Editor’s Note: Firstpost editors Sandip Roy and Lakshmi Chaudhry report on the ultimate celebrity conference. A five star line up of authors, intellectuals, biz tycoons, actors, politicians and more have gathered at the Grand Hyatt in Goa as part of Thinkfest. Co-organised by Tehelka and Newsweek, this haute version of TED brings together an eclectic and intriguing range of A-list names, from Nobel peace prize winning Leymah Gbowee to Omar Abdullah to author Siddharth Muherjee to Arvind Kejriwal. Here are their reports on some of the most interesting conversations.
What makes Aamir Khan tick?
Apparently it’s Kiran Rao.
The actor-director told a packed audience at Thinkfest in a conversation with Tarun Tejpal that the writers for Delhi Belly had spent two months trying to meet him and returned to Los Angeles. Rao happened to pick up the script one day while waiting impatiently for Khan to wrap up his email so they could go out. She started laughing. Harder and harder. Eventually, he had to check it out as well. “I just cracked up,” says Khan. “We never did get to go out that evening.”
Aamir Khan isn’t just a star, he’s a hit-maker. He takes films and topics that no one else wants to touch and somehow manages to find an audience for them.
Everyone told him Lagaan wouldn’t work. When he showed Taare Zameen Par to friends, they told him not to release it. Why have you made a documentary, they complained.
And when the film does work, he’s promptly accused of being the ghost director. Especially because some of those same directors and screenwriters don’t seem to be able to make it when away from his megawatt star power.
“That’s absurd,” says Khan. “Why the hell should I give credit to someone else?”
What he’s learned coming from a filmmaking family, sitting in a corner while people stopped by to pitch stories to his father and uncle is the simple lesson: “You have to be a team player. People look at the films as my success. But I didn’t write 3 Idiots. There was a writer. A director of photography. A sound designer. A musical director.”
But he admits he does get very involved in the films he believes in, and not just an actor.
He changed the climax of Rang De Basanti because he didn’t believe the idealist youngsters should kill the defence minister and scatter. “I said Bhagat Singh didn’t run away,” recalls Khan.
He made Rancho in 3 Idiots more curious and childlike and less cocky. “As he was written, he had no problems. I thought by the time one third of the film was over, people would get really irritated.”
“The original ending of Lagaan had a two inning match. I told (Asutosh Gowariker), make it one inning. The movie was already four hours, it would have been eight hours.”
As it is, when he saw the first cut of Lagaan, it was seven-hours-long including three hours of cricket. “My major contribution was in the editing,” says Khan. “We cut it for six months.”
As a producer he says he looks for people who he thinks really have a story they are dying to tell. “It’s an intangible thing,” he says. “But people will sense these guys are excited to tell us a story.”
Polite, engaged, charming, with a dash of un-fake humility, Khan seems the very antithesis of anyone’s idea of a rule-breaker.
He’s smart. “I loved reading from when I was seven.”
He’s gracious. “I enjoy what I am doing. But more than that I enjoy what other people are doing. Munnabhai Lage Raho gave me such joy. It wasn’t my movie but I get really happy when I see good work.”
He’s responsible. “As a creative person, I want to do what I want to do. But I don’t want to fail at it. I don’t want to experiment with someone else’s money.” He tail-ends his money from his films, instead of taking his cut upfront.
He gives kudos to co-stars. “If I see a Govinda film while flipping channels that’s where my remote stops. I love his sense of timing.”
And he’s self-deprecating. Told that he doesn’t have the obvious narcissism of a star, but rather the narcissism of wanting to leave a legacy of work, he retorts “Obvious narcissism bhi hai.”
In the end, you are left with the nagging question – is the lighting too perfect? What gets under Aamir Khan’s skin? What’s the insecurity that keeps him going?
Khan says it might go back to his tennis days. A tennis star, he spent five hours a day on the court much to the despair of his parents who thought he should be studying. So he abandoned tennis. “The studies didn’t benefit,” he says wryly. “But as an actor I thought I won’t do that mistake of not practicing every day. I won’t allow myself to fall short.”
So what’s the mantra according to Aamir Khan?
“We will make better films if we make films that we believe in, that we feel like doing, not just what we think people will like to watch.”