At the Express Adda held in Mumbai last week, actor Aamir Khan spoke about Bollywood’s star system, making socially relevant cinema and why he cried on TV
The latest edition of Express Adda, presented by Reid & Taylor in association with IIFL and Olive Bar & Kitchen, held in Mumbai’s Bandra last week, witnessed Bollywood’s super successful and uber accomplished actor, producer and director Aamir Khan reveal the many sides of his personality. During a conversation with a select audience, moderated by Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Express Group, and Priyanka Sinha Jha, Editor, Screen, Khan spoke about the fear of failure that drives him, why his eyes welled up in each episode of his television chat show, Satyamev Jayate, and said he isn’t actually averse to attending award ceremonies. Excerpts:
Actor, producer & activist
The responsibility of a creative person is not just to entertain or engage the audience, but also to bring grace to society, build the social fabric and inculcate values in people. A creative person – whether in painting, poetry, acting or dance – brings all this to society. He makes people ponder over issues and makes them more sensitive towards them.
The Fear of failure
I love my work very much and every time I take on an endeavour, I have to live with the fear of it going wrong or failing. But this fear keeps me alert; it keeps me going. And I don’t allow it to change my bold decisions. It’s a thin line. Fear can be useful but too much of it can upset the apple cart.
Kiran, the influence
Kiran (Rao, wife) has contributed a huge deal to me – to my personality and to my very fabric. I am much more relaxed ever since she has come into my life. But she hasn’t affected my choice of films. Often she hasn’t liked what I’ve selected, but changes her mind once she watches the film. For instance, she didn’t like the script of Rang De Basanti, although she liked the film later.
Disconnect with the masses
For 3 Idiots, we wanted to start promotions in Mughalsarai (Uttar Pradesh) as maximum number of trains pass through it. But we got to know that the local population in many parts of India is not watching our films. They are not interested in Hindi films because those don’t match their taste. They have moved on to other kinds of cinema, such as Bhojpuri cinema. Our country is vast, with many kinds of people.
When we were doing Satyamev Jayate, we expected that the media would be very supportive because we were doing what the media has been doing for years – reporting about social issues and problems. We also expected people from the administration and political class to be wary of us. But exactly the opposite happened. My point is that we were building on what media has done.
The ‘marketing guru’ tag
I have believed that the creative team making a film should also take financial responsibility for it. It’s my job to make sure people investing in my film get their money back and earn something out of it. That doesn’t mean I am compromising on my choice of work. But I am not the marketing guru that I am made out to be. If you are excited about telling a story, you’ll grab everyone’s attention. For me, reaching out to people is marketing. What I need to do for that comes organically.
Tears on camera
In Satyamev Jayate, people saw me for the first time as myself. All the people who know me can say that it is normal for me to cry. And often, while crying, I wipe my tears and continue with the discussion. On television, I try to control it but there have been instances where we had to stop shooting because I just would not stop crying.
Socially relevant cinema
I choose a movie if I fall in love with it. If I look at it from a logical or marketing point of view, then it’s a very unwise thing to do because I am making a film on a learning disability with a child as the lead actor. But once I have decided that a film has to be made, no matter what, I try to make it economically viable. When people talk about the film, it sells tickets and becomes commercial.
Film industries across the world are star-driven because it’s a business of such heavy investment. The reality is that the market moves towards safer options. The market would want me to do a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge but every time I do a Taare Zameen Par or Lagaan, the market looks at me with suspicion. I am a star, but even I’ve had to fight the suspicion about almost every film I’ve done.
Effort to change the system
During the fight between producers, distributors and exhibitors, I didn’t agree with their system that the first week would fetch the makers 52 per cent, and then 45 per cent and 30 per cent in the subsequent weeks. If a small film releases, the word that it is good goes out only by the second week, by when the profit percentage is lower. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak started to make money in its fourth week and we were making only 25 per cent. This system is against the grain of nurturing new talent. Instead of five big stars, we should have 20. We have to encourage young talent. There are two changes in the industry I would want to see. The profit-sharing system on a week-to-week basis should be done away with. Secondly, we need to value writers and pay them more.
On joining politics
I would never want to endorse a political party, certainly not on a professional level. I would not take money and endorse a political party. If at all I do endorse one, it would be because I genuinely believe that a particular party is going to make a big difference and contribute to our society.
Formal education not a must
Most of my education has been informal. I don’t have a graduate degree. Education is very important but not necessarily in the formal sense of the word. However, gathering knowledge and experience, and getting that understanding is very important.
The business of Awards
I may not have attended the big televised awards ceremonies in the last 18-20 years, but I have attended and accepted other awards. For instance, I accepted an award from the Dinanath Mangeshkar Foundation and also the Gollapudi Srinivas Award in Chennai. A young man, Gollapudi Srinivas, was making his first film and died on the ninth day of the shoot. His family initiated this award to encourage first-time directors. I won it for Taare Zameen Par and K Balachander was the chief guest. I felt very special on that day.
I went to the Oscars because I value the Academy Awards. My interest was not to be told by the Academy that I made a great film – that is something my audience has already told me by then. Once a film gets nominated for an Oscar, an entirely new audience gets to see it.