Twinkle Khanna Opens Up About Her ‘Unusual’ Interview With Malala
Actor, producer and writer Twinkle Khanna is now launching a digital platform called Tweak. Here’s Twinkle talking about her new project, her interviews with Waheeda Rehman and Malala Yousafzai and her social media differences with husband Akshay Kumar.
Hi Twinkle, welcome to The Quint. Starting off, I would like to ask you, were you advised, or did it ever occur to you that you might be slightly late getting into the whole digital media space or are you one of those who believe that it’s never too late to start anything?
Twinkle Khanna: Well, that is a dual question because I actually believe it’s never too late considering I started writing when I was 39, but I also feel that coming into the digital space, this is the right time because I have seen the other digital platforms fall into so many pot holes that I now know exactly what to avoid and I think that has been a learning. The other thing, before we started we did a study of international digital platforms as well as the ones within India and we wanted to see why some succeeded and why some didn’t and we wanted to emulate the aspects that were successful. So, I don’t think that it was late at all.
The name Tweak - it’s quite a quirky name, it’s got a snappy, short ring to it. Did a lot of angst go into zeroing in on the brand name?
Twinkle Khanna: Well, if I tell you, we had a bunch of names, I seem to have a penchant for picking the most bizarre names always. So, in the offing there was - the Bonesetter, there was deboned, and there was also T-Bone and I said in this country, T Bone, I don’t know how that’s going to go down. So, it took a little bit of thinking and one fine day it was just ‘Tweak’ and it seemed right and that was it, because what we’re going really is tweaking, we’re not inventing the wheel, we’re tweaking it.
So, is it easier coming up with titles for your books or was Tweak easier?
Twinkle Khanna: It depends. The first book, Mrs Funnybones, was completely simple. The second book, The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad, we did have a lot of trouble. The third one was again simple because one day just after Diwali I was standing in front of my cupboard after wearing Indian clothes for a long time and my jeans wouldn’t fit and this line came to me that salwars are forgiving in nature, it’s jeans that hold a grudge and literally without quite zipping up my jeans I went and I wrote that down, so that was easy. Tweak wasn’t very difficult either.
Now, what was the idea behind Tweak, one what was it that triggered - this is what you need to do and secondly why now and how different is it going to be from all the other platforms that are out there that deal with women and women’s issues?
Twinkle Khanna: Lately, I’ve been in your position where I am the interviewer, and I would never ask 3 questions at one time. So let’s break it up. Why Tweak? Once I started writing, and people sort of started identifying with it, there was obviously a gap and I had lots of women writing to me of different ages about different things and I realised that we’re all trying to do the same thing- make our lives easier, find a way to be equal in what is fundamentally lopsided and the easiest way to do this would have been to do a TV show which I was getting a lot of offers - come and do an Oprah and do that. But I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I don’t really enjoy being in front of the camera. I don’t want to really worry about my make-up. I just want to come to work even in my track pants and be happy. Though this is slightly more difficult in the way that I have to manage multiple things, I feel for me it was right.
Why now? It’s been in my head for about 5-6 years and then once I started, it took 18 months actually to reach here. And even I’m surprised, I don’t know what we spent 18 months doing and why it took us 18 months, but it took us 18 months to really get this into the form that we wanted. And what I feel, how we are different from other platforms, a - you see platforms that are focussing only on one thing, either it’s news or it’s fashion or it could be parenting, we have an umbrella that will encompass all of this, all these verticals.
The other thing, you see people talking to women either in a pedantic manner or dumbing it down, we don’t want to do any of that. We want to have an irreverent tone, give you information and entertain you at the same time. I don’t know if other people are really managing to do that. Again, when we started and we had ideas, people said you know you are talking to older women as well, you are interviewing them, who’s really interested in older people? And I felt that is really foolish because you know here you have someone with 7 decades of wisdom and experience so we want to be inclusive, not just about size and colour and race, we want to be inclusive even about age because that seems to be a little bit of a taboo where people just, I don’t know, they just turn older people invisible and I think that’s a pity.
You have around 5.3 million followers on Twitter and 4.8 million followers on Instagram, and you’ve used your digital clout to promote Tweak. Would you say being a celebrity that’s an advantage that you could use to bring an audience to Tweak, unlike someone who is fresh off the boat and wanting to start off?
Twinkle Khanna: Of course, it’s a massive advantage, it’s a platform and it’s a great privilege to have that platform. When I was younger I used to battle with this notion of privilege, it used to bother me that why do I have certain things that other people don’t? And as I grew up I realised that that is the way it is. No one is willing to give up what ever privilege they have whether it is a mocha frappuccino from Starbucks or a mobile phone, nobody wants to give it up. But what you must do is to use your privilege responsibly, and to give back so I feel that I am very lucky that I have this platform and I am able to use it, I hope, well and wisely.
And has Akshay Kumar been kept out of the promotions...
Twinkle Khanna: No he’s there in the teaser
But he’s not tweeting or instagramming...
Twinkle Khanna: I know it’s very strange in this world, and maybe because I grew up with parents who were very famous. I’ve always tried to walk my own path where I am not in someone’s shadow, whether it’s my parents, my spouse or anybody. So I try to do things my own way.
Since we’re talking about social media, and digital world, I’ll talk about social behaviour. It’s interesting how your posts and Akshay Kumar’s posts are so diverse and different. For instance I was looking at Akshay’s Twitter and he was full of praise for Modi and showing the crowd at Houston while you take a dig at Mr Modi by doing that yoga pose then there was your post cheering for Aarrey forest and then there was Akshay on the Metro cheering for the Metro. And I’ve seen your interview or I think it was a tweet where you said that it’s completely different for a married couple to have two different ideologies. But at the end of the day do you debate, do you argue or do you just agree to disagree?
Twinkle Khanna: You know we’ve been married for almost 19 years and fortunately or unfortunately we’ve always been in the public eye so you have almost two decades of interviews that we have both given, and from 2001, if you look at those interviews, in each one there is the same thing, we are two very different people, the only thing we have in common is that we wake up early. That is all we have in common, then, today and tomorrow. We’ve learnt how to navigate our differences, that’s all.
I saw a few of your clips with the guests on your show, from the outside it looks like you have that access as well where you can probably just do a cold call to someone and say - hey I want to interview you, when can we set it up. People like us we have to battle the PR, the manager, find time and all that. Is it as easy as it looks or did you also face any rejection.
Twinkle Khanna: Honestly, my team called up exactly like what you do, called up the PR and the managers, I made three phone calls, two because they were senior, one because the person wasn’t so well but aside from that I think it is the team handling it. But of course it’s easier because they know me, I know them, a lot of them, when I interview them I hesitate what to call them, because my whole life I’ve called them aunty, now suddenly on camera to call them aunty is a bit odd, or they are my friends, so yeah it is easier.
We got a peek of your interview with Waheeda Rehmanji and she said that she wanted to do scuba diving at 81, it’s quite inspiring, tell us about something more that you shared in that conversation with Waheedaji.
Twinkle Khanna: I made her imitate Dev Anand, so that was pretty cool. I think more than anything else what I found in her was this there was still this child like quality, you’re 81 and you still have this enthusiasm for life and I found that fascinating. I also think that her posture is better than mine even at this age and I envy her that. I kept asking her is it because you are a dancer, and she said no, it’s not because I am a dancer, I’ve had a back problem so now I sit absolutely erect. This is part of a series that we have and I interviewed fabulous, iconic women and I learnt from each one of them.
Was there any guest who you wanted to interact with meet and it happened because Tweak was there any you could finally make that call and say, hey I want to interview you.
Twinkle Khanna: I would say that for me it would probably be Malala, I really wanted to interview her I wanted to hear her story and we were supposed to just do a podcast and on Skype and I landed in England, and the podcast was scheduled for an hour and a half after I was there. I was very sleepy, I had a bath, I somehow woke myself up, went there, I had written all the questions down on the side, because I said it’s a podcast I can read it off the paper and we start on Skype and I see she is on video, and I said well I am going to record this so do you want to switch to audio, and she said no I’m fine with a video. There I am with no make up, my hair’s a mess, I haven’t memorised my questions and I’m in shock.
So I said well give me 5 minutes, and I disconnected, there was a friend so I said I am tying my hair so can you give me your kajal pencil, I tried to put kajal pencil that pencil also broke in my eye, so how people have that black dot to get rid of nazar, I have one black dot in my eye. But once we started talking it was easy, I mean I think I was lead by curiosity so I didn’t feel that - oh my god, I had these questions and whatever, it was really smooth. So that I think has been a remarkable experience.
If you had one person that you could get on Tweak, for your chat conversation, dead or alive, any person across the world, who would it be?
Twinkle Khanna: Well, I’m trying and maybe I’ll succeed, Neil Gaiman, because I am fascinated by him, I’ve read almost everything he has written. He has a 55 minute on ‘Why Stories Last’, which I have heard 3 times, so I’ve given him those many minutes of my life. So that would be my ideal guest.
Does the fact that it’s a digital platform and it’s dealing with the internet which does not have censorship also attract you? Because there are so many issues and topics that you can discuss which you probably couldn’t if you started a show on a television channel.
Twinkle Khanna: Look, I write columns and I do have a way of saying what I need to say because I think humour lets me get away with a lot more than if I wrote serious pieces about the same thing. I don’t think the lack of censorship is really what I am looking at. What interests me is that I am now able to reach people in a manner that they want to be reached, so whether you want a long form read, you have that, you want a short form read, you want a podcast, you want a video, you have all of that so I feel that is fascinating and how a single narrative can be translated into various mediums, that seems to be fascinating.
But there is talk that the government may bring about censorship on the internet as well, what are your ideas on censorship in general.
Twinkle Khanna: I would say that I think we should be completely free, having said that I would also say that we should self-regulate so it’s a very grey area. We do need complete freedom, but where is that line for ourselves, we have to draw that.
Camera: Sanjoy Deb
Camera Assistant: Gautam Sharma
Video Editor: Ashish MacCune
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