aamir Khan.
In fact, while being Gibraltar-firm, he has taken way more risks, maintained a Peter Pan persona, worked towards establishing a quality conscious film production company,evolved as an actor and has stuck to his principles – be it boycotting film award ceremonies, deflecting any discussion on his private life and above all, he has spoken out loud on the spectre of intolerance.
Coincidentally, the Khans were born in the same year 1965. SRK on November 2 and Salman on December 27. Of the trio, Shah Rukh is smart-alecky articulate, Salman just the opposite, and Aamir is the studied, self-analytical one.
So, here’s rewinding to an interview conducted with Aamir at his uncle Nasir Husain’s Bandra residence, during the initial phase of his stardom. I suspect, his answers would still be a constant. Over to a batch of excerpts:
When I say ‘acting’, what comes to your mind rightaway?
Being the character I’m supposed to play, reacting the way he would in any given situation in the script, transmitting the emotion he may feel in the duration of the shot. I approach acting in accordance with the director’s instructions but we need to talk, his or her answers must have clarity. The first step is to be in tandem with the director. Or else the result’s a terrible mess.
The next step is to look like the character: his clothes, hair-style, the mobility or the lack of it on the face. I can’t be playing myself. In popular cinema, there isn’t scope for much change. In offbeat cinema, I would have to change myself drastically.
The third step is to understand the language the character would use, his body language, his voice pitch etc.
Can you elaborate on etc?
Details like would the guy chew gum, smoke a cigarette, chew paan, sleep on a bed, cot or on the floor? Still, the execution stage in front of the camera may be totally different from the preparation.I may not be able to project what’s been asked of me, especially in a tight close-up.
So while being aware of the direction given to me, I try to achieve a state of semi-consciousness, immerse myself in a role. I can be as anxious or as elated as Raja Hindustani, Raghu Jetley of Dil Hai ke Maanta Nahin or Sanjaylal Sharma of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.
I must get the physicality right, know the lines, never fumble.Too many rehearsals come in the way of spontaneity. Often my first take is the best one but at times, it can go up to 20 takes.
For Akele Hum Akele Tum, there was a four-minute soliloquy about the insecurities of a single parent. Mansoor (Khan) didn’t want me to rehearse. He was right, I had to feel the character’s pain, go higher and lower in intensity. Tears started flowing from my eyes in the middle of the shot. Using glycerine would have been fake, a sign of lousy acting.
By contrast, Andaz Apna Apna required lots of rehearsals, the dialogue exchange had to timed perfectly. In sum, rehearsals are subjective, differing from actor to actor, and scene to scene.
When did you discover your acting instinct? Was if after performing as a child actor in Yaadon ki Baarat and Madhosh?
Not at all, I didn’t enjoy acting as a kid. I was so stiff and uncomfortable. I realised I wanted to be an actor when I saw the rushes of Paranoia, a 40-minute film directed by my classmate Aditya Bhattacharya at the Bombay Scottish (school). He cast me since he had no one else, I must have been 14 or 15 then, the subject dealt with moments from a teenager’s life: his parents arguing, his father hitting his mum, the boy’s girlfriend leaving him. My performance surprised me since I was quite shy and introverted.
After that short film, I told myself okay, so acting and maybe even direction are for me. Believe it or not, before that I’d dream of becoming a test cricketer, while my parents wanted me to be get into management or engineering. After assisting Nasir saab (paternal uncle Nasir Husain) for six months, Qayamat se Qayamat happened. I was apprehensive, I wasn’t sure I’d succeed as an actor.
I’ve often been unsure, like years later I had so many doubts before playing a tapori in Rangeela. Do I look like one?
I took on the role of Munna as a challenge and dived into it. I hadn’t exactly led a sheltered life, my friends and I weren’t rich kids. I must have borrowed some shades of an absolutely bindaas guy, Baba Daring, who went on to work as a driver in Dubai.
Were you a stubborn kid?
Yes, I’m still stubborn. I was a quiet sort, but once when a guy called Ashley hit my brother, Faisal, I got into a scuffle with him. Ashley was almost six feet tall, he beat the hell out of me, I was lucky to get away with just a bleeding lip.
Are you comfortable with action scenes?
Obviously I can’t be a Rambo or The Terminator. But if I play a commando, or a tough cop I can carry it off well.
Do you try to avoid the ‘bad guy’ image on screen?
I know what you’re referring to (Yash Chopra’s Darr). All I can say is I wanted to do the role but it didn’t work out – I wasn’t given a joint narration.
I wouldn’t like to play a negative character – like say, a mindless goon or an insipid lalloo -- in typical popular cinema. But if the project is offbeat, I would have no qualms because the audience will be seeing me with a different yardstick.
You did Ketan Mehta’s Holi and Aditya Bhattacharya’s Raakh but that’s it. Which offbeat directors would you like to work with?
I’m not being approached for offbeat cinema. I wish Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Kundan Shah would. They aren’t majorly offbeat but they aren’t typical commercial directors either.
You’ve often had talks with Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
Yeah, he always offers me a film two months before the shoot’s about to start. Like he wanted me to do 1942: A Love Story, then he got delayed and I couldn’t shuffle my dates.
If you were to direct some day, whom would you cast?
Definitely not a star, I wouldn’t be able to deal with stars, they have too many preconceived notions. They’re overcommitted, and wouldn’t be able to give me undivided attention.
But you’re a star too.
What are your preconceived notions?
I can’t indulge in vulgarity, mainly. Yet I wouldn’t point an accusing finger at those who do. It’s their life. By the way, some actors have preconveived notions like they don’t want to get bashed up on the screen. If I was to direct, I’d spend half my energies dealing with that.
At one point you felt stagnant as an actor. Right?
That was a phase right after Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke. It came across as a one-note performance. I looked harassed throughout. Similarly, I felt I’d grinned too much in Awwal Number, and had somehow moved away from the character’s graph in Parampara. I spoke about such anxieties with Naseeruddin Shah, he helped me get over it. Ever since then I feel I’ve grown up. Matured, if I may say so.
Have you ever assessed your strengths and weaknesses as an actor?
I work very hard, apply myself no stops barred, to a role. I’m concerned about the final product. And maybe I have reasonably expressive eyes and a good voice..though I do try to improve my performance while dubbing at times.
As for my weaknesses, there have been days when I just can’t do a shot. I can’t act, so I ask for a small break. Plus, I tend to speak a little fast, I’ve learnt how to slow down.
Does your height ever make you self-conscious?
No! I’m 5’ 7”. Everyone wears two-inch heels anyway – even Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor do. Even I do, so it’s no big deal.
What about the charges that you interfere in the script?
I raise questions when changes are made in the script by the director, at the last minute. When that happens, I offer my inputs. Yes, these allegations have been constant, whatever ‘interference’ means.
As far as I know, I’ve tried to be fair, never unilateral. Even if my career is not doing well I won’t sign 10 stupid films just to feel secure. And if my films are a success, I won’t sign up five films at a hiked fee.
Finally, how would you rate yourself as an actor on a scale of one to ten?
And if looks count, what would be the rating?
Six. You don’t have to be good-looking to make it as an actor. If you are, that helps.
His movie influences
Mother India, Pyaasa, Ram Aur Shyam, Gunga Jumna, Mughal-e-Azam, Laila Majnu, Heer Ranjha, Teesri Manzil, Caravan, Mera Gaon Mera Desh.
Must-reads while growing up
The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, P.G.Wodehouse collections, any novel by Charles Dickens; The Mahabharata.
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