MUMBAI: There is no one in the industry as focused as Aamir Khan. One film or one show — or one interview — at a time is his credo. How many industry denizens have that cucumber-cool demeanor during a media interaction? At the end of a 135-minute session, he says, “I really enjoyed this talk,” and from the media perspective, that’s quite an understatement.
A superstar now for more than 26 years, Aamir Khan’s achievements are not limited to just remarkable films and performances. He has changed the work-ethic of the entire industry in paradigm ways, given us (mainstream) films that are game-changers, and has influenced society both through some of them as well as via his television enterprise, “Satyamev Jayate.” And yet, he is humility personified, and says that most of the good things he has done and some of his achievements extraordinaire have happened organically.
In short, the extraordinary Khan is, as always perceived in the last 14 years, in a league of his own. We meet the man in a lounge at Mumbai’s Taj Land’s End, and he yet again emerges as an interviewer’s delight. Excerpts from a two-part interview (Part II coming soon):
Q: There is much speculation about your role in “PK.” What light can you shed — or more correctly, how much can you tell us?
A: It has been the most challenging role of my career. In fact, you can put all my great roles on one side, and this one on the other! One simple point: my character’s eyes do not blink in the film. And that was so difficult!
Yes, everyone is speculating on what I am playing in the film – some feel that I am an alien in human form, others think that I am God, and still others look at me as someone who has lost his memory. The promos, especially the first one with the transistor, have fuelled endless curiosity. But that is not something we have shot separately. It is a part of the film. Every film has a key art – that one image that tells the story – you remember the posters of “Taare Zameen Par” and “3 Idiots,” right? So when you watch “PK,” you will realize that this is the key art of this movie.
Q: Rajkumar Hirani also believes in social messages.
A: Yes, all his films become social movements. All of them are essentially dramas but the vehicle is humor, even though what he is saying extremely important.
Q: The marketing of your film is based on concealing information, whereas others feel that knowledge of the product is needed to make a movie work.
A: I personally have always believed that good marketing is not about giving the right information alone but about creating the desire to consume. Suppose we tell you what a movie is about. Many people can pre-judge or decide that they are not interested! And then they are not going to come into the movie hall!
So I think that we should not be saying that a specific film based on such a subject is being released on Dec. 19. It is the consumer who should be waiting for us and asking when is the release date! And that has been achieved. The purpose is to make a viewer get a surprising experience and enjoy.
We have followed the same policy for my television show “Satyamev Jayate.” We never talk, as happens with most shows on the small screen, about what issue we are taking up in the following week. And there is logic to that.
And the logic is that the topics we discuss on the show are often heavy, serious and sometimes dark. Like if I were to tell you, like other TV shows, that we are discussing issues like female feticide or TB or road accidents next week, you may not watch it. You may say, “Oh yeah, female feticide, that’s very bad, I know it exists,” or “Why should I spoil my Sunday watching something about tuberculosis?” or “Yeah, road accidents I know, bad, but I know how to wear my seat belt!”
My show is about hardcore journalism and research plus storytelling. I must touch you emotionally. So in our very first episode, for example, we did not announce straightaway that it was about female feticide. I first asked the audience, “Who’s the most important person in your life?” Most people replied that it was their mother. So I talked about my mother too and emphasized that without mothers we would not be around. Then I brought out the topic of how we treat mothers, and showed them a woman who had had 8 abortions in six years!
And their perspective now was: this is not just another mahila jispe atyachar ho rahe hain (woman being victimized). She is a mother being troubled. So I sank them into the topic.
Or take the episode I did on the LGBTs. We first announced that during our research we had found an interesting person — and then introduced the viewers to a girl who had been born as a boy. My team is very clear that we are dealing with hard facts and yet there is storytelling happening. So the manner of introducing the topic is scripted and there is a lot of deliberation on the sequence of even the guests appearing on the show. In fact, we have been so busy this year that after “PK” I have not taken any film. So next year, I will go without a release.
Q: Haven’t you faced a lot of legal hassles with the stands you take and the bold issues you tackle?
A: Well, we have received a lot of legal notices but there has been no case filed against us. But the whole purpose of the show is to take up such issues. From my position as a star, I think I can touch the good in people and try and influence society for the better far more effectively, even if a bit slowly, than if I enter politics, which has been a long-standing speculation after the show was launched – am I going to enter politics? (Laughs)
Frankly, I would like people to see what I am doing rather than guess whether I have an ulterior reason for doing it! I don’t even know if “Satyamev Jayate” boosts the sales of tickets of my films and it is not something I am going to think of, but people ask me such questions. There are well-wishers who even told me not to do such a show as it would be detrimental to my stardom, as we rub people the wrong way many times. There is the General Practitioners’ Association of doctors that called for a boycott of my films because we exposed the commission racket — they made specialist doctors pay them a cut. The pesticide lobby and the Khap panchayat were also small but powerful lobbies.
I believe that every creative person must contribute to society, and that a star’s responsibility goes beyond just entertainment. I must strengthen society and make it bloom by infusing values.