Twinkle Khanna on writing a book, hating acting and being competitive over jokes at parties.
So when did you discover your “funny bone”?
Let me say that I’ve never had a conventional thought pattern. I didn’t have an option, you see. When your name is Twinkle, you are a bookworm and a fat child, then you have to be ready to be made fun of. As a child, I used my fists a lot, but then the tongue seemed like a better option. So I started using words as a sword to jab fun at myself. I thought before others could make fun of me let me do it to myself.
I read somewhere that you were the first child to be put on a diet?
Yes, that’s correct. Now that I look back, all the things that I was teased about, became game changers and my strengths. That’s what we have to learn as mothers. We push our children so much to be perfect but it’s their imperfections that make them unique. After all, who’s ever heard of the prom queen once the prom is over?
You’ve always shunned publicity. You famously refused to appear on Karan Johar’s show with your husband (Akshay Kumar), but in the last year or so, you have been active on social media and now there’s this book (Mrs Funnybones, Penguin India). Is it deliberate?
There is no strategy at play. There was never a game plan to be on social media. Like most things in life, if you work consistently and at your pace, then things fall into place. I was born in a fishbowl. My parents were great, but they cast a big shadow on my life. Right from my childhood, I’ve wanted to be my own person. The spotlight doesn’t hold any appeal for me. I’m who I am. My voice is my voice and I’m just following that. My son put my first few posts on Instagram and they were about bedsheets on sale. I don’t even make bedsheets! I wasn’t even on Facebook. It was only after I was writing for a year that I started sharing my columns and the Twitter handle became an extension of that.
So for someone who is so guarded about her privacy, what does writing mean to you?
Writing, for me, is like doing yoga — I’m mindful, yet I don’t exist; only my chains of thought exist. I’ve written poems and once I almost wrote half a book. The book was a family saga of a Hindu girl whose grandmother wants her to marry a Muslim boy.
And where do the ideas for your columns come from?
I like to see the world from different levels. Even when I’m making a candle or designing a piece, I like to sit on the floor to polish or make it from scratch. I haven’t seen really tough times, but my husband has come up the hard way. He has even seen poverty. I don’t want our children to get “lesser” in life but I want them to know life comes in different slices. I don’t think twice before hopping into an auto rickshaw with them. I like talking to people. I like asking questions. Maybe, there is something about me that helps people pour out their life stories to me. Maybe, I ask questions that others don’t. These days, I write a lot on current topics. I think this is the best time to be a columnist in India because everyday something weird keeps happening. Also, it helps that my mind is full of useless things. I love numbers too which is why most of my columns have numerical stuff. Like, I know how many internet users there are in India. I was a math geek in school. I got 98 in Math in CBSE.
And who do you get your love for reading from?
My mom (actor Dimple Kapadia) reads a lot, as does my sister. I don’t remember my dad (actor Rajesh Khanna) reading, but he was well read. I remember once he told me, “My thing in life is to sit and read a lot.” I remember when I was acting in films and had to go for outdoors, my greatest fear was what I’d do if I ran out of books.
Who is the biggest critic of your writing?
Well, Akshay is my editor, he reads all my columns before I send them. I think he does it out of sheer fear that there will be words that might get me into trouble — he deleted “Pakistan” three times and “penis” once. My problem is never what to say, it is what not to say. I send my column to my sister also who’s forever urging me to be more politically correct. My son grades my columns.
Since you’ve retired from acting, is there anything about being a heroine that you miss?
Nothing at all. I wanted to quit acting much before I was finally allowed to. My mom kept pushing me, saying “do one more film, you are getting better; this one was better than the last one.” When I decided to get married, I was slated to do Firoz Nadiadwala’s Awaara Paagal Deewana. I told Akshay do whatever you have to — lie, cry or beg — but just get me out of the film. Thankfully, he got me out of it. Films were fun. I met my husband while working in films but I didn’t enjoy being a heroine. My plan was to become a chartered accountant.
So then why did you become an actor?
Because everyone expects you to join the family business. Parents also feel that since the offers are coming, (you) might as well give it a shot. It’s the same expectations that a doctor’s child faces to become a doctor. To all those people who say you had it easy, I want to tell them that someone can give you Black Forest cake but what if you don’t want Black Forest cake, what if you want gulab jamuns?
Have your children watched your films?
Till date, I haven’t seen all my films, so why will I put them through that? They haven’t seen a single film of mine. The other day, Baadshah was coming on TV. Akshay wanted to put it on. I screamed and ran out of the room and forced him to switch it off. I was saying some weird things on screen… and I had that short haircut. Ugh!
By those weird things you mean the dialogues I’m guessing. And that short haircut would be a pixie cut, right?
Whatever! I so totally didn’t enjoy all that. In my head, I look weird. And what about those hideous clothes? What was with those pink ruffles that they gave us? We didn’t have any stylists then. Today’s actors are so lucky, things are so organised for them, they have vanity vans and an entourage with them all the time. I remember once I was shooting on a tiny hill next to a lake. We didn’t have a vanity van and I wanted to use the washroom so I had to take a boat and I got into it with my hairdresser and rowed it to another hill which had a makeshift washroom!
It couldn’t have been all that bad. One of my favourite songs, Madhosh dil ki dhadkan is picturised on you?
That film (Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai) had good music. It was a nice film too. I actually saw that one because they had a premiere. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have seen it!
You are a queen of multitasking — you run an interior designing business, write columns, manage your family and travel. How do you manage everything?
I definitely don’t get it from my mother because she loses everything — even important property papers. It’s because my mom is like this, I’ve been forced to be sensible. The biggest thing for me is to organise the kitchen. By 11 am, Akshay’s tiffin, which has food for 10 people, has to go. I make weekly spreadsheets for the cook. We are so grateful to live in India where we have huge support systems like our parents and domestic help. You know, everyone in my mother’s side of the family can knit, paint, crochet, write, even act and dance, but none of us can cook.
So you have never cooked anything?
Once, I baked a chocolate cake for my son. He wanted a skull in chocolate and I made it, but that’s it. I feel bad that he can never say that “mere maa ke haath ka khaana sabse achcha hai”, but I take solace in the fact that he can say my mother could design a kitchen if not make aloo bhaaji.
Is humour a big turn on for you?
Somebody who laughs at my jokes is a bigger turn on. I get very competitive about cracking jokes because this is my game. I want to have a better joke in every party.
Do you watch Akshay’s films as an audience or as a wife?
I think I’m subjective to such a deep level that I doubt I have any objectivity left. I do point out the flaws about his films but I can’t be objective about him. Our relationship works because he tells me what he thinks is right and I tell him what I think is right. We are each other’s bouncing boards. If he asks for my opinion, I give it to him but his decisions are his own. I’m in awe of his focus, discipline and work ethic. I really do look up to him.
So, between Akshay and you, who has a better sense of humour?
Once upon a time, he told me that you think that you are very funny, but only five people laugh at your jokes. Last week, I told him that it’s become 20 now. Universally, he is funnier as he sells a lot of films. I can’t even buy these biscuits (she points to a plate of biscuits on the serving trolley) with my humour.
I’ve always wanted to ask you this. Which is your favourite film featuring your parents?
Of my father’s films, I can’t see Anand now. So I’ll say Aradhana, and for some strange reason, I love Red Rose. As for mom’s films, Saagar is my favourite.