The prospect of doing an on location of Dangal in a village near Ludhiana received an instant yes from me. A late night flight to Delhi, fuel of a couple of hours of sleep at a recliner at New Delhi railway station lounge and catching an early morning Shatabdi express for Ludhiana meant a rollercoaster bumpy ride. As a journalist, imparting credible information and doing interesting interviews is something that I revel in. But I am also on a lookout for unique experiences that get imprinted on my mind, experiences that help me grow as a professional and as a person. Spending time with Aamir Khan has always been a learning experience for me. He means what he says, when he is talking to a crowd then it feels as if he’s talking to each one of them and then he’s extremely courteous. In the last ten years, I’ve keenly followed all his film promotions and the causes that he has been associated with. Now is the time for Dangal.
As the media bus reached Leel village, around 50 Kms from Ludhiana, I wasn’t surprised that why would a superstar want to shoot in such a hot condition at a location surrounded by agricultural fields and a narrow canal. Aamir has penchant for the unusual. He likes surprising his audience, even if it involves a bunch of media personnel (several of them were over excited fans). We were treated to a delicious Punjabi lunch which is meant for wrestlers. It included succulent Bhuna Mutton, Chicken Curry, Chicken Tikka, Paneer Tikka, Tandoori Chicken, Paneer Bhurji, Daal, Chapaati and a special desi roti. The interesting part was the presence of raw Badaam and Kaaju for strength while an amiable guy whipped out banana and mango shakes. There were Besan laddoo, Boondi Laddoo and Jalebi for dessert.
Aamir shot for a scene in the younger Mahaveer Phogat avatar. He was observing a duel between two wrestlers and was doling out excited inputs from the side-lines. It seemed like the state of an over involved spectator who is itching to be in the middle of all the sweaty dusty grind. A bunch of television cameras clamoured to take the best possible shots while Aamir tirelessly canned one take after another. At a crammed-for-space press conference a short while later, Aamir was showered with compliments for the weight loss and the extraordinarily chiselled physique.
In an informal conversation with me later, Aamir said that he was nervous that maybe this time he won’t be able to get into shape for the younger Mahaveer Phogat. Master Photographer Avinash Gowariker was also present with Aamir when we spoke. I complimented Avinash for the superlative picture of Aamir in a vest with a magically sculpted body that went viral recently. Avinash informed me that Aamir asked him to shoot his pictures at Taj Lands End gym. Aamir didn’t allow any assistants, lights inside the gym. Avinash shot several pictures. “Aamir has an amazing judgment. He chose this picture even though we had several other very fine pictures. He was looking at himself in the mirror hence the look that you see. Aamir didn’t allow me to touch up the picture at all. I wanted to remove the dark circle but he didn’t allow me. It has a rustic feel to it. The picture has gone viral receiving 21000 likes on his twitter page. None of my pictures has ever got as big an impact as this one,” Avinash told me excitedly.
In the evening Aamir met up with media once again. It was a casual conversation without any cameras. Aamir spoke for more than an hour, answering all sorts of questions. He introduced Nitesh Tiwari, the writer-director of Dangal and Kripashankar, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist Indian wrestler who trained him and the two girls Saniya Malhotra and Fatima Shaikh who play his daughters in the film. Aamir credited his dietician Dr Dhurandar and his trainers Rakesh (also trained Salman Khan for Sultan) and Rahul Bhatt (Mr Mahesh Bhatt‘s son) for his chiselled physique and weight loss. Aamir informed that for the older version of Mahaveer Phogat he weighed 97 Kgs. For the younger version he lost around 17 Kgs. The fat was converted to muscle which has a weight of its own. Aamir has always been honest in telling his audience what they can expect from his films. He told the audience that they shouldn’t be expecting regular entertaining fare from Dhobi Ghat or Talaash. What would he tell his audience about Dangal? “It is a mainstream film,” Aamir said.
“Sakshi Tanwar is outstanding in Dangal. She’s superb. She is one of the best actresses that I’ve ever worked with,” Aamir said. He also said that if he indulged in 10% wrestling in the film, then the two girls playing Gita, Babita perform 90% of the wrestling in Dangal. When Aamir was asked about the ambitious Water Cup in Maharashtra, he passionately spoke about the cause that he and the entire Satyamev Jayate has undertaken in Maharashtra. He said that there are 86000 villages in Maharashtra. “India gets adequate rainfall but we need ways to conserve water. Villagers need to learn how to conserve water and someone has to teach them the same. Out of the 116 villages that participated in Water Cup, extraordinary work has happened in 40 villages. They earlier needed water tankers. Now they have so much of water that they can give water to other villages,” Aamir said passionately. Khan said that Satyamev Jayate will concentrate only on ending water woes in Maharashtra and won’t be doing the television show for a few years. He said that Maharashtra can be drought free in the next 5 years.
There is a lot more that one can document. Considering that Aamir makes himself available scarcely to the media, everything that he said yesterday was news. The interesting part about listening to what Aamir Khan says is that you carry the conversation with you. There are layers of meaning that may have an instant impact but there’s more to it when you think about it later on. As I write down my thoughts on the way back to Delhi enjoying the laid back rhythm of the train, I realise the effort was worth it. You do have to travel a distance if you wish to seek knowledge. The amount of valuable information that Aamir Khan shared yesterday about his personal and professional life and also his views on various causes may find its way in a book that I may write someday. All I can say as I sum up the experience is that more power to Aamir Khan. Keep on surprising the way only you can.