Believe it: There was a time when Aamir Khan didn’t sell
Dalip Tahil who played Daddy Cool to young Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak speaks to Firstpost the superstar's journey from then to now as Satyamev Jayate's host.
Dalip Tahil played daddy cool to a young Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak – a role that earned him the moniker, ‘Aamir Khan ke daddy’ in the years to come. Tahil is one of those rare actors who never aspired to be a film star, remaining an actor was just as good. In his many roles as antagonist on celluloid, he’s worked with some of the greatest actors in Indian cinema.
He speaks to Firstpost about some of his early memories of a time in cinema when Aamir Khan was an unsaleable actor. Unbelievable, but true!
You have worked with Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak back in 1988. How do you look back on that experience, shooting with one of India’s most successful superstars today?
I’ve a story to tell you. I walked into Nasir Hussain’s office, opposite Mehboob Studio in Bandra for the meeting for QSQT and seated behind a huge, elevated desk, I saw Nasir Saheb and two very young boys and a girl – the boys being Mansoor Khan and a cherubic little Aamir and his sister, Nuzhat. We got into the narration of the story and Nasir Saheb told me that his son, Mansoor would direct the film and Aamir, his nephew, would play my son. I was about 31 years old at the time and Aamir was about 21 roughly, but looked about 12! That was my first interaction with the man who would become one of the biggest superstars of Indian cinema.
I was flattered I was offered such a fabulous role in the film and asked Nasir Saheb why he’d chosen me from the massive film industry choices at his disposal. Initially, he was supposed to direct the film and Sanjeev Kumar and Shammi Kapoor were to play the dads of Aamir and Juhi in the film, but he fell ill and had a heart condition, and his doctors advised him against taking on the production and direction of the film. So, he decided to let Mansoor direct it but Mansoor is something else! He told Nasir Saheb, “I like the story and I will direct it, but I can’t work with senior actors like Sanjeev and Shammi. I won’t be able to direct them as they are far too senior and I won’t be comfortable telling them what to do.” Nasir Saheb agreed to recast the roles meant for Sanjeev and Shammi.
He saw me on Buniyaad, the television serial playing Bhushan puttar, Haveliram’s eldest son and said I fit the role of Aamir’s father’s role in the film as a strong, honest, yet vulnerable person. Playing daddy to Aamir was my first breakthrough role in cinema and I was recognized on the streets with Tumhe kahin dekha hai line and of course, the Papa Kehte Hain is a cult track even today.
Aamir’s involvement as an actor was exemplary even then. He didn’t holler or ask anyone for anything – he would do it himself. He was Mr DIY himself. Every scene he took an interest in and was always with Mansoor on the set – his contribution was far more than just a lead actor in a film.
The interesting thing here is not how I was cast in the film or how Aamir was making his debut in a love story – it is how the film was stuck at the distribution level. Nasir Saheb had three shows a day for distributors at Ketnav in Bandra, Mumbai for a month. Whoever saw the film absolutely loved it, but no one bought it. The lead actor, Aamir was new, Juhi Chawla was one film old (Sultanat with Karan Kapoor) and the director, Mansoor, was new. In those days, the reaction was predictable. “Ladka naya hai, music director Anand-Milind naye hai, director naya hai – kaise chalegi picture.” In fact when we were shooting in Mount Abu, I was the only one signing autographs! I was the star on the sets of QSQT!
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People came to Nasir saying, “Don’t kill young love” compelling Mansoor to shoot two endings – a happy and a sad one. Given the film wasn’t selling, Mansoor agreed to put in a happy ending, but he told his father to take his name off from the credits as director. The dilemma of the ending was bounced off many a creative mind and it was Dr Rahi Masoom Raza, the oracle himself. He said, “All classic love stories have ended in tragedy – Romeo-Juliet, Sohni-Mahiwal, Shirin-Farhad - keep it as it is with the tragic ending. Don’t change it.” Armed with that, Nasir Saheb released the film himself which a daunting task in those days with single screen cinemas.
Amitabh Bachchan was at the peak of his game and there came a rosebud of a film QSQT – completely against the grain of anything commercial in those times – braving the might of the Bachchan fever in the country. Everything that was different in the film, worked for the film – all the new actors, new technicians and the cinematic style – it was a watershed in the film industry.
Did you ever think Aamir would become the giant brand and superstar he is today?
No way! I liked Aamir very much – he looked like a leading man, he’s cute and there was no reason he would not succeed as a romantic young man. But over the years, Aamir has proved to be much more than just his cute looks – he is committed, intelligent and conscientious about his work. After QSQT, Aamir became a huge star and the film went on to become a massive hit. It turned my career for the better and I think the portrayal of dads in Hindi cinema became cooler, with interesting personalities, unlike the doddering old fools prior to QSQT. It was a masterstroke on Mansoor’s part to get a young guy to play daddy in the film. It sort of brought about a cultural change in casting after that.
I could sense Aamir’s discomfort with the kind of films he was doing after QSQT – big banners, romantic leads, all the Bollywood stuff that filmstars dream of. Even at that stage, I could sense he was not into it, but he was doing it to establish his acting credentials. He was not really comfortable with the way films were being shot, the kind of preparation on set or lack thereof.
He was shooting for Ishq when I overheard Indra Kumar, the director tell him gently, “Yeh mera concept hai Aamir. Tum apni picture kyun nahi banate ho?”. There’s only that much you can tell a director on set and Aamir did what he said. He went on to produce and act in Lagaan soon after – a shining example of the Aamir kind of cinema we now associate him with - where he has his own creative control on his vision. He is possibly the first actor to turn producer successfully amongst the current stars today.
Aamir is not just different; he epitomizes the word different. He has a fresh vision and the conviction that he can do things differently and people will accept it. Who else but him could make a film on dyslexia and turn it into a commercial, cinematic success?
A trait in Aamir’s personality that you admire, that still exists today?
I admire Aamir’s openness and his sense of fair play and the fact that he has varied interests in life, not just films. He is an extremely committed human being and if he says he’ll do something, he’ll do it. If he can’t, he won’t waste your time and simply say No. For me, Aamir Khan is what every movie star should be.
Did he like to rehearse lines and scenes with you or was it impromptu for the two of you on set in your scenes together in QSQT and films thereafter?
We always rehearsed. Impromptu only comes when you’re well rehearsed. I’ve done about six films with Aamir since and most of them have been very successful like Ghulam, Ishq and Love, Love, Love.
You’ve worked with Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir – what’s the core difference between the three?
They are completely different personalities who offer a wonderful variety of three leading men to our film industry. Once when Salman and I were shooting for Partner in Mehboob Studio, someone felt like eating chaat. The next thing I see is that Salman’s asked the chaat wala on Hill Road to get his thela over to the studio and the entire unit is gorging on chaat.
In the same situation, Aamir would have probably planned a chaat wala’s visit on his set as would SRK, given there was a planned menu drawn out for the caterers on the sets of Ra.One.
All three are extremely generous, charismatic and largehearted – only their styles differ. They have taken the film business to unimaginable, dizzying heights which is commendable on all scores. I’ve worked with all of them closely, having played dad to both SRK and Aamir on celluloid. I haven’t played Salman’s dad so far though I’ve worked with him in many films.
What do you think of his television show, Satyamev Jayate?
It’s a brilliant show and concept! Aamir has taken it upon himself to address issues plaguing our country and is seeking solutions for them. And when he takes on something, there will be solutions! He is making a difference in his own way and has committed crores to it by producing the show himself. It is amazing!
You’re one the rare actors who is very comfortable playing character roles in films…
Lead roles are characters as well – principal, central and key. Lead roles in Hindi films is an entirely different concept. I love being the counter focus guy – without a Ravan, there’d be no Ram.
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