Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is seen in a movie still from "Secret Superstar." (photo provided)

MUMBAI—He first faced the camera as a kid in 1972 – he was only seven then, and he played the childhood of Tariq in “Yaadon Ki Baraat,” released in 1973. His first adult film, “Holi” came when he was 19, and his first lead was in “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” when he was 23.

Since then, the crown of superstar has sat easily but steadfastly on Aamir Khan’s head for 29 years now, through his further journeys as scriptwriter (collaborating on “Qayamat…” and “Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke” produced by his father, Tahir Husain), singer, producer, director and television host, besides an increasingly dedicated actor.

His last flop – “Mangal Pandey: The Rising” – came in 2005. Since then, he has also given the biggest blockbusters of his career, like “Ghajini,” “3 Idiots,” “Dhoom:3,” “PK” and above all, “Dangal” that he also produced. And yet, he calls his new production, “Secret Superstar,” a bigger film than that one. Why? Here’s Aamir, full-throttle on his reasons, and on the film and more.

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: A small budget story of a small-town teenager aspiring to be a musical sensation: how do you say this film is bigger than “Dangal?”

A: For me, it is a bigger film because it is saying something much bigger. Both films are about women empowerment, and about equality of girls and boys. But in “Dangal,” the lead character was still a man – and he dreams that his daughters could do as well as his son in his field. The story is driven by a male character, and I was talking to the parents and telling them that girls can do what boys can.

This time, the overall message is very important and positive. My heroine is from Vadodara in Gujarat, a 14-year-old girl, who like thousands like her in the country, especially from small towns and interiors, has dreams, aspirations and also fears constraints and challenges. This film talks to these teenagers, so the attempt is much larger. When you see the film, you will realize that the girl is spunky and actually uses the quirky composer Shakti Kumar played by me. My actress Zaira Wasim herself is another such talent. She is from Kashmir, auditioned here, got “Dangal” and then got this film, on her own strength. She is like hop for the youth.

Q: Isn’t it true that she was first tested only for “Dangal?”

A: Yes, but I suggested to Advait that he test her for this film too. A screen test is about whether she can give the flavor needed, and she just came alive.

Q: Buzz is that she forgot a lot of her lines.

A: A screen test is not about memory. For that, we have so many rehearsals there is no question of forgetting lines!

Q: A lot of your films, especially in the last decade, have kids playing a major role.

Does that increase or decrease work pressure?

A: Atmosphere-wise, it is the same as we have to bring the script properly to life. But kids make your more responsible because you have to remember they are kids, not adults. They need shorter working hours, more breaks – my protagonist in “Taare Zameen Par” even had his tutor coming on sets.

Q: Your character is the entertaining pivot of the film.

A (Grins): You know, I miss all my characters when the films are over because I try and internalize them and feel like them. In that sense, Shakti is one of my most entertaining characters, which makes you laugh while he is being rude or doing ridiculous things. The tough part was to feel like he did, not just spout his lines! I tend to question myself and be very self-critical, but he always thinks he is the best. Here is a composer who is going downhill, but is still arrogant, full of himself and totally self-centered.

When he is talking to you, he may even ask you a question, but he is not interested in your answer! He is posturing all the time, and I have met such over-the-top people in real life. The character is thus very real.

Q: The whole persona seems to be an amalgam of a few composers.

A (Grins): That is something you must ask my writer-director Advait Chandan! But no, it’s not modeled on anyone specific.

Q: There’s this line he says about the talent coming up to the top just like bubbles in a glass.

A: That’s the only sensible thing he says among all his politically incorrect remarks! I even used that line on a persistent parent on a reality show who wanted me to influence his normal child into working harder, and I even forgot I did so (Laughs)!

Q: You motivate yourself each time to be different, and even physically change yourself. What drives you?

A: Believe me, I don’t have to do it, for it happens naturally, out of the fact that I love and enjoy my work. Which other profession lets you live so many people’s lives in one lifetime? As for health, so far, it’s been fine. I do not know what will happen in the future.

Q: How do you see your kids?

A: Junaid is 23 and Ira a little younger. They are wonderful, sorted children and I am proud of them. I hope Azad grows up to be like them. He has never watched a full film of mine and has often cried while seeing my scenes, like when I am chased in “Dhoom:3,’ because he gets scared. He watches animation films though.

Q: You have shown all your productions to a test audience. How does that help?

A: Not just all my productions, but most of my films, starting with “Qayamat…” when I was starting out as a hero. It helps a good deal as it’s a very important process. When making a film, we become very close to it and very subjective. Showing it to an audience may show how our communication is missing. I show my films to random audiences of different age groups, like homemakers, members of a residential society and so on. It is important that all of them are non-film people—that is the only thing we ensure.

Q: How easy or difficult is it to remain grounded in this line after the kind of success you have seen?

A: I don’t know why, but it never was difficult for me. My mind is very curious, and a lot of my bandwidth goes in seeking to understand and discover more about my character. That takes a lot of my attention. I just feel I am a person who loves what he is doing. I have never taken superstardom seriously, though at times I have to work on it to get it out of the way.

Q: Explain.

A: When my wife Kiran (Rao) was making “Dhobi Ghat,” she was shooting in the heart of Mumbai that is so crowded that she was reluctant to take me in that film. She told me that she had a small unit of only nine people, whereas I had 15 bodyguards alone! The crowds too would be unmanageable.

I solved the problem by reaching the location, a house in a ‘chawl’ redesigned for our shoot, at 3.30 at night, and then stayed there for three weeks without ever coming out. Even looking out of the windows was done with lights out at night as the building opposite was so close! We had redone the bath-cum-toilet and the marketing of “Ghajini” and prep for “3 Idiots” was on, so A.R. Murugadoss and Rajkumar Hirani, my directors, and their teams had to meet me often. As the single outer room was needed for shooting, all our meetings were done in the bathroom, with me sitting on the pot and Raju in the tub!

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