Mumbai: On the eve of the release of 3 Idiots , the only film of 2009 with Aamir Khan in a lead role, the actor’s residence at Pali Hill, Bandra, wasn’t exactly bustling with pre-release activity. He had already completed a tour across India, promoting the film, and All is Well, the film’s anthem, was already in advertisements and Top 10 lists of radio channels. Khan spoke to Mint in his study, crowded with books and files and a painting recently painted by and gifted to him by Salman Khan. Edited excerpts:
Such a long promotional tour for ‘3 Idiots’ across the country, and that too in disguise. You must be tired?
I am actually a bit under the weather. But, today, for the premiere, all the people that I visited are coming to Mumbai. After this, I’ll have to go and meet them.
Silver screen: Khan says cinema and film-making are basically about storytelling, with a different story to sell each time. Shriya Patil Shinde/Mint
You do few films. What makes you decide which films you want to be a part of? Why ‘3 Idiots’?
I choose films based on my excitement about the script and my level of confidence and faith in the director and producer of a film. At that time, I am the audience. I move towards roles instinctively, there is no great thought behind it.
I loved the script of 3 Idiots. I have been very keen to work with Rajkumar Hirani for some time now. The only doubt I had and still have is the age of the character. He’s 22 and my own age is 44 now. The audience will decide whether I’ve been able to pull it off nor not. But the character of Rancho, which I play, is someone who Raju (Hirani) felt was close to who I am in real life. I have taken some bizarre decisions, have followed my own rules.
The college life that the film portrays must be very different from the days when you were in college. How much of modern India is present in the film?
It’s not much different, actually. The concerns that the film throws up are pretty universal.
Most people of that age, say, from 14 to 20, are unsure of themselves. I was one of those people who were very sure and passionate about what I wanted to do from a very young age, and I moved towards it very quickly, unafraid of logic and practicality. But that’s a rare situation. Often, there are parental pressures on young people. This is a film with a message for both parents and youth, but it makes you laugh. Have I learnt something that I want to know? Does a certificate mean I am educated? These are the questions that the film addresses.
You are known to rehearse and prepare a lot before your films. Is it ever a disadvantage to be so involved in the script, the promotion and all the other aspects of film-making?
I’ve always been like that. It is never a disadvantage. I honestly feel that I prepare less. If you compare me with people around me, perhaps I do more than the norm. But I would like to do more.
Do people who work with you understand that?
They do. All the films that I have done, we have rehearsed two or three months before filming. I don’t think Kajol had ever done rehearsals before she worked with me in Fanaa. Rehearsing is a way in which you get comfortable in what you’re meant to do. Once you reach that comfort level, you have nothing to worry about. Some scenes don’t need rehearsals, because I and the other actors feel we’re already there. It’s an andaaza (estimation).
Tell me about this promotional tour. Was it your idea?
Yes, I came up with the idea because this is what the film is. The promotional idea has to be in synergy with the idea of the film. Will it succeed? I don’t know. See, in the film Rancho disappears. The entire story unfolds in a journey that these two friends take, to find where Rancho is. I thought instead of talking about the film, I could mystify it. If I’m not available to describe the film, the connect will be at a more emotional, visceral level. It was a difficult thing to carry out because for me to visit the country and not be recognized is not a joke. So about three months went in deciding where I’ll go, what my get-up will be, etc.
Did anything surprise you or jump out at you about India during the tour?
The fact that by and large people are extremely warm and hospitable. They want to include you. The diversity of the country that you know exists actually becomes real for you, which is fascinating.
How best does one market an artistic product? Obviously, it is different from an ordinary consumer product.
Cinema and film-making are basically about storytelling. Each time you’re telling a different story. If I am marketing a toothpaste, I know it’s a product made with certain ingredients, which is going to be repeated. I can’t tell the audience come and watch my film; then there would be no difference between Ghajini and 3 Idiots. I have to convince them that, conceptually, what I am selling you this time is different from what I sold you the last time. Marketing is actually a very heavy word. I am telling you: ‘I have this very unique and lovely story to tell you, come and listen to it’.
I must tap into your imagination.
You have recently turned producer with your own banner, Aamir Khan Productions Pvt. Ltd. What kind of films can we expect from it?
As of now, there are three films—Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live, Abhinay Deo’s Delhi Belly and Dhobi Ghat, which is incidentally written and directed by Kiran, my wife, in which I am also acting. I choose to produce films exactly the way I select films as an actor. It is not a production company with an agenda to produce a certain number of films every year. I am like a handloom weaver, like the Chanderi weaver I visited. When I saw his house, I realized I am like him. I have one house in which I have got one machine—no, actually, machine is the wrong word—where I have got a (loom) with just one sari loaded on it. I know how to make that sari well.
In the last decade, the business of film-making has changed a lot in India. On the one hand there’s corporatization and on the other there are individual banners. The old-time producer seems to be fading out. Is it a good thing?
It doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, we are human beings. A corporation is, after all, made up of people. As long as producers are people with an aptitude for telling stories and they are passionate about cinema, they will choose the right scripts. It’s the people that matter, not the structure.
What do you consider your best works of the decade?
It’s very difficult to choose, but I’d say, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti and Taare Zameen Par.
Do you know yet if you’re acting in a film next year?
No, I don’t know. I’ll be focusing on my production house now.