It is rather befitting that Aamir Khan, the founder member of the Rs.100 crore club has outdone himself with a Rs.500 crore record for Dhoom 3. In a freewheeling chat, the actor talks about his recent blockbuster, Academy Awards as a marketing tool and of course, the new season of his television show Satyamev Jayate.
Aamir, one can’t help but open the interview with a query on why the publicity of a film like Dhoom 3 was, well, scaled down?
I have always believed that the main form of publicity has to be the creative of the film itself . The creative/promo/trailer should make me feel ki yes, this is what I want to watch.This time we went a little easy on the publicity because we felt that all the hype and hoopla is becoming a little too much. However, that didn’t stop us from wondering that with the low-key publicity that we did, whether we would still get the kind of opening that we wanted.
Given the film’s Rs.500 crore collections, it certainly seems to have worked well— but did producer Aditya Chopra and you expect it to create a new benchmark? What worked in its favour?
It’s difficult to say because I think watching Dhoom is an experience — I mean a film like Dhoom 3 — I have not seen the kind of production value that Adi as a creative producer has provided to the film, anywhere else. The scale of the film is really huge in terms of the action, special-effects, songs etc. I think it’s a spectacle. The story of course, is the essence of everything so there has to be an emotional connect for people, but the spectacle has also helped.
Analysts are of the view that your star power, especially in a double role helped twice as much. Would you agree?
Dhoom 3 is essentially the love story of two brothers. You certainly don’t expect the Dhoom franchise to actually be a love story between twin brothers, but I think that is something that people connected with. And then the spectacle, stars in the film and the franchise itself.
I guess for people it was also the novelty to see two of me. I have never done it before. What is quite amazing is that the people and media at large kept it under wraps. Not that we asked them to protect it — it is something that has happened organically.
With the Oscars around the corner and given the fuss that accompanies the selection of India’s official entry for the same, it would be relevant to ask you what’s the right way of bettering one’s chances of getting a film noticed by the Academy?
I have been saying this repeatedly, there is really nothing to do. In Lagaan, we had a peculiar problem — the (Academy) members did not want to watch the film because they had been subjected to so many bad films from India before it. After Lagaan, over the last 10-12 years, the films that have been going from India are very good. So that aspect is no longer existing in the foreign film category. They now feel that films from India are something to watch out for.
There was Rang De Basanti, Taare Zameen Par, there was a Marathi film too called Shwaas among others. So given the films that have gone in the last few years, the committee would no ignore any film from India. In any case, you can’t do anything. You are not allowed to meet the members. You aren’t allowed to lobby in the way you can for other categories. If you ask me today, if anybody’s film gets selected, you just have to go to Los Angeles. In the month leading to up to it, you organise two-three screenings so the members can catch it. You are not allowed to be present for the screenings and you can’t call up the guy and say, ‘Come and watch my film.’ You will be disqualified straight away.
For documentaries and foreign films the process is different. The general membership does not watch it. There is a separate committee of 600 people dedicated to watching foreign language or documentaries. The maximum that you can do is have original screenings for which you don’t have to go to LA.
What would you have to say about the debate over which Indian film is the more Oscar-appropriate choice?
We should not look upon Oscars as an endorsement of our talent or our abilities, instead we should look upon Oscars or an event like this as a great marketing opportunity.
If the Oscars tells you that your film is good, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good or if it doesn’t give you a nod, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. What it means for your movie to get nominated for the Oscars is that a lot many more people in the world get to know about it. And then they also want to watch it. So your viewership increases. It should just be looked on as a marketing tool and nothing else.
I don’t need an endorsement from Oscars for my film. I need an endorsement from my audience who have waited for Dhoom 3 or any of my films. I am interested in my audience telling me about my film, not some Academy. I am not sitting for some exam in cinema.
As a film-maker and actor whose films have made it to the (Oscar) nominations, would you agree that it has helped create a market for your films outside of India?
See, every film has its own connect, it can drive itself on its own. I don’t think an Oscar is essential to getting success in the world.
When Lagaan got nominated, a whole lot of people who otherwise would not even have heard of an Indian film, got to know about me, the film and I am assuming, they liked it. It’s been over 12 years now since Lagaan and I can sense that in all these years, my audience outside India has grown tremendously. I have so many people from different parts of the world coming up to me and recognising me. Obviously that has happened over time, but that’s an organic process. Lagaan did that, and then there was Rang De Basanti. 3 Idiots travelled a lot, so did Taare Zameen Par. Now the world is also becoming a smaller place. You can be anywhere in the world and you could get to know what’s going on. When you are a parent and talk about childcare, you get to know that a Hindi film on this subject has been made in India.
One of your earlier interviews in Screen mentions that after being dropped from Yash Chopra’s Darr for asking for a joint narration. Now decades later, you have given two of your biggest hits with them. So has the industry in general and Yashraj Films in particular, changed the way it operates?
Within the industry, so much has changed. The way we approach our films has changed, the business has changed, the kind of films we make has changed as has the taste of both, the audience and film-makers. If you look at a company like YRF, they are doing such fantastic work; I think one of the biggest things YRF has done is they have given young talent — directors, writers and technicians — a space to work in. It has emerged a strong and a positive force in the film industry. Adi (Aditya Chopra) is a very passionate film person and he gives it all. People from different walks of life are heard and given the opportunity to make films.
YRF is doing this on a larger scale , Ronnie (Screwvala of UTV) has been supportive of that too, AKP (Aamir Khan Productions) has been doing it to a much smaller degree because my pace of work is slower, so my scale is not as big as Yashraj or UTV (Disney). These two companies are doing great work. On the business side of it I think there is PVR, which has done a lot of work by starting plexes in smaller towns and cities, improving the cinema viewing experience for the audience.
These are some four-five companies that have brought about the change. Fourteen years ago, Lagaan was the first-of-its-kind film, totally unusual. Look at the time before Lagaan; it was difficult to make these kind of films then. After Lagaan, suddenly, trying out something new became commonplace. It was a defining point.
Let’s talk about your television show Satyamev Jayate which has also put you on the world map in a completely different profile.
My audience in the world has grown with SMJ. I was featured for it on the Time magazine in the list of 100 most influential people in the world, so I am sure all that has contributed to the spread of my audience.
What’s going to be new about SMJ in the new season? What are the new issues that will be touched upon?
As a matter of policy, we cannot reveal the topics but one of the things that we have been working on is being more specific on what an individual can do. Our experience in the last season was that people loved the show and connected to it emotionally and they got really charged. Even though we had made suggestions about what they could do, they were not entirely sure how to go about it. Everyone is not an activist, but every one does want to contribute. So this time what we have done is tried to make it easier for people to make a change, to be able to contribute.
The other big change we have done is that , instead of having 13 episodes at a trot, we are breaking it up into three tranches. The first quarter will be a month of four or five episodes (just on Sundays). The next quarter after a gap of three-four months will have another month of SMJ and then towards the end of the year— the last two-three months will again have another month of SMJ. We are breaking it into three tranches because these are such important and serious topics ki you get time to absorb it.
Moving away from the movies — you have been hobnobbing with Heads of States like President Obama among others. Whose company did you enjoy best?
I met President Obama very briefly at the Prime Minister’s dinner.
If I am meeting them over dinner for five-10 minutes, it’s not really a meaningful meeting. It’s slightly more meaningful when you can have a conversation with the person. I really enjoyed meeting Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton. Or even my conversation with James Cameron at India Today Conclave. Those were longer conversations which I enjoyed more.