Superstar Aamir Khan with three of the five highest grossing films in Hindi cinema (PK, Dhoom 3 and 3 Idiots), on jumping the age barrier, advice he gives young, adults and more.
Aamir you turn 50 on March 14th so are you content that you have covered significant ground in a career spanning 25-26 years (as an actor/ director and producer)?
■ I have spent around 26 years in the film industry as an actor, add to that 3 to 4 years as an assistant director, so around 30 years. I am lucky that I got to work with the writers and directors that I worked with but I don’t feel I have covered the entire gamut as such.
When you look back do you feel overwhelmed by your success?
■ Actually the decisions I took were not planned, they were usually made on the spur of the moment. So when I look back I feel very grateful for a number of things. Firstly for being able to do the work that I wanted to do, and for the opportunities that I had as I have worked with some of the most amazing people. I am also grateful to belong to this profession which is very exciting, and for the talented people who have been there with me.
How are you ringing in your birthday—are there any special plans?
■ Kiran is organising something with family and old friends. In fact the day would perhaps be like a normal day. I am not a person who likes to fuss over birthdays. You should celebrate every day, what’s so special about a birthday? And 50, 40, 30 are all numbers.
Is the age factor a big challenge for actors?
■ As an actor, ideally you should be able to jump ages because you are required to do different parts. So far I have played roles that are younger. This is the first time in my life that I am playing someone who is older (in Dangal), someone who is over 40. The oldest character I played was in Dhobi Ghat—late thirties. I also played Chandrashekhar Azad, but I don’t think he was much older—he would have been in his 30s. Jumping ages is not easy. If you are young then it’s difficult to play older roles.
How do you do achieve this feat time and again? Rajkumar Hirani mentioned that he cast you in 3 Idiots because you have a very innocent face.
■ Partly it’s my face, but you have to lose weight because there is no other way to do it. As you keep getting older, you keep putting on weight. After you become thin and covered the physical aspect of it, the thought process is very important. When you are young, your brain is more volatile and active and you are less stable. The pause of a young person and an elderly person can be quite different. I am not a trained actor so I base my prep on observations. I was thinking of two people when I did 3 Idiots. One was my nephew, his name is Pablow—Mansoor’s (director Mansoor Khan) son. Pablow can never sit still. He will be sitting like this on the couch (slides down the couch to demonstrate), then say something and then again turn—he’s constantly moving around. He can’t be still. So I borrowed that quality—Rancho was constantly moving his head, hands etc. And the other person I borrowed from was Murugadoss (director of Ghajini). His mind is very young. He says things in a very innocent way. For instance, if he doesn’t like something, he will immediately say, ‘It’s very bad sir’. He will not think about toning down his response and say it in a slightly diplomatic way. So that’s something I used as Rancho in 3 idiots while talking to the principal (Boman Irani). I say the most bizarre things to him but because they are said with such innocence, he gets away with it. I could have said the same things in a very clever way but it would not have been the same.
Like in the scene where he tells the students about a pen he owns which is used by astronauts, ‘who would like this pen’ and everyone’s hands go up. When their hands come down then my hand goes up and I ask, ‘Sir I have a question, why did the astronauts not use a pencil?’ Now I could have said that in an over-smart way to bring him down, but that would come across as clever, and you don’t want Rancho to be clever. I just want him to be curious. He is just curious, thinking there must be some reason way they are using the complicated, expensive pen, instead of a simple pencil. So how you interpret the lines makes a difference. If I interpreted it in an oversmart way, it would make me older. Like in one of the sequences in 3 Idiots, when a boy commits suicide, the principal calls Rancho and says, ‘Hamara college ek number pe hai’. In response, I tell him that we have the highest suicide rate. Now, I was saying very harsh things to him in the scene, not to disobey him but because that’s the first thing that came to Rancho’s mind. He’s not saying it to be clever – he just doesn’t have the filter.
In real life have you ever said things that can be misconstrued as being oversmart, which is not your intention. Has that been tempered with the years?
■ Sometimes! My problem is that I find it difficult to lie. I usually say what I feel and what I mean. In my personal life, I have learnt that sometimes it’s better to keep quiet and not talk. You change with age.
Would you agree that growing older can be a liberating experience?
■ I have always been who I wanted to be, so now that I am older, I don’t feel that ‘finally I can do what I want.’ I have pretty much done things that I wanted to do. I have never been shackled. All my choices have been totally bizarre. In my head, I don’t feel like I am 50 years old or something. Most people I have met imagine that they have just reached adulthood. It’s only when you have to do physical stuff that you are reminded of your age! Like now, when I have to lose weight I will find it much harder. But I am fortunate to have lived life the way I wanted to live it. Not everybody gets that chance.
Young actors look to you with admiration, so is there any career advice that they seek from you?
■ No, actually young actors don’t call me for advice (laughs). I don’t think I am capable of giving such advice. But there are these young kids who have just turned 18 and sometimes their parents send them to me to chat with me, but they never take the advice that I give them. My advice is that the best education you can have is life. So take a bunch of your friends and travel from Kashmir to Kanyakumari for two years. Spend one or two years and be on your own. What you will learn in those two years is something nobody can teach you. It’s the best training ground. I didn’t do it because it occurred to me much later and now that I have become a star, it is even more difficult. I gave the advice to Imran (Imran Khan), he didn’t follow it.
I remember Shraddha Kapoor came to me and I told her the same thing and she also didn’t take it (laughs). We are in the field of communication so you should know the cultures, their aspiration, it’s critical. I went for a talk with the students at the Ambani School where they all go to Yale or Harvard. I told them Harvard mat jao—India mein ghoomo and you will learn lessons that Harvard can never teach.
How did you come up with this unique idea of learning? Did you have such learnings through your show Satyamev Jayate wherein you interacted with a wide spectrum of people?
■ I got this idea when I was talking to Roland Joffe who made The City of Joy and Killing Fields. After finishing graduation, he spent six months in India, back-packing. He went to Uttar Pradesh where the elections were going on, he went around with some candidates — pura usne experience kiya. His stories were fascinating and that’s how the idea struck. Satyamev Jayate was my opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds, so yes, that really enriched me. I got to know the heartland. I met so many people, I saw so many realities of life even though I didn’t physically travel to those places. For me, to go to places because of who I am creates a mob situation which inconveniences the administration. So it’s not possible for me to go out and thus my team becomes my eyes and ears. They shot and I watched all the material on every topic sitting here in this very room.
Any cause that has become close to your heart?
■ Two big learnings from the situation—for things to change dramatically in India, we need to work as a collective. We have to think that what is good for everyone is good for me and that one may have to let go of certain personal aspirations for the greater good. The other big cause is about empowering the girl child. That one step can change a lot of things.
What is your opinion on the BBC documentary on Nirbhaya which was banned by the government?
■ I have not watched the documentary so I don’t have an opinion on it but I am not in favour of banning things. I think it’s quite disappointing and unfortunate.
What would you like as a gift for your birthday?
■ Well, I would like to watch that film Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Maybe, I will ask Adi (Aditya Chopra) to have a screening of this film as my birthday gift!
So what birthday gift would you want from your family members ?
■ My family—okay so this is one day, when my kids, actually everyone, should just obey me without asking questions (laughs)! I am just kidding – they are good kids.
You play a wrestler in your next film titled Dangal?
■ I am not an active wrestler, but an ex-wrestler so I have to put on some weight. Wrestlers are very fit, there is no weight or fat as such, unless they are Sumo wrestlers. I am putting on weight because of the age of my character. I’m also the father of two grown up daughters. If I am too lean, like I was in PK, it wouldn’t work for the character.